Tag Archives: france

Vive la Différence!

January 12th, 2017

viva

I was lucky to be invited by Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert, the President and CEO of ACEI (Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute) to attend an event at the residence of the French Consul General in Beverly Hills, on Monday, January 6.

The event was the reception for the France Alumni USA Launch. The idea is to enable meaningful connections between those who have lived and studied in France and now find themselves living back in the states, with the French Culture here in Los Angeles, as well to encourage students from France to study in the U.S.  At least on the surface.

The event marked the latest endeavor to form new cultural alliances between Francophile/ Francophone professionals in the arts, science and technology. Many of us there, in fact most of us spoke both English and French, and presentations were done in both languages.

Considering the troubling transitions of government–– in our own presidential election and the up-coming April presidential election in France, it is imperative that we find new ways to better understand each other to work together to create new paradigms for our respective societies.

How people go out into the world for life, business, pleasure, and even love, is greatly affected by their own cultural pre-dispositions. It is so important to learn a new culture, to immerse yourself in its language, customs, and ideas to facilitate and anticipate and resolve differences in fulfilling and constructive ways.

The French Consul General, Christophe Lemoine, warmly, and easily charmed the audience by acknowledging the joys and appreciation of French wine, culture and history, and extoling the virtues and strengths of the French education system. He explained how important it is that we continue to seek out and foster an educational exchange between our two countries, and invited several speakers to share their points of view on “Multi-Cultural” immersion. This exchange is particularly successful in the exchange of cultural and artistic endeavors.

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Learning a second language was once a must in U.S. education. I was one of the lucky ones, having studied French from Second grade all the way through high school and college. I even went to live and study in France and on that night found myself in familiar company.

Not only did it gift me with the confidence of being able to travel almost anywhere in the world and communicate, it opened the receptors in my brain to the ability to learn and absorb language in general, encouraging me to learn other languages, in my case Spanish and German.  I doubt I would have done that without learning French, and immersing myself in French culture from a very early age.

Albeit through colonial conquer and rule, the French culture spread and became the lingua franca in most of the world, enabling people to communicate when they did not share a common language. In 1920, The League of Nations pronounced French as the official Language of Diplomacy worldwide. Up until 1990 my US Passport was written in both French and English, then was changed to include Spanish as well. I so appreciate that!

I love speaking other languages, because it has allowed me to truly understand the way people think, their cultural expressions in art, business, spiritual beliefs and life. It is like a magic key to a doorway one did not realize was previously there.

That evening, we stood at a table with a young, married, bi-cultural couple; she is French and he is American. They met while attending a university in France.  Obviously, a successful cultural exchange! She is in International Admissions/Student Affairs here at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California and shared with us the alarming fact: Due to the recent shift in presidential powers here and the non-inclusive immigration platform of the incoming party, she has noticed a steep drop-off in queries from students around the world, wishing to study here in the United States. Prospective students are of course mirroring global feelings of uncertainty and concern.

I asked her husband what he perceived were the differences between the education systems in France and those of the U.S. His response was quick at hand. He said that in France they teach following a pedagogic model of passive listening to lectures, while in the U.S, students have access and the ability to have meaningful discourse with teachers, aids and other students.  While he loved and greatly benefited from the more well-rounded studies required in France, he preferred the more engaged creative model in the American Universities.

This just made the feeling of needing to connect on a variety of different levels with those outside the United States an even stronger imperative for myself and many of the people we talked to. We the people, have, to find ways to come together, as our governments are not presently setting exemplary standards.

That creative and collaborative exchange of ideas, was really, what the evening was about. Finding a pathway in challenging and rapidly changing times, to engage in new ways of creative collaboration across many platforms: the arts, sciences, technology and of course education, to change and enrich our selves and the societies we live in.

Vive la différence.

winston_jeannie

Jeannie Winston is a frequent guest blogger for ACEI’s Academic Exchange. Jeannie is an artist and writer living and working in Los Angeles, California. Jeannie completed her undergraduate studies in Illustration at The Arts Center of Pasadena, California.  Her vast and intricate knowledge of Los Angeles and its cultural history bring a new perspective to our understanding of the City of Angels. She draws her inspiration from the natural and inhabited world around her. She is especially inspired by her observations of cultural fusions and how people strive to invoke spirit in daily life.

