Tuesday, May 7, 2013

France...and Confucius...and people...






Villefranche-sur-Mer, as seen from  Cap Ferrat (Photo LP 2013)

After almost seven weeks my sojourn in France is ending in a few days.  Having spent short holidays in France over the past 30 years, I wanted to stay for a longer period and to have the opportunity to live like a local, albeit a transient one. 

My month long course at the Institut de français in Villefranche-sur-Mer enabled me, for five weeks, to mix within the welcoming community of that ville...to share their market, their boulangerie, their boucher, their inclement weather, and their daily greetings as I would commence my walk up the hill to my "school" each morning. 

The teachers and administration personnel at the Institut were, each and every one of them, encouraging of we students, even while they corrected our language and at times laughed with us over our mistakes.  The two teachers who conducted my class, Intermediate 3, over the four weeks were inspirational...they encouraged us to speak even when making mistakes, to correct ourselves and to keep speaking regardless.  They somehow also enabled us to understand complex grammatical formulae while describing how simple it could be when we just listened to them, without taking notes, so that we could understand the musicality of the phrases; the grammar which is so relentlessly drilled into us in our English speaking French classes somehow made perfect sense.

The plaque in front of the Language Laboratory...(Photo LP 2013)
My fellow students at the Institut were diverse...from the countries of the USA, Poland, Germany, Sweden, Latvia and Canada; their professions included specialist physicians, a professor of political science, an accountant, an adminstrator, a lawyer, a computing engineer, a psychology student, a medical researcher and the country head of one of the largest fashion brands in the world.  The other students I met from the other classes came from countries as diverse as Russia, Italy, Switzerland, Singapore, and more and included judges, diplomats and private individuals taking the program for personal development reasons.

I left the Institut with a certificate, and a sense of personal achievement...in speaking another language, in the enjoyment I felt in interacting with people from diverse nations and cultures, in managing a challenge...and enjoying each and every moment, even the times when the challenges for a time appeared to be difficulties.

Sometimes the challenges seemed like difficulties until a walk along the quai in gentle light (Photo LP 2013)

Perhaps the most obvious link for all of the experiences  at the Institut is for me the quote from Confucius, which approximately translated reads:  " All people are the same;  it is their habits which are different".  Not only did the Institut provide a framework for learning...it also provided the framework for people from diverse nationalities and age groups, ranging from 19 to over 70, to interact with a common goal.  

I remember when I was a little girl in the '60s that my father took his place at an Army Staff College in Queenscliffe, Victoria, Australia, and was joined by militiary officers from countries as diverse as Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), the UK,  and other Commonwealth nations.  Many of these officers, all male, were unaccompanied by their wives, and my mother would open our home on a Friday night to welcome them...on the condition that they would, in their turn, use our kitchen to cook a dish from their homeland to share with all who visited that evening. 

As a result my younger sister and I would hear amazing and sometimes heartfelt stories from people whom we knew only because they shared our table.  We learned to eat curry with our fingers, chilli from Indonesia, and to tie a sari as a "lady" would, all before the age of 10.

Within a few years some of these officers would have died in military skirmishes, fighting those with whom they had shared laughter around our family table,  if only for a few months.

The view towards Nice from Eze (Photo LP 2013)
Those memories of my childhood have flooded back to me at different times during my sojourn in France.  In my class at the Institut we discussed, in French (the only language we were allowed to speak on school grounds) the difference in the lives of two of my fellow students since the breakup of the USSR;  we talked about the politics and economic realities of the world in general since the Global Financial Crisis...and we were able to do this during our formal luncheon every day, each student offering their own perspective.

Having left Villefranche a week ago, I have been travelling with my son...and my perceptions of another country and its people have been shared with eyes younger than mine...

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