WVU-V is a five-week summer study abroad program designed to give students of French culture and language an opportunity to improve their skills through a set of authentic, real-life experiences in one of France's most beautiful and historic regions, la Vendée. The trip also includes several days in Paris, numerous excursions in and around Vendée, as well as a two-day visit of the nearby Loire Valley. The program was originally conceived for students of French at West Virginia University, but we also welcome participants among students, teachers, and francophiles from a variety of backgrounds. The courses at the heart of WVU-V have been fully certified by WVU's Eberly College of Arts and Sciences and by the WVU Faculty Senate and offer six hours of university credit at the advanced undergraduate or basic graduate degree level. See Courses for syllabi and more information.
All program activities are designed to give the student an in-depth and authentic experience of French culture. The classes themselves are taught in French by regular faculty from West Virginia University, and all guides, guest speakers, host families interact with our students in French. Participants thus need a basic background in French language and culture to enjoy the maximum benefit from these real-life experiences. (For university students this background would generally involve good performance in at least one class beyond the intermediate level.)* The program includes activities that explore French ways of life not only in the present but also at several key stages from the past, including the neo-lithic stone age, the middle ages, the Renaissance, the Revolution, the nineteenth century, and of course the France of today. .
Here is a note from my first posting in 1998:
"Just a word to loved ones: we're doing fine and learning something
really new every day. As a professor of French, it is a dream come true to see my
students in the real French world and making such a positive impression everywhere they
A few notes on the trip:
Les Sables d'Olonnes, a small town on the Atlantic coast, is among the most desirable destinations in France. Traditionally a fishing town, its famous "sands"(sables) have become a major modern tourist attraction. Located near some of the most culturally significant areas of France, the climate of Les Sables is mild and sunny, with as many days of sun per year as the towns of the Riviera. The Mayor's Office has designated a team of officials who help prepare our visit to the city. The city has also graciously offered facilities for class meetings as well as a special reception to honor the participants of WVU-V. Madame Jocelyne Grandpierre, who has extended experience in arranging stays for foreign students in France, works with us to find host families for students participating in the program. The small town atmosphere, with its warm hospitality, combined with the richness of the region around Les Sables are among the most attractive features of the WVU-V program.
Participants in WVU-V are lodged with carefully selected families and attend classes in facilities provided by the city of Les Sables. The two courses in communication and culture have been designed around authentic experiences with families and citizens of Les Sables as well as the excursions in Paris, the Loire Valley, and the Vendée region. During their leisure hours, students are moments away from one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
Along with the atmosphere of Les Sables, our excursions to significant cultural sites will be a key feature of WVU-V. The importance of our visit to Paris speaks perhaps for itself. Americans may, however, be less familiar with the region of La Vendée. Traditionnally a part of Poitou and Aquitaine (Eleanor of Aquitaine being the most famous of its monarchs), Vendée is perhaps best known for the wars that resulted from its resistance to the French Revolution. Some of our visits focus on the events of 1793 in Vendée, a year that in effect defined the modern French nation. But we will also explore areas from France's deepest pre-history, as we visit the "menhirs" and "dolmens" (stone structures from the time of Stonehenge) that lie just a few miles from Les Sables. Our trips also include excursions like those to the house of Georges Clemenceau, the father of the Victory in World War I, and to the city of La Rochelle, where the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries laid the ground for the royal authority established by Richelieu and soon by Louis XIV. We also schedule visits to "le Puy du Fou", the site of a famous battle in the 1793 wars and now a major European cultural attraction focusing on authentic ways of life from the Roman times up to the 18th centuries. A site focused primarily on ways of life in the 18th century and on the ecology of the "bocage vendéen" is the famous "logis de la Chabotterie". Each year new adventures are added to our calendar, ever increasing our understanding of one of Europe's most fascinating regions.
Below are a few web sites from some of the places the we explore during the program. Many of these sites are available in both French and English versions (the latter often indicated by a British or American flag).
Angela Bird's Vendée : A wealth of information in English from the author of "The English Family Guide to the Vendée"
Les-Sables-d'Olonne: ask a question.
Vendee Globe (Around the World, non-stop, all alone!)
Eurostar Internet (The Trains of Belgium, Britain and France)
* West Virginia University's elementary and intermediate program involves four three-hour courses. These courses generally meet three day per week over four semesters. Programs with more intensive exposure may find that their students could be ready for WVV-V! somewhat earlier. Our primary objective here is to provide an authentic cultural experience to students who are ready to "click" into a real French-speaking environment. This stage of development can vary widely from one student to the other. Do not hesitate to contact us if you think you may be ready for this program or if you are planning for an experience of a similar quality. (back)
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