We begin in Canada
The story of Nice, France begins in Montreal. Yes, Canada. Dr. Mike Dorsher won a 2008-09 Fulbright Scholar research fellowship in Montreal at McGill University. It was during this fellowship that Dorsher gained an appreciation for the French culture that is an enduring way of life in some parts of the country.
A few years later, after a study abroad trip to Peru, Dorsher proposed the idea of a journalist workshop in Quebec to the Institute for Education in International Media (ieiMedia), an organization offering journalism study-abroad programs. The response from ieiMedia was that students want to go to Europe. Thus began his role as Program Director: this included the budgeting, itinerary planning and syllabus writing that would take 20 students (12 from UWEC) and seven faculty members to Nice, France.
The study abroad program ran from July 4 to August 1 with a one credit direct study during the spring semester. Quick geography lesson: Nice is on the southeast coast of France on the Mediterranean, located conveniently between Cannes and Monaco.
The journalists become les journalistes
The students and faculty generally began their days with French lessons at Actilangue, a French language school in Nice. After that was journalism class until the school would lock up for lunch, which offered a definite reminder they were in the south of France; as Dorsher explains, “everyone took at least a full hour for lunch and oftentimes, as the French do, would take two, two and a half hours for lunch.”
After what quickly became more of a working lunch, the students and faculty would break into groups of four to five students and one or two faculty members to work on assignments. A planning mix-up left the teams with only one interpreter to work with.
“We only had one interpreter for 80 hours of time,” said Dorsher. “We had been told, I had been told and made plans for four interpreters for 20 hours a piece and so that was a big challenge, for only one group at a time or one person at a time to have a professional interpreter.”
The misunderstanding led to some frustration from the French people and students alike but quickly forced the issue of improving their language skills. The resulting students’ stories comprise two blogs: Nice Nous and Nice du Jour-nalisme.
When asked what he thought the students got out of the program, Dorsher said, “maybe the largest benefit is just that it gives them confidence or at least the suspicion that in the future they are able to handle what is thrown at them or what they need to do in order to get a story under difficult and uncertain circumstances.”
“Once they have been able to get a story, several stories, in a foreign language they speak little if any of, and in a foreign place that is very different from any place they’ve ever lived before,” he continued, “it’s the case that when you have to get a story in English on the other side of Eau Claire instead of just on campus, it has to be a lot less daunting.”
As for the experience as a whole, Dorsher sums it up perfectly: “It’s the fabulous sights that we saw, fabulous food we ate, the fabulous people that we met and talked with, and if not made friends with, at least got to see first hand what their life was like.”
Public relations and terrible packing
One of those students on the trip was Larissa Jackson, a senior double majoring in public relations and liberal arts with a photography emphasis. She decided to go because she always wanted to travel abroad. Despite having very little French language knowledge beforehand and finding that the most challenging barrier, she is certain she will be back.
As a public relations student, Jackson’s role involved writing about, as she describes, “the students and the experiences we all took part in.” An example of this is a story she wrote describing the ieiMedia students touring the Matisse Museum in Nice.
Asked what she learned, Jackson expressed matters both philosophical and pragmatic:
“That there is so much of the world that I have yet to see. That traveling really does open your eyes to so many new things. To keep an open mind, being in such a new environment with new people, you just have to take it day by day. I also learned that I am a terrible packer and next time, because there will be a next time, my packing tactics will be so much different.”
When asked if she would do it again, Jackson simply responded, “when are we leaving?”
“Coming back home everything seemed so boring and blah compared to everything back in France,” she said. “It was a trip that I will never forget: the place, the people, the food, that wine.”
Dorsher made sure to let me know they are working on a return trip to Nice for next summer. Hoping to learn from and improve upon this past trip, the plan is to fly into London and spend three or four days there doing some initial journalism in a familiar language and touring the BBC. They are also planning the timing to coincide with Wimbledon in hopes of enjoying some early round matches. From there, the group will get on the Eurostar and ride under the English Channel to Paris. After three or four days in Paris, it is off to Nice for the remaining three weeks. Those interested should check out ieiMedia’s Nice, France study abroad page for more information.