“C’est magnifique! an amazing experience!”

I have returned to Australia after completing 4 weeks intensive program at Lille Catholique University, and feel as though I have gained another family and community in  northern France!

I  am very fortunate in being accepted into this course in Lille, France, along with 120+ international students from Argentina, Mexico,Hawaii, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Phillipines, Germany, Austria, England ,Ireland, Poland, Canada, USA and Australia. We became a close and supportive group of friends as we celebrated our cuisines at International evenings, exchanged ideas,shared recipes and meals in our dormitories, explored the city of Lille by foot and on the Metro, and traveled to Bruges, Brussels and Paris and Amsterdam as part of our elective units. French language was a core component and we were amazed at our abilities to grasp vocabulary as being masculine or feminine, and learn common french courtesties to successfully converse and negotiate with the locals in every day life. For me, learning the French language also opened up many connections to art and history, and I realized there are many ideas and experiences which cannot be translated exactly into English. This is something very valuable to remember as our global ‘village’ has much need of friendship and cooperation. It is humbling to learn about French struggles for freedom and the values they have created and continue to nurture. We were lucky to be at Bastille celebrations in a park in Lille, where everyone was warm, respectful and proud of their history. Families enjoyed a quiet day then watched as fireworks lit up the sky.

We spent 3 hours each morning in French class followed by lunch. As the French are well known for having great  pride in their cuisine, this is openly expressed when lunch can be as long as  1 ½ hours. Sharing a meal and conversation they ensure there is time to relax and  really digest good food and all manner of dialogue. My lunch experiences allowed me to visit my childhood again; home-style food and the priority relaxed pause sharing a meal is something sacrosanct. We Australians could take up as I am sure it is beneficial to physical, emotional, mental, spirtual wellbeing. Having time to connect, exchange ideas and information also supports many fundamental tenets of community health. Food is not something grabbed and scoffed down on the run or in front of a computer!I found the French really celebrated food, whether in the cafeteria where modest foods were decorated and presented with flair, or on the grass after walking together to a favourite Patisserie.

The highest value for conversation is expressed in courtesies shown even when entering or leaving a shop. It is considered very rude to enter without saying “Bonjour” and leave without saying “Au revoir”. If a customer is engaged in conversation, it is highly disrespectful to interrupt, even with “Excuxsez-moi”, and there is an understanding that this conversation will take its natural course; whether it is 5 minutes, 10 minutes or longer, others should politely wait for completion before entering into new dialogue. This is also something we can begin to  encourage, as it shows respect for all conversation and each of  us will then have our needs attended. Intercultural Communication Studies gave us insight into diverse concepts of time between cultures and how time orientation affects social practices and values. In France,it is not unusual or considered tardy to arrive 15 minutes late for an appointment.We were surprised to have our art history lectures begin at least 15 minutes later than mentioned on our schedules!

Our classes in Art History and World Class Museums  consisted of excursions on foot throughout Lille, and the old village of Lille where Musee de Comptesse, an old convent and orphanage houses many beautiful works and relics. Many churches in Lille, unscathed by war, and offer more works of art and architechure so many examples of medieval craftsmanship and devotion could be seen  as ‘living’ treasures. We explored the Palais de Beau Arts in Lille, the biggest French museum outside of Paris,where you can stand in front of huge altar pieces and paintings by Rubens,Van gough, and many other European masters.Ancient treasures from  Egypt,Rome and Greece lie in the underground gallery,and huge topographical, hand made sculptural relief maps of Lille and surrounding towns and landscapes, commissioned by kings for military purposes and  show the origins of  cities, “once upon a time villages”,and compare the changes to these sites. We also explored Le Magritte museum, graphic art-cartooning and street art in Brussels, the historical town of Brugges,the newly established  Louvre -de – Lens and Le Piscine at Robaix.

Students could also take a weekend trip to Paris and/ or Amsterdam.I was lucky to have a place in Paris from Friday afternoon to Sunday evening. and as soon as we arrived we set off for Notre Dame as it was just over a bridge in an island, Ilse de le Cite, on the Seine River. I was overwhelmed with emotion as we entered this breathtaking building, filled with Gregorian chants and many visitors who quietly prayed, lit candles and partook in mass.A walk along the Seine and boat trip later that night was stunning as our group viewed many landmarks including the Eiffel Tower. I was treated to a day with our International Students Team intern, a young American/ French student who was a fantastic guide through the quieter and out-of-the-way experiences in Paris. Blessed with very warm weather, we walked all day and into the late evening, as the sun does not set until 10:30pm! We caught the Metro from our accommodation in St Paul, to Montmatre and,visited Sacre Coeur, then the Paris Opera House and had lunch in a park, near the Bastille Monument, and walked through gardens near Le Louvre,along the Champs de Lyses, coming across little streets and shops including the oldest bookstore in Paris. Our lectures in galleries and churches was a feast of historical and curatorial studies.

There were 5 Australian students in this program and we asked about past trips to World War 1 and 2 memorial sites. The International Team kindly organized a small bus as 12 American, German, Canadian and Craotian students also expressed interest. We were very gratified and felt honoured to have the opportunity to visit Fromelles, and also cross the border into Beligium to Ypres, and stand under the Menin Gate.We were humbled by these memorials to the  huge sacrifices and hardship all soldiers and local families had endured.We were also invited to the new Australian War Museum at Fromelles, and were given a preview prior to the official opening. Created near the site where 240 soldiers’ bodies were recently found, this was a truly overwhelming experience, and much research and work has been done to create an interactive and intimate experience, allowing visitors to really feel a sense of living and fighting in trenches.

My 4 weeks in France felt much longer as we filled each day with exciting activities and as we lived and explored Lille and beyond  together, close friendships were forged between staff and students. This course enhanced my understanding of  French culture and exposed me to many new perspectives. International travel is a ‘real’ education- and I recommend the European Summer Program  with classes in inter cultural communication, European history and heritage, and the foundations of western art preserved in world class museums and galleries between Brussels and Paris, and in oral and written French language.

My experience as an exchange student at Lille Catholique University was something I will remember fondly and the International Team  at ACU is to be congratulated for enabling students to immerse themselves in different cultures and seek learning beyond our local experiences, and  return with a  new sensibilities and vision.