Meet Ms. Bagchi!
Latin, Honors Ancient Greek
Where did you grow up? What was it like to grow up there? Where did you go to school and what was that like? Did it have an impact on your choice of career?
I moved around a fair bit as a child, and lived in India, California, and New Jersey. Much of my growing up was in a city, and I continue to be most comfortable in urban environments. I was lucky to travel a lot with my family, and this–along with the changes of residence–helped me adapt easily to different environments. It doesn’t take much for me to feel at home, and I find myself at ease with people from various backgrounds and walks of life. My travels certainly had an impact on my love for languages–I was exposed to several languages and enjoyed picking up snippets wherever I went. This has undoubtedly contributed to my passion for etymology and my interest in the connections between different languages. Sadly, my life of moving and traveling did not make me at all adept at packing, a task which continues to torture me.
What led you to your current role at The Hudson School? What were you doing before you came here?
Before teaching at Hudson, I was a graduate student at U. Penn–I took courses in Greek and Latin literature and taught introductory Latin to undergraduates. This experience showed me how much I love teaching–I made it to class with my undergrads even when I had pneumonia (an inadvisable move!) because it was such an energizing experience. Prior to graduate work at Columbia and Penn, I worked in publishing for 2 years, at Penguin. It was important to me to take a break from academia and gain some “real world” experience. I’m very glad I did–I learned a lot, made good friends, and hoarded hundreds of free books!
What are some of your favorite Greek or Latin works of literature?
I gravitate toward poetry–the deftly wrought sentences, the word play, and the ways in which authors develop such different styles within the same meter and genre are endlessly fascinating. A Greek poet whose work I’ve enjoyed is Callimachus–he was something of a literary rebel and decided to make his own mark by writing in new, briefer forms rather than adhere to the status quo and model his work on Homer and other epic poets. Among the Romans, my heart belongs to Vergil and Horace. Vergil’s “Georgics,” and especially his meditation on cosmology and the interaction of planetary movement with the human experience is magical. Vergil also hides some acrostics in his work, and I cannot help but melt at punnery! One of my favorite poems by Horace is a sassy, spunky back-and-forth between a young man and a young woman who are by turns petulant and witty, entreating and coy, angry and amorous. Students always enjoy the realization that thousands of years may pass, and cultural norms may change, but people and their emotions and relationships continue to be relatable.
How many languages have you studied and do you speak?
I’ve worked to different degrees with 11 languages. I grew up speaking English, Odia, Bengali, and Hindi fluently. My French has served me adequately in Paris, and although my Italian is decidedly basic, I did manage to argue with a cab driver in Rome, which I am inordinately proud of. I’ve studied some German, and love speaking it–whenever I’m traveling on a Lufthansa flight I ask the flight attendants to converse with me only in German. It’s a fun way to practice my skills. I’ve also studied Sanskrit, Latin, and Ancient Greek, though the emphasis there is on reading rather than speaking. A few years ago I worked on teaching myself Dutch before a trip to the Netherlands. Just a month’s study allowed me to get a better grasp of the culture and have basic conversations with locals, and I really enjoyed the process of grappling with new sounds and unfamiliar vocabulary.
One of the best parts about working at Hudson is the opportunity to learn from native speakers of very diverse languages, and I love picking up snippets of Spanish (Hola, Señora Arcila!) and Finnish (Moi, Mr. Räisä!) from my colleagues.
Date of Interview: October 2017