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.