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Dispatches from Paris, France

May 02, 2013

Eifell_Tower

No trip to Paris is complete without a stroll alongside the Seine to take in the sights and sounds of this charming city, paired with some café lounging and people watching, museum hopping, and in my case, exploring the City of Light by tracing Hemingway’s footsteps before he cheated on her with Spain and Cuba. It was propitious that I stayed in the Latin Quarter a stone throw away from the University of Paris I Pantheon-Sorbonne, University of Paris Faculty of Law, University of Paris Faculty of Medicine and several Institutes of Higher Education in Fine Arts, Agriculture and Engineering. Dropping into these campuses and seeing the facilities and rubbing shoulders with hip philos standing on the sidewalks taking long puffs on their Marlboros (smoking is no longer permitted inside buildings) engaged in friendly and at times heated banter, walking past outdoor cafes, sandwich stalls and gyro stands on Rue de Mouffetard where inexpensive and tasty fare satisfies the college student’s budget was the visceral experience (albeit brief) I had of the life of a French university student.

Rue Saint-Jacques
Rue Saint-Jacques and the Sorbonne in Paris

University of Paris
University of Paris, Faculty of Law

Faculty of Medicine
University of Paris, Faculty of Medicine

My meeting with Celine Ouziel, Educational Adviser with Education USA at Fulbright Franco-American Commission in Paris and Patricia Janin, head of the American Section at Fulbright proved mutually enlightening. I learned of some of the problems French students have in obtaining original sets of their academic documents, when institutions tend to issue one set and will not reissue additional official copies and the lack of a cohesive approach in the U.S. to recognizing the classes préparatoires (two-year post-secondary program required for admission to the Grandes Écoles).

Jasmine&Celine

Like most things in life, nothing is static and the French education system, once regarded as one of the best in the world, is being questioned by French academics and teachers, and in the media, especially, on the question of the “level” of the baccalauréat examination. “Many academics complain that the baccalauréat these days is given away, and that this is a major cause of the high failure rate in the first year of university.” Source: http://about-france.com/primary-secondary-schools.htm The jury is out; French Ministers and civil servants claim that this is not the case and so the debate goes on.

Despite the grumblings from the academics and French media, when it comes to getting admitted to a university in France, the baccalauréat is the gold standard. But admission to a grande école, seen as “the peak of the education pinnacle in France, relatively small and highly selective “schools” (in the American sense of the word),” is not only the baccalauréat but completion of the two-year classes préparatoires at a Lycées (which in this respect, are also a part of the French higher education system). The Grandes Écoles “provide a cosseted higher education to the nation’s future elites – tomorrow’s “haut fonctionnaires” (senior civil servants), leaders of industry, top military brass, top politicians, engineers, physicists and others.” Source: http://about-france.com/higher-education-system.htm

The debate inside France continues to pit academics and media against ministries and civil service departments. In a meeting at the Fulbright office, I attempted to dispel myths on U.S. higher education, especially our community colleges and the myriad of benefits of attending a community college before transferring to a four-year university, as well as ACEI’s credential evaluation policies concerning the baccalauréat examination and the classes préparatoires for which we recommend some advanced standing credit. Our evaluation policies, in line with decades of established national guidelines, was welcomed, though at first it was met with surprise, especially where it concerns the credit allowed for the classes préparatoires. It seems the practices of a few U.S. universities with select admissions requirements (where no credit is considered for the classes préparatoires thus underestimating the value of the Grandes Écoles degree programs) have been interpreted as being the norm on a national level by those outside the country. Given that we have over 3000 colleges and universities in the U.S., each with its unique set of admission criteria, adhering to a perspective practiced by a select few does not imply a national standard. We all agreed to continue the discussion by organizing a webchat and a visit to the Fulbright office in the near future to speak about these issues with French students wishing to study in the U.S.. To be continued…stay tuned!

Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI
www.acei1.com

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Living in Rennes

July 19, 2012

Rennes - 11

I arrived in Rennes, the capital of Brittany, as an exchange student in September 1975. I was a 19 year old sophomore, who, along with 29 American students from my college, would be living with French families and taking classes at the university. My host family, the Louis, were a clan of women — Madame and her daughters, Catherine, 23, and Marie, 17. Monsieur Louis had died a few years earlier, hit by a truck right in front of the family’s apartment on Rue Marechal Joffre.

