Students Explore Language, History, Culture
By Sandra Seitz
More than 100 French-Canadians came to Lowell in May, following in the path taken by tens of thousands of their countrymen in the late 1800s.
This time, the “immigrants” were visitors – students and faculty of the college Cégep Beauce-Appalaches in St. Georges, Quebec, joining with students and faculty of UMass Lowell. They spent a day at the Tsongas Industrial History Center, welcomed by interim Director Dr. Sheila Kirschbaum, where they re-enacted the experiences of mill workers, weavers and hydraulic engineers. They also spent time in Kerouac Memorial Park.
“Historically, there is significant overlap between the experiences in Quebec and New England,” says Kirschbaum, who made the initial introductions between faculty and helped the relationship grow. “Everyone at Cégep B-A is very enthusiastic about their connection with Lowell.”
The fifth visit between the two institutions over the past two years, May’s event marked a formal milestone in the developing partnership, as Michel Louis Beauchamp, the director general of the Canadian school, and Anita Greenwood, dean of the Graduate School of Education, signed a Memorandum of Understanding. The agreement will facilitate student exchanges between the Canadian school and UMass Lowell.
Foreign Travel Builds Confidence
Asst. Prof. Carole Salmon of the Cultural Studies Department has led two study trips to Quebec. For each, the students studied a common text, attended Cégep classes and participated in discussions, experiencing full linguistic and cultural immersion.
“Canada is only a six-hour drive from Lowell, but everything is clearly a different culture,” says Ravith Ot, senior majoring in Modern Languages. This was especially striking at restaurants, says Ot, “where we spent the whole evening enjoying each other’s company, with no sense of being hurried.”
An exchange trip is also “great for enhancing fluency in the language,” says Molly Courtemanche, senior in psychology, with a minor in French. “Even a weekend trip increased my ability exponentially, especially going to St. Georges the second time. I felt comfortable wandering the streets, not know where I was, and talking with shopkeepers.”
Giving French to the Community
The French Club on campus raised more than $3,000 to supplement the University’s support of their student exchange trips and decided to use some in a community service project.
“Dr. Salmon suggested we buy children’s books in French for the Jeanne d’Arc School in Lowell,” says Courtemanche. “We had a lot of fun finding and buying the books (in St. Georges) and the kids were so excited when we read to them – they kept asking for more.”
The UMass Lowell French Club members met the Jeanne d'Arc French Club students, in third through sixth grades, when they delivered the 30 books in person. They were greeted with a home-made cake and refreshments, and the young students’ best conversational French. UMass Lowell French Club President Aimee Russo described the project on her blog at HawkTalk