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The Transatlantic Friendship and Mobility Initiative: Bilateral Seminar May 14-15, 2018 Embassy of France, Washington, D.C.

May 17th, 2018

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At the invitation of the Embassy of France in Washington, D.C., I had the pleasure of attending The Bilateral Seminar on The Transatlantic Friendship and Mobility Initiative, on May 14-15, 2018. I was joined by my AACRAO colleagues, Melanie Gottlieb and Julia Funaki, and fellow AACRAO IESC (International Education Standards Council) member, Robert Watkins from the University of Texas, Austin.

The Seminar was appropriately timed with the 70th Anniversary of the Franco-American Fulbright Commission (officially, the Commission franco-américaine d’échanges universitaires et culturels), a bi-national commission established between the United States of American and the French Republic by the Fulbright-Hays Act of 1961 (P.L. 87-256) and the Franco-American Treaty of May 7, 1965.  The Commission administers the Fulbright Program in France and operates the US State Department’s EducationUSA advising center for France. Those in attendance included representatives from the various branches of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry for Higher Education, Research and Innovation (MESRI), officials from the French Embassy and French Consular Officers in the U.S., University Vice-Presidents from French institutions, representatives from the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education.

From the onset, we learned that France is investing heavily in upgrading its university system and is aiming to position itself on the cutting edge of research and innovation. In his opening remarks, Frédéric Forest, Ph.D., the Deputy Director, Directorate General for Higher Education and Professional Integration at the MESRI, spoke of the importance the French President, Emmanuel Macron is placing on science and technology.  He noted that France is investing massively in its higher education.  It’s worth noting that in 2018, the French government spent roughly 72 billion euros for education; the second highest ranking expenditure on the budget after tax repayment and abatement and before defense.

Reforms also include access to higher education and reinforcing student mobility. France is committed to double the number of U.S. students studying at its HEIs and the same to have its students attending U.S. HEIs.  Dr. Forest concluded that France and the U.S. Department of State signed a declaration supporting these bilateral initiatives that encourage student mobility between the two countries.

Goals of the Bilateral Seminar

The goals of the Bilateral Seminar were laid out by Minh-Ha Pham, Ph.D., Scientific Counselor at the Embassy of France in the U.S.  Echoing, Dr. Forest’s remarks, Dr. Pham noted that in 2014, U.S. and France signed a declaration to double the numbers by doing the following:

  • promoting and opening access to a diverse student population.
  • increase research collaboration in higher education
  • increase student and faculty mobility
  • open study abroad opportunities
  • reduce the cost of study abroad
  • offer English as a medium of instruction at public universities
  • improve career relevance for students returning from the student abroad experience
  • facilitate mutual credit and degree recognition

Action Items and Success Stories

Nadine Van der Tol, Ph.D., North America Program Manager for Higher Education and Research, and Student Mobility, MESRI, noted that the U.S. has been France’s leading scientific partner.  In 2017, 16% of French scientific publications involve U.S. partnerships, yet while French students rank 17th on the list of countries sending students to U.S. HEIs, the number of American students studying at French HEIs is very low.   Finding out how France and U.S. can cooperate to help increase the number of U.S. students studying in France was a goal Dr. Van der Tol hoped to see accomplished by the end of the seminar.

The French representatives agreed on the importance of U.S. community colleges and indicated that their primary focus is on attracting this population of students who may not be aware of study abroad opportunities, don’t have the financial means and deserve access.

Ms. Christel Outreman, Higher Education Attaché, Director of Campus France USA, at the Embassy of France in the U.S., mentioned two projects in place to welcome community colleges:

  • Boot camp – With the help of CCID, the French set up a two-week program for community college students to visit France. This was an all-expenses paid two-week stay in France and the only obligation to the students was applying for a passport to travel. At the end of their two-week visit, Ms. Outreman noted that half of the students were considering studying abroad and most importantly, they were interested in studying in France.  The results of this boot camp were seen as so successful that plans are underway to host another. 
  • Pilot program – Another program Campus France USA had introduced was to select one student from a community college who entered a classe préparatoire, a two-year program intended for admission to the first year of the master’s in engineering or master’s in business degree program at a Grande École in Engineering or Business, respectively. This pilot program demonstrated that an exchange between a U.S. community college and a French HEI such as a Grande École is possible and successful.

Speakers also cited variety of programs already in place that offer funding and grants supporting study abroad opportunities.  One example is the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship,  a program of the U.S. Department of State that enables students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad.

Another program was introduced by James Hicks, Ph.D., Program Director, Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP).  Dr. Hicks reported that since its inception, LSAMP has helped over 600,00 students.  LSAMP’s overall goal as cited on its website is to “assist universities and colleges in diversifying the nation’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce by increasing the number of STEM baccalaureate and graduate degrees awarded to populations historically underrepresented in these disciplines: African Americans, Hispanic Americans, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and Native Pacific Islanders.” LSAMP is a congressionally mandated national science foundation program and offers help to two-year and four-year institutions. Undergraduate research is a key component of LSAMP and to achieve this, LSAMP supports study abroad by offering $5000 for a summer study abroad program that includes a visit to a national laboratory.

There is also the Chateaubriand Fund which was created in 1981 to encourage young American scientists to perform research in France.  Fellows receive a monthly stipend of up to 1400 euros, paid round-trip ticket to France and support for health insurance.  Each year, the Chateaubriand program gives about 50 grants.

The Thomas Jefferson Fund is a newly formed fund set up to address the world’s most challenging problems.  Since President Trump’s announcement of the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, France is amplifying its STEM, Health and research programs at the graduate and doctoral levels by launching several funds and grants to attract qualified talent. This is demonstrated in President Emmanuel Macron’s “Make Our Planet Great Again” initiative and by the 12million euros committed to the MESRI and the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs in achieving this goal.  Representatives from MESRI noted that in just one month they have received over 600 applications from scientists and researchers from around the world.  Needless to say, they had not expected such an overwhelming response in such a short time.

