The Village: Where Europe Begins

Nobody ever comes to a place for the first time more than once.  As obvious as that is to anybody, stillVillage-shield-blue there’s something profound underlying every beginning any of us experiences.  The things that come before a new start stay with us while we “begin” again, and yet the things we are set to become are also right there, latent somewhere inside of our new start.

The start of a new Village Program is always a busy, crazy and emotional time for all of us, students, staff and faculty alike.  The same can be said for our villagers here in Pontlevoy.  On arrival weekend, you see people making sure that the streets look cleaner than they did yesterday.  You see the baker and his family putting chocolate covered donuts out, alongside the croissants and the other classically French goodies.  And you see smiles and waves from our locals,MO and Julien as they look at once excited and maybe just a tiny bit nervous.  Excited because they love their home town and expect that the students will, too, just like the other groups have in the past.  Nervous, maybe, because the village is so small and on some level, perhaps, the folks who hail from here wonder if their tiny town is going to be enough for the Americans, who in the French imagination are supposed to be folks who want big things, fast things and luxury things.

Those things aren’t here in Pontlevoy.  What’s here are slow things, small things and quiet things.  The stones of the buildings that make up the village are ancient. They didn’t change a whit when the Renaissance brought Leonardo da Vinci north to live and then die in the nearby town of Amboise.  Again they stayed constant when the 18th Century Enlightenment and then the French Revolution ushered in more change than France (and maybe the world) had ever seen before.  The 19th Century’s industrialization hardly changed Pontlevoy’s tiny cityscape.  And the same constancy endured through two world wars and even during the stubbornly brutal occupation suffered by the town when the Nazis spent four years here as conquerors.Lakes of Ponchartrain

Mainly, change has visited Pontlevoy through people who find the village and make some small or large part of their lives here,  mixing their beginner energy together with the “locals,” whose grandparents and great grandparents lived and died without ever going very far away from this one town.  That mingling of beginner and local is its own engine for change, such that even very old, very slow and very quiet towns will pop to a new life when old and new make their small agreements to live well together.

The new Village always starts on a September afternoon.  Sometimes with sunshine everywhere, more often with some rain clouds all around, and always with suitcases, tired students, and a village waiting in its cafes and behind its shutters.  To see who the new American will be and how they will react to what “real” France is in a tiny village, that time–but most certainly not care–has all but forgotten.Picture 084

The Village, our faculty, and our staff welcome the beginners with arms and hearts wide open to a semester of adventure, travel, learning and growth.  And if we don’t remind our debutants the village will do it.  Maybe Julien?  Maybe Carole? Maybe Pamela or some of the many host families?  Somebody will remind our new group that before their arrival Pontlevoy and The Village had all of the other groups.  The classes of Americans who have come since 2002, totaling more than 600 students.  And almost 90 faculty.  Those citizens of The Village and of Pontlevoy who were here for their three months and then left?  Gone but never forgotten.  And not really even gone.  Not when you take a walk out into the vineyards to look back across the fields at the great Abbey building, seeing it from a distance–so vast and so much a sentinel.  Standing watch over the countryside as it has in one form or another for a thousand years.  Awaiting everyone’s eventual return, as if to say…nobody leaves here, really.  They just journey to wherever and come back when they can.

Because it’s always here, in this small place, where Europe begins for our students.10620077_10204597206315829_6463823253936775373_o

A Village Weekend Remembered…

Chenonceau Middle QualityFrom a student blog, 2013

“What a fun weekend! Since we don’t have Friday classes, we take field trips to nearby towns. This week we went to Chenonceau to visit Henry II’s chateau. It’s really quite the soap opera, he had it built for his mistress, and then after his death his wife Catherine took it back. It’s beautiful and built over a river like a bridge. And haunted, definitely haunted.

After that quick tour, we took a train to Tours. It’s called a “little Paris”, and for good reason. The shopping and restaurants were superb, and the city was full of even more cobblestone streets. We went to an art museum and toured a beautiful cathedral. There’s something so reverent and special about a church that ild. The nightlife is a good bit different, but we had a blast and were sad to leave the next morning, but were very excited to return home (it’s strange that Pontlevoy is now home), and Taylor, Elyse, and I took a solid 5 hour nap when we got back.DSCF4392

The night ended with a birthday party for Courtney! Sweet Julien rearranged the tables so we could have a dance party and even broke out some 1990 disco lights ( think images of flowers and smileys and snowflakes). It’s so funny because the French love American music. If I hear one more Rhianna song I may die. But they’re a few years behind. We enjoyed the flashbacks and had a ball ringing in Courtney’s birthday at midnight.

We have already become so close to all the other students here with us. One of my new friends is Jenn, and she’s from Michigan. She is hilarious and finds everything about Southern culture so bizarre. She said that before we left the states, she was Facebook stalking Taylor and saw her debutante pictures and her first thought was “dear God, I’m going away with debutantes.” She was afraid of backwoods rednecks, but has changed her mind. She even inadvertently said “y’all”. We’re finding her yankeeness just as interesting.immersion-6

All this to say, I love it here. I love it even when we’re lost in foreign cities, even when I order incorrectly at the bakery, even when it’s below freezing and raining and bitterly cold. I’m already browsing the real estate here for a summer home….”

Anna Kate Baygents, Southern Miss, History major, 2013

The Village in Tours: weekend one of V15

Dear Village Students of Tomorrow,

You’ve just made the huge decision to spend three months of your life in the wonderful village of Pontlevoy, France. In a lot sooner than three months, you will discover that this decision is the one of the best you have made in your life. You will meet new friends: fellow Village students, passionate professors, and charming locals. You’ll go on adventures to places and learn about things that will awaken new passions in you and help you grow as a person. One of the adventures that had this effect on me was when our group travelled to Tours at the end of the first week of class.

Jan lecturing in cahtedralTours is a great city, filled with so much rich history and culture. There are so many things to do there. One of the most memorable things about Tours for me was visiting the Musée des Beaux Arts. Situated around some of Tours’ most beautiful architecture, the “Museum of Beautiful Art” contains art from some well known artists such as Monet, Renoir, and Rodin. My favorite piece in the museum was the Monet because he’s my favorite painter. If you have not visited Europe before, this will most likely be your first taste of exquisite, world famous artwork. The museum offers an amazing example of some of the greater wonders that you will find during JOURNEY and on yourVisionQUEST travels.

For anyone remotely interested in art, trips like these are spectacular. Seeing pieces of art from your favorite artists up close is an experience that everyone should have. Luckily for you, you’ll get to experience this loads of times while you journey across Europe. Be sure you take advantage of each of

I’m also very glad that we went to Tours early in the semester. It was a great opportunity for me to learn how to navigate and survive in a big foreign city. Tours owns the nickname “Little Paris”. Although we did get lost once (thanks to Dr. Mackaman), I feel that getting lost in a city is one of the best ways to get to know it.

-Kyle Simmons (History Major, Southern Miss, 2013)

Preparing to Study Abroad: Do Your Research!

london2There’s no shortage of packing advice online where studying in Europe is concerned. Blogs and packing tips are ubiquitous, but you’ve got to go online and find these helpful tools.  Ditto the countless tools that are out there to help you prepare emotionally as well as practically for what studying abroad is going to involve for you. You can get all of the emails in the world from your study-abroad office or program director, but until you start to seriously take ownership of your quest for good information you won’t start to get what you need.  Why? (more…)