West Virginia University in Vendée, France
And then there were two...
July 6, 1999
As I mentioned earlier, last Friday was the last full meeting of WVU-V 1999. Carolyn Graeber left Les Sables Sunday to spend her last days in France with friends south of here in Biarritz. Brad, Kelly, Jennifer, Jodi, Kathleen, Freddy, and Kimberly took the TGV from Poitiers yesterday and are likely in the air as I write this page. This leaves the last, but certainly not the least two WVU-Vendéennes with us for class today. Amy Workman and Helena Racin will stay on in Les Sables until Friday, when they take the train to Dijon to visit a friend of Amy's for a few days before their return to the States. We Lastinger's (minus Allison, who is in Italy with her godfather's family), will leave Les Sables on Thursday and catch our plane on Friday. We would love to hear from every one upon their return, so don't hesitate to email me at email@example.com when you or yours arrives home.
Our reports today are again too rich for me to give a full account here, but I will share a few highlights with you.
Amy's interview with Nicolas Legros last Sunday gave her and us new insights into the world of French tennis. One notable difference between the American and French systems is the absence of organized sports competitions in the public schools and universities (a notable case of unconscious American "socialism"!). French tennis players generally join private clubs where they practice and play. The Fédération Française du Tennis also has a very different ranking system from that used by the United States Tennis Association. Competions here are between players with no more than one year's difference in age, whereas US groupings allow up to two years' difference. Beyond the age of 15, players of all ages are ranked according to their performance in official tournaments. This system roughly resembles the French handicapping system in golf, which is also based solely on officially sanctioned play. There are four "series" of players going from Fourth to First, the latter composed of the 45 highest ranked players in the country. The most important tournaments in France begin at the level of the department. Here, that means Vendée. Nicolas has been very successful this year, having won the Championnat de Vendée. Vendée is a part of the Pays de la Loire region (lower Loire valley), whose championship Nicolas also won. He will therefore be one of the 40 players nationwide to participate in the upcoming Championnat de France (120 players make it to the US national championships). The US has two national winners, one on hard court and one on clay. In France, the single official championship is always played on clay. Amy noted that the clay courts here in Les Sables are better than any she had seen in the States.
Helena Racin has a passion for music and the arts - a talent as well, for her voice was the charm of several melodic moments spent in the Vendée-Mobile. Quite naturally she chose to explore the world of the arts in France. She interviewed her host sister Marie-Pierre Boileau, whose passion is for dance. Marie-Pierre will begin her last year at the lycée (high school) next year and she has practiced the arts of classical and jazz dance for the last fourteen years. Unlike tennis, public schools in France do generally offer programs of dance. Professors of dance in both public schools and private studios are licensed through the same series of rigorous national exams. Marie-Pierre prefers the individual attention of the private studio and has received much of her training there. Helena was astonished to learn that a year's membership in a private studio was only 2,500 francs, much less than one would pay in the States. Marie-Pierre believes that training in classical dance is essential, but her specialty is jazz dance. She is the lead dancer in the troupe Force Jazz, and Helena says she is the object of a great deal of admiration by the other dancers of the troupe. Formal training is quite demanding here, and culminates at the world famous Opéra de Paris. Helena says Marie-Pierre has the talent and skill that could allow her to go far as a dancer, but that for her dance is more a source of joy than an ambition. She will therefore pass the exams of the baccalauréat next year in the hopes of going on to study international commerce at the Université de Nantes. It is truly refreshing to have this fascinating report on a person who so nimbly blends her love of art with her other interests.
Another reminder that there is real person behind the pages.
After class today, I couldn't resist one last picture of the remblai and WVU-V 1999.
I suppose a few final words are in order as I close these pages. WVU-V 1999 has certainly not been without its adversities. Our first days in Paris were especially difficult, as we faced a wave of strikes that dealt us several hard blows (now we all know how they got their name!). We also saw the early return of our own Kathleen Kubal, who come to France with a severely sprained ankle. Travel always presents its difficulties, but there is an unfathomable abyss that separates the tourist trip from a program focused on authentic cultural integration. Even a culture as similar to ours as is France, presents special challenges that can only be understood through direct experience. Over and over again on these trips, we get remarks like "I know you told us that in class, but I didn't really see what you were saying." This is in fact one of the great satisfactions of our work here. For now each of our Vendéens knows a world that s/he couldn't really imagine before. Of course, their experience here would have been far poorer had they not already had a solid foundation in both language and culture. It is in fact the combination of good preparation and direct experience make our most important discoveries here possible. This new knowledge ranges from minute details of daily life to major characters, events, and ideas, both from the distant past and from today's morning news, that make France the great nation that it is. It is seeing our students make these discoveries, whether they take place in our classes at WVU or in the field here in Vendée, that convinces Valérie Lastinger and myself that we are very lucky to have a job that brings us daily into contact with people like our 1999 Vendéens.
And that's the way it was for WVU-V 1999.
[Vendéens, please email us when you get home: firstname.lastname@example.org]
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