Larry Becker is an Associate Professor in Geography and Director of the Environmental Sciences Undergraduate Program at Oregon State University.  He spent a sabbatical year, August 2010 – July 2011, at the University of Poitiers in west-central France as a visiting scholar. Below he shares a brief glimpse into his life abroad.

From our university apartment for visiting researchers, my wife (Oregon State Geography instructor Laurie Yokoyama Becker) and our 12-year old daughter (Malia) looked over rooftops, across the shallow Clain River to the Roman era city center of Poitiers.

Sunrises and sunsets reflected on the faces of the 900-year-old Notre Dame La Grande.  This view resembled what the attacking Protestants would have seen in the late 16th century depicted in a wall-sized painting from the 1620s in the city museum.  A strong sense of place is ever-present!

Malia walked daily to school in the center—passing near the site of an enormous Roman amphitheater and a street that 800 years earlier was gated at night separating the Jewish residents from the surrounding Christian population.

The streets of today, though, caught her eye, with mouth-watering éclairs in windows and narrow passageways to share with cars.  I walked away from the city center in the opposite direction past a prison where French resistance fighters died during the WWII German occupation, and Walmart-sized mega-stores to the 1960s-era campus.  My colleagues in the Migration Studies Center where my office was located welcomed me and invited me to lunch for the best cafeteria food—choices of fresh fish, boeuf bourguignon, and salads.

For research, I traveled to Mali.  I interviewed villagers outside the capital Bamako to understand changes in their livelihoods.  The biggest change I found in a village where I lived 25 years ago, is that the sorghum and millet farmers are selling their ancestral land to urban speculators and those seeking a retirement home.

I flew to the north on the edge of the Sahara to visit Timbuktu with a German aid agency that invited me to visit a rice farming project.  Laurie remained in Poitiers teaching Oregon State E-campus courses from our apartment.  Returning to France, my family and I traveled by train to Toulouse, the Italian coast, Rome, Naples, and the Carnival in Venice.

Quelle année!  We met Oregon State students on a study abroad in Poitiers.  This is an experience for Oregon State students and faculty alike.

Armelle Denis teaches French and Anthropology courses at OSU. She is in Angers, France, during the fall term ’12 as the visiting faculty for AHA International.

Bonjour from France! In between taking my daughter to school and eating croissants, I am stepping into my role as Visiting Faculty for the AHA program in Angers, and working to develop courses for incoming students (who will arrive in 3 weeks exactly!). It involves making extensive use of the myriad resources that the OSU library offers to OSU students and faculty, like E-journals, E-books, and scan and deliver. It’s a little like being on campus while actually living 8,000 miles away!

AHA Angers students in front of the Château d’Angers in Angers, France.

I will teach two courses during Fall term: one about contemporary issues in France (such as immigration, issues of national identity, French perceptions of Americans…), which will closely follow the news as it happens. The other class will focus on regional cultures and identities, those cultures and identities that remain vibrant well into the 21st century in all corners of France. We’ll pay special attention to the Breton culture, because Brittany is only 60 miles away from Angers, because the Breton regional movement has been and remains particularly active, and because I feel strongly attracted to Brittany. See, my father hails from outside of Vannes in lower Brittany, and while he has never passed down any of the Breton language to me, I vividly remember from my childhood hearing him speak Breton with his mother — a strange and harsh sort of language, mysterious and beautiful nevertheless. Through this course, I get a chance to delve into Breton culture, explore its history and discover what makes it still so vibrant in the hearts of Breton people.

One of those things, contributing to the strength and resilience of Breton identity, is music: traditional songs played on traditional instruments or blended with newer musical genres (rock, pop, rap even!). Breton music, like other Celtic musical styles, is essentially dance music, and people congregate to this in night-time dancing festivals all over Brittany, called festoù-noz. With my class, we’re hoping to attend one or two of those night festivals, learn some good moves and feel first-hand the sense of community that arises there. Fun times ahead!

More details will follow — in the meantime, here’s a little gift: a good website that will give you an idea of the various regional musical styles in France:  Enjoy!