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2010 News Releases

Longwood students in summer take General Education course in international setting

August 25, 2010

Longwood students Madeline Hunter and Ollie Garland (front) and (back, from left) Monica Ware, Jordan Hammelmann, AnnaLeah Chantry, Brittany Dixon and Claire Turck in France Longwood students Madeline Hunter and Ollie Garland (front) and (back, from left) Monica Ware, Jordan Hammelmann, AnnaLeah Chantry, Brittany Dixon and Claire Turck spent four weeks in France this summer

Almost all Longwood University students enroll in English 400, a capstone writing seminar called Active Citizenship, to complete General Education requirements. This summer, for the first time, eight Longwood students fulfilled that requirement in an international setting.

During the four-week program in Paris and La Rochelle, led by Dr. Wade Edwards, associate professor of French, and accompanied by Heather Mueller Edwards, lecturer in French, the students also completed the intermediate level of their foreign language requirement by studying French under faculty at the University of La Rochelle. Although this was the third consecutive summer that Longwood students (non-foreign language majors) studied French at the University of La Rochelle, it was the first time the program included a section of English 400. It also was the first time English 400 has ever been offered abroad.

The past two years, the program featured, in addition to French, an upper-level history course taught by Dr. Steven Isaac, associate professor of history at Longwood. Isaac, who launched the program, was unable to lead it this summer because he was conducting research as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Poitiers, about an hour and a half from La Rochelle.

The Longwood students, three of whom are history majors, lived with host French families, took weekend side trips, and kept a blog (http://larochellejuillet.wordpress.com). They received three credits for the English 400 and another three credits for the French course. The program, which invited students to focus on the function of language in a democracy, was called English 400 in France: Language and Identity.

"As their host families and professors kept telling me all summer, these students were extremely hardworking," said Edwards, who as a result of the trip is exploring possible exchanges with the University of La Rochelle. "They were in French class from about 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day, and they were in the English 400 class for about an hour after that every day. Our theme, 'Language and Identity,' encouraged them to investigate the role language plays in shaping personal, political, national or gender identities. Because the course met off-campus, the students approached the course from a new angle - that of the cultural outsider. I wanted them to learn, from the position of a foreigner, to negotiate the various linguistic registers vital to public discourse in a democracy: when to be assertive and when to be humble, when to speak up and when to listen carefully.

"Many of these insights are captured in their blog entries. For instance, the blog itself is geared toward the community of scholars at Longwood but also toward their parents who were curious about their exploits in France. In one entry, students might discuss the difficulties encountered by someone who doesn't speak a language fluently, while in another, they might elaborate on the thrill of climbing a 700-year-old castle or eating live oysters for the first time. For their final entries - the ones at the top of the blog - they were asked to summarize their experience in a single word. The words they came up with were are fascinating. The first four include reality, hope, self, and stripes."

English 400 (Active Citizenship in an Advanced Writing Seminar) fulfills Goal 14 in the General Education program, which is "to learn how to communicate effectively as an active citizen leader and to participate in the written discourse of civic life."

"La Rochelle is a welcoming, small town on the Atlantic Ocean just north of the Cognac region in the middle of the west coast," said Edwards. "We left July 1 from Dulles Airport and returned July 28. It was a good time to be in France. La Rochelle is a popular vacation spot, and there was a film festival under way when we arrived. Throughout the month we enjoyed a week-long music festival in the town, the World Cup (soccer tournament) and the Tour de France, and we were there for the French national holiday, July 14).

"We took excursions every Saturday. We went to an island next door, the Ile de Ré, where (actor) Johnny Depp has a house, and saw how locals raise oysters and cultivate salt from the salt marshes, and we visited a lighthouse. Another Saturday we floated on gondolas in an area of marshland in the country called the Marais Poitevin, also called the 'Green Venice,' that has canals dug out by monks in the 11th century. After the French courses ended, we spent three days exploring Paris."

Edwards said that one of the trip's highlights occurred on Bastille Day when the man from whom he and his wife rented an apartment opened and shared a bottle of cognac from 1920. "Our host's grandfather used to work in the cognac industry years ago. Every Christmas he would present a bottle to his sister as a gift. Since she didn't drink cognac, she simply stored it in her cellar. Years later when she died, our host's family discovered several bottles of lovely 90-year-old cognac, which he generously shared with us. I was touched that someone we just met would share something so dear."

Edwards also said he was fortunate to "bump into" Isaac a few times. "He met us at the train station when we arrived and gave us and the students a history-laded orientation to the town of La Rochelle, which he's been studying for a while. He was a great resource to use. In a sense, he was our anchor."