Former student speaks about her experience at IFE and beyond
I have been a francophile for pretty much my entire life and can trace the emergence of said passion to the fourth grade, when we were required to begin learning French. Ever since then, I have not been able to get enough of the language, culture, and the country itself.
After studying abroad in Paris in college for a semester in 2005, I knew I had to get back and stay for a longer period of time. That time came in January of 2011 when I left my job, family, and friends behind in Baltimore to partake in IFE’s Field Study and Internship program in Paris. I was back. I was home.
The experience I had with IFE was undeniably one of the best of my life. Not only did it permit me to return to Paris, but it allowed to me to intern and have a working experience abroad- an invaluable accomplishment in today’s global world. My internship was at URACA, l’Unité de Réflexion et d’Action des Communautés Africaines, as I have a particular interest in social programs and Francophone Africa. The association provides African immigrants in Paris with health information (with a particular focus on AIDS prevention and Sickle Cell awareness), counseling and support (including hospital visits and provision of a homemade African meal to African patients), and administrative needs (assistance regarding visas, paperwork, government entitlements, etc.). I worked with the most amazing mix of people from all over Africa and was instantly welcomed and treated like part of the URACA family.
URACA is located in the Parisian neighborhood, la Goutte d’Or, a very colorful and animated area. The neighborhood is also known for its prominent African (both Maghrebin and Sub-Saharan) population. It is most definitely not the stereotypical vision of Paris that most people (Parisians included) associate with the city of light. During the time I spent interning at URACA, I witnessed many interesting spectacles from the extraction of contraband cigarettes from the bases of lamp posts to high up in the metro rafters; to undercover cops chasing suspects through the streets; All of that being said, I also experienced many fascinating happenings in this culture-rich neighborhood. I saw hundreds of Muslims praying in the street on Friday afternoons, overflow from the already packed Mosque. They were lined up so far down the street that I could barely open the door to URACA’s community center! Also, there were the wonderful colors of the traditional African dress, the familiar sight of corn husks from the street vendors covering the ground, the abundant supply of restaurants serving traditional African cuisine, the windy side streets undoubtedly housing many discount shops, the familiar faces of the men I passed every morning sitting at a café sipping mint tea. Even after my internship was over, I returned often to the area for its inexpensive shops, great food, and blast of culture. I feel very lucky to have worked at URACA and to have experienced this under-appreciated part of Paris. I feel it has given me a more complete understanding of the city and its inhabitants.
But all good things must come to an end. The conclusion of my internship and the submission of my mémoire meant my seemingly unavoidable return to the US. However, in a fantastic twist of fate, I landed a job at UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) days before what I thought was to be a definitive return to the United States. My dream had finally come true, I was going to live and work in Paris!
Working at IIEP was another eye-opening experience. I was a Program Assistant to two different people in two different departments with tasks ranging from editing major publications (in English) to organizing workshops, meetings, and missions both large and small. I was fortunate enough to work with amazing colleagues, some of whom even became close friends. The international environment at IIEP is one in which I thrive. I love hearing so many languages on a daily basis and working with people from all over the world. On my floor alone were people from India, America, France, Japan, Holland, Mali, Germany, Namibia, Kenya, England, not to mention the host of other nationalities represented at the Institute. To be privy to the inner workings of such a prominent international organization is priceless and not just from the perspective of my CV. The work carried out by UNESCO and its partners is crucial, and it is work I believe in. Working at IIEP even helped me hone in on my future career path. Faced with the overwhelming need to have an advanced degree in order to advance professionally, I recently made the difficult decision to leave IIEP and Paris and return to the US to pursue a Master’s in International Communications.
I am very lucky to have been able to spend so much time in a foreign city and to have traveled so extensively. In today’s global world, it is increasingly important to have an understanding of other cultures. The time I spent in Paris I will cherish forever, and though I have been back in the US for almost 2 months and miss the sights and sounds of my home away from home so very much, I know that I will be back. C’est sûr et certain.
