PhD Student Solidifies Dissertation Following Crucial Encounters in Paris

September 05, 2023

Mayaki Kimba is a PhD candidate in the Political Science department of Columbia GSAS. He studied at Reid Hall in Summer 2023. As part of the French Track, he was enrolled in the following courses: “Migration, Displacement and Diaspora in the Contemporary Mediterranean,” and “Third Year Grammar & Composition.” He also audited a course on “Blackness in French: From Harlem to Paris and Beyond.”

Mayaki Kimba’s decision to study at Reid Hall this summer was very intentional. He defended his dissertation proposal last semester and is now focused entirely on writing his PhD thesis. In this phase of the doctoral program there is a “difficult balancing act” between taking relevant courses and making time to conduct research. 

Studying the French language and French society in Paris turned out to be crucial to his project. Mayaki’s research is centered on the politics of the black migrant child in the 1970s in Britain, The Netherlands, and France. “If I’m going to study France,” he thought, “I had better make sure to have French language proficiency under my belt.” Prior to studying at Reid Hall, he was unsure about the inclusion of this third country. “It's hard to study multiple countries,” he said, “but I've just encountered so many great scholars that I want to continue to be in conversation with.”

He credits his professors for being proactive and intentional about including their Paris network of scholars, activists, and artists in the classroom. “Getting to speak to them in class has been a real privilege,” he said. The connections made between the coursework and the work of classroom visitors were “very generative and helpful. It has reassured me in my plans to include France in my dissertation.”

While studying migration and displacement in the Mediterranean, in addition to a French language course, Mayaki was pleased to discover the synergies with his thesis topic. “I’m interested in how experiences with the State in the intimate sphere, in the domain of the family, affect how people come to think about the State and how people organize themselves as activists.” 

Outside of the classroom, Mayaki took full advantage of Reid Hall’s public events. At a screening of Pour la France (dir. Rachid Hami) offered in conjunction with his course, he was able to ask the film’s co-star a question in French. “This was a small personal victory for me,” he says, “because the actor understood what I wanted to ask and responded in French. That just felt really good.”

“Be courageous,” Mayaki advised future students, “in the sense that speaking French can be scary, but the only way to get better is to do it.” It is also important to search for new things that “you maybe haven't done before,” he added. “I went to the opera to get a last minute ticket. There's this process, and I had no idea if it would work, but I just decided to go. I thought maybe my Friday night would be ruined if this didn't go according to plan, but it did!” (Please find information on how to get last-minute Palais Garnier tickets at the bottom of this article.)

When he first entered Reid Hall, Mayaki was pleasantly surprised by how secluded it was. “You enter and it is this little oasis.” As someone who loves to work outside, he said that “being able to sit at a table with the sun shining has been quite pleasant.” He also ventured into Paris to find other study spaces. “I didn’t want to be in my room, because you can do that anywhere. When you’re in Paris, it’s good to go somewhere.” He recommended La ReCyclerie, a restaurant and urban farm located in a former train station near Porte de Clignancourt. “It's a space with a lot of light coming in. It's very artsy. It's also a great place to just sit and do homework.”