Independence Day!
July 4, 2000

(Our last group photo, July 4, 2000)

Words cannot do justice to our experience in France this year.  We have had wonderfully enthusiastic group.  They have worked hard and overcome some of the difficulties that are an inevitable part of world travel and intercultural contact.  Most of all, however, they have made the most of a unique opportunity.  They have been gracious, generous, and open with their French hosts.  They have been marvelous with their professors.  We all take with us a treasure of learning and memories, not only of France but also of the moments we spent with the Gold and Blue travelers and President and Mrs. Hardesty.  I hardly need to say how touched Dr. V. Lastinger and I were when we walked into class this morning and found our "whiteboard" in the state you see to the right.


Jennifer Martin is our first presenter this morning.  She has interviewed Professor Caroline Chauvin who teaches English in a local lycée, a secondary school where the title of "professeur" is used in France.  Jennifer begins with a review of the French elementary and secondary educational system, which begins at the age of two in "maternal" school and around the age of 18 with "terminal".  Jennifer was especially interested in the teaching of foreign languages in France, and Professor Chauvin's experience as an English teacher provided her with a wealth of information.  All Students in France take several years of at least one foreign language, which they begin in junior high at the latest.  The current minister of education wants to require at least two foreign languages and begin their continued study in elementary school.  He also wants to make language classes smaller and perhaps more "communicative."  Jennifer has noted that language classes in France are largely focused on grammar first and "communication" second. 


Katie McMullen has chosen to explore the world of the casino here in Les Sables.  Les Sables has two casinos, and Katie has obtained an interview with Monsieur Xavier Hoffman, who co-owns the Casino des Pins with his brother.  Mr. Hoffman explains that casinos here are much more that simple gaming halls.  After reviewing the evolution of the casino from its origins as a private club in the 18th century to its public nature today, Katie explains that publicity and advertising are a vital part of the success of such a business.  Since the casino relies on much more than gambling its is necessary create a climate or "ambiance" that can be attractive to a wide public.  The Casino des Pins has chosen the theme of Louisanna as its theme.  Waiters and waitresses dress in the style of the Old South, and concerts and music are often done by jazz and blues musicians.  Since Mr. Hoffman is one of the more important businessmen in Les Sables he is also a member of the Chamber of Commerce and several other public committees.  He feels that public service is a vital part of his responsibilities as the owner of a prominent business.


Cindy Howley has chosen the delicate topic of immigration in France.  This country has long been one of the most open countries to immigrants in the world, and the topic is frequently one of the most heatedly discussed in national politics.  Last week, for example, over 50 illegal immigrants were found dead in a sealed refrigerator truck in England.  Cindy interviewed a random selection of people from in and around Les Sables.   To her astonishment, they were all violently opposed to France's relatively open borders, borders that have become increasingly closed in recent years.   "France for the French" was a frequent refrain even from one person who himself is an immigrant from a nearby European country.  Surprisingly some of Cindy's interviewees focused on the invasion of France not by people but by cultural icons.  To some, McDonald's hamburgers and Hollywood movies are as much a threat as alien workers from the Third World.


Jennifer Lawrence is a teacher of classical dance in the US.  She was naturally drawn to the world of dance in France, and she worked with her host sister Marie-Pierre Boileau and a licensed instructor of dancer here in Les Sables.  Jennifer found many similarities between her experience in the States and the dance world here in France.  She was surprised, however, at the large number of small dance troupes that are able to make a living in this country.  The system of training dance instructors her is also much more tightly regulated.  Dance teachers here must be officially licensed through a system that requires training in pedagogy and anatomy as well as training in classical and modern dance.


Senan Mashat was fascinated by all the talk about "globalization" that appears daily in the French media.  He decided to explore this question by interviewing the owner of a restaurant on the fishing port of Les Sables and an employee of the Hot Blues Café on the beach-side remblai.  To Senan's surprise, the owner of the Marée Restaurant said that McDonald's posed absolutely no threat to the restaurant's business.  The Marée is classical French restaurant that specializes in fine cuisine.  As a result, the owners feel that their customers are very unlikely to be tempted away by the cuisine offered by fast food establishments like those serving hamburgers and fries.  A more "traditional" café like the Hot Blues, however, may be more directly threatened by the fast food industry.  Hot Blues has answered by opening up the internet to its customers, and while its prices and the speed of its service are equal to that of the new breed of competition, some of its customers may in fact be drawn away from the its café-style atmosphere to the more "modern" climate of the speedy restaurants out on the highways of Les Sables.


Jodi McKenzie has taken one of those highways, but she has not headed for the drive-in window of McDonald's.  Instead she drove several miles inland from Les Sable to visit an eco-museum in nearby Saint-Mathurin.   She spoke extensively with the proprietor of the museum, Monsieur Yves Vincent.  Monsieur Vincent has a magnificent collection of tools and machines document the history of county life in Vendée from the 18th century to the beginning of the 20th.  She saw butter churns, hay mowers, and tractors exemplifying the evolution of the French farm from the days of the horse to the days of the diesel engine.  For Monsieur Vincent the critical point of this "revolution" occurred in the fall of 1914 when almost all able bodied French men we called to the Rhine Valley to fight the war with Germany.  In the absence of those strong arms, the French country side adopted the machine to replace the man, and the farm was soon to be and extension of the industrial revolution that had already changed the face of the world.


Natelle Gray has read many novels in French that recounted the evolution of social institutions through the centuries.  She arrived in class today with a book on the recent film about the novelist George Sand, who was a major critic of those institutions.  It is only fitting then that she would speak to us today about traditions of marriage in France.  To the uninitiated, it is less obvious that she would dress in black today.  She points out, however, that the color white for a wedding dress is a relatively recent development dating from Anne de Bretagne's wedding to the French king Louis XII in 1498 (recent of course in French terms).  In fact Anne wore white because it was the color, not of virginity, but of mourning.  She wed Louis after the death of her beloved Charles VIII and chose to were white in honor of her former husband's death.  Before Anne de Bretagne, blue was the basic color of a wedding dress, since it was the celestial color of the Virgin Mary, perhaps the origin of our expression "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue."  Traditionally of course marriages were matters of political or family alliance, and the idea of wedding by personal choice dates from the times of the French Revolution and the birth of individual rights.


Brian Hill presents our final report for WVU-V 2000.  Brian is a French and computer sciences major at WVU, so it is only logical that he would explore the world of hardware and software in France.  He did extensive work with his host father Antoine Crêtaux, who runs a French software company called SeaSoft.  SeaSoft is specialized in developing software for French physicians that allows them to process insurance forms for patients in a matter of seconds.  The system relies on a set of smart cards owned by the patient and by the doctor.  After the treatment, each card is placed in the reader (lower left) and a few simple questions are answered using the computer.  The result is an instantaneous electronic document that can be printed out or processed immediately on line.  The result, no more forms to fill out or phone calls to place.  It's a modern miracle, indeed!


At the end of the presentations, this year's WVU-Vendéens pose, a bit tearfully, for our final group portrait.  Only Rebecca Tarabrella is missing, since she headed home this weekend to catch the first day of summer II session back in Morgantown.  We'll all be with you soon, Rebecca!


It's been a wonderful few weeks and we can't say goodbye without a little regret.  But we are all very, very happy to have been able to spend this time together in such a beautiful part of the world.  We know that as we move on down the road, we'll always be together in our hearts.

And that's the way it was for WVU-V 2000!

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