On February 14 and 15, the Fulbright Commission in France welcomed all US grantees to France for a two day mid-year meeting. The meeting began a visit of the George Marshall Center on the Place de la Concorde, the headquarters of the Marshall Plan from 1947 until 1952. Minister Counselor Angela Aggeler and Adjunct director for higher education and research at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Clélia Chevrier-Kolacko gave official remarks on behalf of both governments and underlined the centrality of the Fulbright Commission’s activities in Franco-American cooperation through educational and cultural exchanges.
The meeting is a rare opportunity for grantees to better know about the diversity of the Fulbright programs, to hear about others’ projects, and to reflect on their experience. Fulbright English Teaching Assistants presented their experience in high schools in underprivileged areas in France, and took this opportunity to also brief the other participants about the French education system and to discuss the central theme of laïcité. Then break-out sessions facilitated presentations of individual projects in smaller groups. Board members joined for lunch and got an opportunity to meet with the grantees, discuss the progress of their research and their adjustment to the local life. For the first time, we also discussed culture shock in depth with a professional psychotherapist and took the time to verify everyone felt comfortable with the level of support and information they can access to through the Commission or other entities.
On the following day, we visited the Assemblée Nationale and really got to better understand the functioning of the French institutions and the composition of the Parliament after the 2017 elections. Of particular interest was also the building itself, its history since the French revolution, its differences depending on who was the head of the State: a constitutional monarch, an Emperor, a President of the Republic…We surveyed three centuries of political history through this visit.
The afternoon was spent close to Montparnasse at the famous Columbia Global center at Reid Hall. We welcomed CNN senior correspondent to France and Europe, Jim Bittermann who has lived in France for more than 30 years; he shared his views on France recent evolutions, what Emmanuel Macron’s election seem to tell about the new appetite of the French people for changes and reforms, the upcoming political tests for the current majority. Bittermann also commented on the relationship between the French and the US administration these days, and on the role France and President Macron might play in the context of a changing Europe.
The last part of our mid-year meeting was for our artists to show their talents. Cellist Christine Lee, a graduate of The Juilliard School currently studying at the Conservatoire in Boulogne-Billancourt, played works by Debussy and Saint-Saens. Then, aerial dancer Danielle Garrison screened a video describing the current state of her artistic research at La Grainerie, near Toulouse. Danielle is working on ways to express grief with her art. She also asks herself and the audience : how do we react to the flow of unbearable news ? How do we not lose our humanity by being indifferent? How can artists express this question?
The meeting was a successful combination of cultural exploration, artistic reflections, and fun.