Kathryn Barrett (Goucher College - 2007)
Paris FSI Program - Spring 2011
IFE Student’s Tour de France
In internships as in photojournalism, timing is everything. Erin Shipley of Goucher College devoted her IFE Paris Field Study and Internship semester to building her photojournalism skills as member of the photographic services team of the French Ministry of the Interior, and then had the good idea to prolong her internship beyond the term (something increasingly frequent among IFE students). The timing was perfect, as she was sent on assignment in late June to cover the Tour de France.
Erin comments on her experience :
Last semester, IFE helped to place me in probably the most opportune position at the most opportune moment of my life. I was interning at the photo service of the French Interior Ministry and had decided to extend my internship through the beginning of August. One day last spring, my boss asked me nonchalantly, “how would you like to cover the Tour de France?” He said it in French of course. My reply was “Est-ce que c’est vraiment une question?” Is that really a question?
So, in the last few days of June I packed my suitcase with 15 personalized white polo shirts indicating “Ministère de l’Interieur, Rélations Presse,” buttoned up a pair of dark blue business pants, and slipped a long bright yellow Tour de France lanyard around my neck at the end of which dangled a badge marked with my name, photo, title, and press and VIP access. I couldn’t believe my luck, even as I lugged a very large suitcase, two stuffed backpacks and one gigantic cross-body bag complete with photo, video, and editing materials down my very small staircase. I would have to bring these bags in and out of hotels every day for the next three weeks and I didn’t mind one bit. There was something thrilling about being responsible for all of the equipment, banal though it may sound.
The Tour quickly became everything more than I imagined. For Americans who aren’t cyclists, or who have never watched the event, it is difficult to envision the hype that goes along with cycling in France. Statistically, the Tour is the annual sporting event with the largest live audience in the world, recording between 12 and 15 million spectators per year (and that doesn’t include people who watch it on television). One might compare the event to following a circus or a very large caravan of Harry Potter enthusiasts. You are guaranteed to see people lining country roads in the middle of nowhere, cycling décor of various colors and mediums, flags and banners supporting countries and particular cyclists, and the occasional man dressed as a sausage in the hopes that a Cochonou truck will send little packets of pork (the French version of beef jerky as I imagine) flying his way.
The cyclists are preceded, as I hinted above, by a large caravan of floats made by biggest sponsors of the tour. You may imagine the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, all inclusive of your gummy candy company (Haribo), your national bank (LCL), your favorite laundry detergent (XTRA), and your athletic sportswear manufacturer (Le Coq Sportif), among a long list of others. Personally, I spent three days in the caravan accompanying the ministry’s three sectors charged with Tour security; the police, firefighters, and gendarmerie. These were magical days driving through the countryside and mountains of France and Belgium, waving, smiling and throwing goodies to the public, and leaning out of windows trying to get the best “shot” of the other floats. Other days I waited in the VIP section next to the finish line, or even on the course with my camera and/or video equipment. I spent time in the press halls editing photos and talking with French journalists and other photographers. Every so often I would go visit the American and British friends I’d made on the NBC Sports news truck. They showed me their recording space, complete with cameras, microphones and the table behind which news anchors perform national broadcasts. One day, in a special “race-against-the-clock” stage, I accompanied French champion Raymond Poulidor (more affectionately known as Poupou) in his car behind one of the cyclists. Another, I met French newscaster Gérard Holtz (with whom I am delighted to be on a first-name basis), and eventually saw his comedy open-air performance of Molière’s La Malade Imaginaire that followed the tour (this guy was so cool, sports newscaster by day, actor by night!). Every day brought something new and compelling. It seemed as soon as I felt a wince of oncoming weariness, there would be another extraordinary opportunity waiting to me to fall head over heels into it.
In spite of my enjoyment and extremely satisfying ability to recurrently be in the right place at the right time, the Tour was not all fun and games. I was there to work, to take and edit photos and video footage (the latter at which I was not quite so adept) to dress and present myself professionally as a member of the French government, and as aforementioned, to lug around burdensome equipment that, combined together, made up the size of my own body. We woke early, spent long hours in a car, and went to bed late, often to tired to seek out dinner at one of the poor chain restaurants that to my dismay, were very vegetarian unfriendly. Nevertheless, I found that the perks of the Tour far outweighed its drawbacks and contented myself in adapting to life on the road.
