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Feature: Eye on Aix-en-Provence

June 1, 2006

The International Academic Program in Aix-en-Provence, France will celebrate its 45th anniversary next year. Aix is one of IAP’s largest and oldest programs. Since its inception, 850 UW-Madison students have studied in Aix, once the seat of the Kingdom of Provence and now a lively as well as beautiful city of 120,000 inhabitants. This fall, twenty UW-Madison students will journey to Aix for a formative and unforgettable study-abroad experience. Below are two perspectives that capture the essence of Aix, and the important role the IAP program has played over the decades.

1966-1967

UW-Madison alumna, Martha Florey (BA French, ’68, JD ‘83), Assistant Director of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Safety, studied in Aix-en-Provence during her junior year.

It’s difficult to pick out the highlights; the whole year was a highlight. Perhaps the first weeks of immersion in French language and culture, because of the intensity of the experience. We seemed to go through phases in language acquisition. I remember when I began thinking partially in both languages and speaking both poorly.

Aix was a gathering place for students from all over the world. A friend from California had a red VW bug and we spent a lot of time driving around the countryside, to Nîmes and Arles, and to what became one of my favorites – Les Baux de Provence. In Aix we shopped for our food daily, which was unheard of back in the U.S., and visited the specialty fruit and flower markets. We had favorite boulangeries and patisseries. Aix also had a café culture. I always went to the Deux Garçons (we called it “Les 2-G’s”) where fellow students and I would discuss what we would do that evening – go to the ciné, boite de nuit, or nightclub, but not study, oh please no.

All these high points remain part of my way of experiencing the world. The year in France didn’t directly affect my career path since I knew that I didn’t want to be a French teacher, but it changed my understanding of the “speed” of life, and encouraged me to take advantage of new opportunities. We were basically on our own. We had to reach out to strangers – French, American, South African, Moroccan, and more. I sent lots of letters and postcards home, but believe I called the U.S. just twice the whole year.

2006

Courtney Skare (BA History, Communication Arts ’03) is a study-abroad advisor with International Academic Programs.

I recently returned from a wonderful two weeks in Aix-en-Provence, visiting my younger sister, Karin, a UW-Madison junior who is double-majoring in French and International Studies. We spent time together wandering through the Saturday market; we people-watched as we sat in a local café on Aix’s main commercial street, the Cours Mirabeau; and visited the park where Cézanne painted landscapes of Mont Sainte-Victoire. While I took in many of the usual tourist attractions, I also experienced Aix in a different way, through the eyes of a study-abroad participant.

My sister tutors a fourteen year-old boy, her “host” brother in English once a week, and his family invited us to dinner while I was there. I chatted with Karin and other international students in her dorm about their activities in Aix. I also had a chance to see how my sister had grown and changed since she left the U.S. nine months ago. When our rental car broke down and Karin had to negotiate repairs over the telephone, I realized how fluent she had become in French as well as how self-confident. I’m the sibling who normally takes charge; however, as Karin led me through Paris during a weekend trip, I knew she had matured.

As we talked over the length of my trip, I also saw how Karin’s perspective of the world had broadened and how she had gained a better understanding not only of her host country, but also of the U.S. UW-Madison students, not just my sister, are having experiences they will remember for years to come and are learning life skills that will be an asset to their future careers.

Celebrating the Wisconsin-Aix Connection

In early April, over thirty Aix study-abroad alumni, current students, faculty and staff had breakfast at the French House with Jean-Paul de Gaudemar, Recteur of the Académie d’Aix-Marseille and Chancelier des universités, the leading educational administrator for the region.

M. de Gaudemar, along with M. William Marois, Recteur and Chancelier des universités for the Bordeaux area, was visiting Madison to solidify a cooperative educational agreement between the Embassy of France and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Through the partnership, high school students and teachers in both countries will have the opportunity to establish deeper language and cultural knowledge through exchange programs and classroom connections. The partnership will also accelerate the pace of future international study at the university level, and better prepare Wisconsin’s and France’s high school graduates to succeed in a globalized world.

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