“Oh, I love France”: story of a Belgian teacher of French in Oregon

I can’t blame anyone for assuming the French Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) would be from France, but I’m not. I’m from Belgium, “tiny, tiny Belgium”, as the boy scout song goes. Whereupon the following reaction will be some variation of : – “You guys invented fries, right?” ; – “Oh, as in Belgian chocolate/waffles/beer” ; – “I’ve been in Belgium ; well, I had a stopover in Brussels on my flight to Madrid/Paris/Rome/…” I’m exaggerating a tiny bit here, some people have actually visited Bruges. Humor aside, Belgium does sound pretty mysterious to most people in Forest Grove, but it is a great opportunity for me to share my culture starting from a blank slate.

Thus far I have already had many occasions to share the French/Belgian culture with my students. Among many others, we have enjoyed a meal in a french ‘crêperie’ in Portland alongside people from the local branch of the ‘Alliance Française’ ; we have set up a newsletter for the students called “Le Quoi de Neuf” to keep them updated on all French events and through which I share a modern popular French song every week ; students have had the chance to play ‘pétanque’ and take a picture in the stereotypical French look at our stand for the university club fair (see video below). These are only a few examples, and many other exciting activities are currently in the making.

As to my own cultural experience, it has been amazing so far. Every weekend offers a new adventure, between waterfall hunting, bike trips through the Oregonian nature, surfing on the Pacific Ocean, wanderlusting on the Portland Saturday market and the upcoming visit to Seattle, the few rest days are spent planning future adventures and enjoying local events and activities. Daily life is most enjoyable and exciting as well, sharing a house with three other FLTAs makes every new day a treasure of culture and camaraderie. The faculty and university staff have been incredibly welcoming and a wonderful resource for many things. I am truly thankful to the Fulbright program for this amazing experience which reminds all of us that aside from cultural differences, we have 99% of shared humanity.

Michaël Grare