Without exaggeration, I affirm that I could entertain you for hours on end with an inexhaustible list of Tour stories. These tales however, are futile if I cannot convey the significance of everything those three weeks taught me. There is an unrivaled value to real-world experience for a student working on an undergraduate degree. The Tour educated me on what it means to be a photojournalist or to work a job requiring travel. Indeed, it is a thrilling adventure, brimming with events, new people, cultural instruction and then some. However, it is tiring and can become frustrating seeing and working with certain individuals 14, 18, even 20 hours a day. It can also at times be incredibly lonely. Yet, this time enlightened me to my capacity as a human being to connect with others and to take time for myself to reflect and understand certain emotions. I became learned in the power of networking, or more accurately, the power of being well dressed, endearing, and commenting on the positive attributes of people you know. The Tour guided me to think positively even in the most difficult moments, and to seek, regardless of personal (sometimes even defeatist) feelings, the encouraging and educating aspects of any escapade. I learned when to obey the rules and where to bend them, to ask if you have the smallest inkling of misunderstanding, and to always be mindful of the things that link one person to another.
Early Birds, Worms, and other edibles at the Worlds Largest Market
In the waning days of the Sarkozy presidency, IFE decided it was high time to visit those whom our President liked to vaunt in his value-laden speeches as "la France qui se lève tôt" (the France that rises early).
Nowhere do you find more early birds hard at work in one place than at Rungis Market, the world’s largest wholesale fresh food market, a few miles south of Paris, where 12,000 employees and nearly as many buyers begin their day as early as midnight. IFE student Alyssa, an intern at SlowFood Paris, was game for the adventure, a guided tour which begins at 4:45 AM.
First stop at Rungis was the fish market, Europe’s largest, an immense 8-acre hall where the workday was already winding down at not yet 6 AM. On to other halls devoted entirely to poultry (more varieties of edible feathered friends than ever seen in one place), to meat (vertical hide-less herds of beef and veal and lamb and pork), and even a separate building for France’s prized delicacies: organ meats!. One large hall housed what the guide referred to as the world’s largest cheese platter, and then it was on to Rungis’ single largest sector, fresh fruits and vegetables. Seven market halls are devoted to fruits and vegetables and even in touring just two, both the quantity and variety were stunning, from tiny wild asparagus to the first Burlat cherries of the season from Provence.
Food, food everywhere but nothing to eat? Not so. The tour ended at table in one of the 17 restaurants within the Market, eating a wholesaler’s breakfast of fruit, croissants, jams, cheeses, meats, bread, etc. And there was even time for a nap on the way back to Paris, since by then the rest of France had risen as well and the bus was stuck in good old rush hour traffic.
Alyssa was delighted with all she learned and gleaned for the project she is carrying out for SlowFood, a study of Paris’ food markets.
Labor Day Another Way
Labor day in the U.S. is fast approaching. European labor day however, has come and gone. The students of IFE’s Brussels program took the occasion of the holiday on May 1st to go gallivanting around the country, as everyone had a day off and the streets of Antwerp were filled with people making the most of the first sunbeams.
IFE Brussels went north and after arriving in the huge Antwerp Central station, we strolled downtown towards the riverbank of the River Scheldt, where our bicycles were waiting for us. On our way, we took in the rather ostentatious architecture of many buildings along the Meir, glimpsed at the house of Peter Paul Rubens, and admired the Our Lady Cathedral.
Once in the saddle, we descended the Saint Anne Tunnel, a pedestrian (and cyclist) tunnel, built in the ’30s, towards the left bank, from where we had a gorgeous view of the city skyline. Back on the right bank, we discovered the new Palace of Justice, by architect Richard Rogers, who also designed the Centre Pompidou. This is the latest addition to an already booming area called " Het Zuid", the quarter surrounding the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, where a lot of Art Nouveau houses and the old Antwerp Synagoge can be admired.
Of course, you need to go local, so we enjoyed spending some time "op een terrasje", before driving on towards the mediaeval Saint Elisabeth hospital and the adjoining botanical gardens, and discovering the impressive painted ceiling of Bourla theatre’s foyer.