The family had hosted several Americans before me. These students, always female, were gregarious and outgoing. They’d bring Marie and sometimes Catherine on outings with other Americans, or they would bring Americans back to the apartment. My heart sank as I listened to these anecdotes. I was shy and introverted. I had difficulty making friends and spent most of my time by myself. I felt I was bound to disappoint the two sisters, particularly Marie, who had come to expect an exciting social life through her contacts with the Americans. Catherine, who worked full time in a record store, was often tired and distracted and was less interested in socializing.

I was fond of Mme. Louis. A tiny, bird-like woman who taught piano to make ends meet, she was my favorite of the three, a substitute for my own cold, distant mother. I enjoyed sitting with her in the dining room, drinking tea and chatting. She told me Americans were brave during World War II but the British were braver because they flew their planes lower. When I told her I was studying American literature she replied there was no such thing because America was too new a country to have its own literature.

The Vietnam War was ending, and there was a great deal of anti-American sentiment in France. President Ford was compared to Charlie Chaplin. Americans were seen as inept, uneducated boors. I had my own ideas about a 200 year old American literary tradition and the contributions of American soldiers during World War II, but I kept my thoughts to myself.

My classes were held at the Universite de Rennes. Because my college followed a 10-week trimester that did not match the university’s schedule, we did not take classes with French students. I took a course in French language, one in French culture and history, and an independent study on the teaching of English in French high schools in Rennes. Our term-abroad advisor was Paul LeClerc, who recently retired as president of the New York Public Library.

Every weekday morning except Friday, I left the Louis apartment and walked to campus, pausing to admire the jewel-like pastries arrayed in glass cases in the patisseries or stare at carcasses hanging in the windows of the boucheries. At first I ate lunch in the noisy university cafeteria, but the other American students had scattered after classes were over and I had no one to talk to. I started buying yogurt and fruit at local markets and eating alone in the park. My program provided for two meals a day with the host family, breakfast and dinner, so I did not go back to the apartment for lunch. Mme. Louis prepared light dinners: soup and salad or an omelette, so I lost five pounds that semester in spite of daily treats of tarte citron (lemon tart) or mille feuilles (Napoleons).

I was isolated not only by shyness but because I had not rented a mobilette, the ubiquitous motor scooters the locals used and the Americans adored. Some students, who lived outside the city limits and could not walk to campus, needed them, but most used the scooters just for fun. The Americans would gather after class and buzz around the city or explore the surrounding countryside. My mother had fallen off a scooter on her honeymoon and broken her foot, and that story, combined with my natural cautiousness, prevented me from joining the pack.

Then I met Shelley and Gary. And everything changed. I no longer remember the details of our meeting. None of us had mobilettes. And none of us fit in with the others. Shelley hated the provinciality of Rennes. She didn’t particularly want to learn French. She wanted to see the world and have adventures. She wanted to sleep with many men. Gary was black and gay. He wore multiple gold chains and spoke in a high, affected voice. He was kind, with a sharp sense of humor that he often turned against himself, probably as a way to survive.

We became our own group, the Three Musketeers. We bought baguettes, cheese and wine and ate lunch together in the park. We sat together on the train on school trips to Chartres or Saint Malo. I brought Gary to meet Mme. Louis and she adored him. At that time the French were curious about les noirs, and I think she thought of him as a male Josephine Baker. I don’t know how he felt about being an object of curiosity, but I don’t think life was that much easier for him back in the States. After all, this was 1975. He preferred Mme. Louis to his own French mother and was gracious and patient with her. But he was not an available male and Marie wanted nothing to do with him, or with me by that time.

Shelley did not want to meet Mme. Louis. On weekends she took the train alone to Paris or Amsterdam and would talk about men she had met in bars and cafes. I admired and feared her recklessness, and I didn’t want to hear too many details. I worried there was some chance she could end up floating in the Seine or the Amstel. One evening, she induced me to take a train with her far in to the countryside to listen to a concert of chamber music in a chateau. I remember getting lost in the woods after dark while trying to find the concert, and cursing myself for going along with her.

By the time I left Rennes, I spoke French fluently. And when I returned to college, I never saw Shelley or Gary again. The three of us reclaimed our usual routines and did not seek each other, as though we were embarrassed to acknowledge our former vulnerability and loneliness.

Rennes is less provincial now, more modern. The French have embraced our technology and the city dwellers have learned our language. But are we still the new kids on the block?

Nancy Gerber

Nancy Gerber

Nancy Gerber received her doctorate in English from Rutgers and taught Women’s Studies and English at Rutgers in Newark for eight years.
She is the author of Losing a Life: A Daughter’s Memoir of Caregiving.

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