Since mutual recognition of degrees between the French and American HEIs was part of the discussion, my AACRAO colleagues Melanie Gottlieb and Julia Funaki presented an overview of the U.S. system of accreditation of HEIs and explained the credit system at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Summary

As the Seminar came to a close, it was clear that France is serious about meeting its goal of doubling international student numbers both as a host country and for study in the U.S. The French government has allocated funds to support international student and scholar exchange, through its “Make Our Planet Great Again” initiative, partnerships with U.S. community colleges and launching innovative programs such as the two-week all expenses-paid boot-camp for community colleges students to visit France, refining the visa application for students, providing English as a language of instruction to attract students to public universities, and exploring ways to offer paid internships to students enrolled in the exchange programs.  The U.S. in turn has several programs already in place that support U.S. students with their study abroad goals. In closing, the shared sentiment amongst several delegates was that universities in France and the U.S. can achieve their bilateral goals in student mobility through partnerships that foster mutual recognition of their degrees, offering dual degrees, and incentives such as paid internships and experienced-based learning objectives.

jasmin_2015

President & CEO, Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI)

President, Association of International Credentials Evaluators, Inc. (AICE)

Chair, International Education Standards Council (IESC), AACRAO

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Dispatches from Paris, France: AACRAO IESC Tour of the Business Grande Ecoles and Groningen Declaration Network Summit, April 2018

April 19th, 2018

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April in Paris. 80 degrees and sunny. Paris is a city built for walking and my colleagues from AACRAO IESC and I together kept daily log to see who had walked the most. Thanks to the apps on our smartphones or FitBits, we have been comparing notes on our individual steps and miles. Since my arrival last Saturday, I’ve clocked nearly 80,000 steps or about 50 miles. Not bad for a car dependent long-time resident of Los Angeles.

The primary purpose of the IESC’s visit to Paris has been to gather information on the Business Grande Ecoles in order to update the country profile on France and include the credentials offered by these specialized institutions of higher education. Members of IESC here in Paris include William Paver (FCSA), Robert Watkins (UT Austin), Emily Tse (IERF) and yours truly. Melanie Gottlieb, Deputy Director of AACRAO is also here in Paris and it is thanks to her that we had appointments to meet with administrators at the ESSEC, a Grande Ecole in Business, and representatives of the French Ministry of National Higher Education and Research.

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AACRAO’s IESC Delegation in Paris(L-R): William Paver, Robert Watkins, Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert, Melanie Gottlieb, Emily Tse

Since IESC will be preparing a report on its recent visit and findings on the Business Grande Ecoles, I will not share details of our meetings as we are still waiting to receive additional information. However, I can say that our meetings with both ESSEC and the MOE were successful and offered us very helpful insight on the various access pipelines to the degree programs at the Grande Ecoles of Business. One thing that we were able to confirm is that the Diploma from a Grande Ecole and the title of Grade de Master represent completion five years of full-time study beyond the Baccalaureat. The first two years comprise of studies known as prepas or classe preparatoire which are completed at authorized schools in France. On completion of the two-year prepas, students intending to study at the Grande Ecoles of Business must sit for concours, entrance examination. Their performance on the concours will determine their eligibility for admission into the Grande Ecoles of Business where they continue their studies for an additional three years.

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Ministry of National Education, France

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AACRAO IESC delegation at Ministry of National Education – French officials, right to left: Dr. Jean-Luc Nahel, Dr. Nadine Van Der Tol, Prof. Jean-Luc Clemente. IESC delegation: Melanie Gottlieb, William Paver, Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert, Robert Watkins, Emily Tse.

Immediately after the conclusion of our meetings, it was time to attend the Groningen Declaration Network annual summit, held at the University of Sorbonne, Marie-Curie campus. Discussion continues on what progress has been made in promoting digital mobility of student records worldwide. Of concern to many was the Melanie Gottlieb’s presentation on the GDPR, (General Data Protection Regulation) and how it may impact education and access to academic documents. Here’s a quick explanation of the GDPR: In April 2016, the European Parliament, The Council of the European Union, the European Commission drafted a Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the Protection of national persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data. For more on the GDPR, click here.

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Venue for the GDN Summit, Paris 2018

We are in the heart of the college and university center of Paris. We’re staying at a hotel near the University of Sorbonne where the GDN meetings are held, which is aptly name Rue des Écoles (Street of Schools). It is, therefore, impossible not to stumble or walk by a collège, institute, faculté, or université. As an international credential evaluator who has been in the field for 30 years, seeing the very institutions from which we receive academic transcripts to evaluate never gets old; in fact it’s downright invigorating and makes our work so much more tangible.

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Since there is still one more day of presentations left at the GDN, I may have more to report in another dispatch from Paris. In the meantime, stay tuned for updates on the Business Grande Ecoles from the IESC in the upcoming weeks.

A bientôt!

jasmin_2015
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).

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At ACEI, we see the importance of international education in our global economy and strive to maintain the exchange and dissemination of information by assisting colleges and universities, professional organizations, and employers around the world with our research and credential evaluation services that help enhance their reputation and competitive recruiting effectiveness. To learn more about ACEI and its services such as Credential Evaluation, Translation, Webinars and Training, and how we can assist you with your credential evaluation and recruitment needs, please visit www.acei-global.org or call us at 310.275.3530.

 

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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.

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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

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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.

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Rue Saint-Jacques and the Sorbonne in Paris

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University of Paris, Faculty of Law

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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).

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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
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Living in Rennes

July 19, 2012

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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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