What a whirlwind this past week has been. From seeing the famous casino (James Bond movies) in Monaco and the royal palace (think Princess Grace) to the famous film festival location in Cannes our little group has been enjoying the beauty and history of the French Riviera.

Another stop was Cagnes-sur-Mer to visit the former home, now museum,  of French artist August Renoir. We got there a little early so we explored the gardens admiring the spots where a replica of a painting stood showing  you exactly where Renoir had painted. Amazing! While waiting in the garden overlooking the Mediterranean we had a  little yoga/stretching session. “It was fun doing yoga in the garden led by Hilary.” – Caroline Morales. While touring the museum we were reminded of the connection between Russia and France as our Professor Helene Brown pointed out how both countries revere and love their artists. Said junior Jake Elmore, “It was exciting to see the different studios where he (Renoir)painted.”

Eze. On Friday we took the yellow brick road to Eze. Although we didn’t run into a tin man or scarecrow, we did get to tour the Fragonard perfume factory. We got to sample different scents and learned about the evolution of how perfume was made. “It was fascinating learning about how the perfume oils used to be extracted in large copper vats.” – Katy McAloney. Many of the students shopped around for gifts in the gift shop after the tour. We left smelling much better than when we entered… After the factory, we hiked up to the remains of a 14th century castle. Unfortunately the castle was attacked so there is not much of the building left. However, the view from the top was spectacular. We were able to see the entire valley and the ocean.

Cannes. On Saturday we braved the general French train strike, or “greve”  and made our way to the famous film center/town  of Cannes. While there we hopped a ferry over to Sainte-Marguerite island. There we discovered where the mysterious “Man in the Iron Mask” was imprisoned as well as some extremely faithful Huguenot pastors. It was a sobering visit for many of us as we contemplated the fact that these men had been imprisoned for the remainder of their lives for their religious beliefs. Standing in their rocky cells was, well, sobering. We thank them for their devotion and faith.

Our trip home gave us a taste of what the rail strike really feels like. We waited for almost an hour on a crowded platform not knowing if we would all be able to fit onto the train back to Nice. It was a good cultural experience for all of us to learn how to acclimate to unexpected circumstances. And yes, we all got on!

We are now in our final week and trying to tie together all the various strings of this abroad program. Making sense of three cultures, Russian, French and North American, is not a simple task. Our language classes continue on a daily basis and we are contemplating all the ways we have been learning. Another artist may be the one to help us connect the dots.  His museum is right here in Nice…Marc Chagall:  A Jewish Russian painter who lived most of his life in France and never lost his love for both countries, even while living through both world wars. Chagall’s love for life, for God and for mankind shines through his work.  His words also guide us as we discover the importance of love in cross-cultural understanding. He said in his Biblical Message, “In Art as well as life, anything is possible provided there is Love.”

Napolean may not have learned the lessons of Love but Chagall did. It  is his example that inspires us to keep looking for deep connections between cultures and peoples; to see more than we did before we came to this beautiful place, at this critical moment in history.  We’ll let you know how it all turns out!

The Russia/France Abroad

Roman baths, Napoleon and Russian grammar?

The Russian Abroad, a.k.a. Napoleon’s Lesson: Nice Russian Abroad has been learning lots of their own lessons. From navigating two languages to making connections between Ancient Greek and Roman communities (Nice being one of them) and present day issues in France and Russia we have been in high speed learning mode. That doesn’t mean we haven’t been having fun! Many of our cultural trips to neighboring sights have included at least a “promenade” along the beautiful Mediterranean,  if not a quick dip. Not to mention the famous  beaches of Nice which most students take time out to enjoy after many hours of Russian language class before heading home for dinner with their host families (many of whom speak Russian as well as French).

We are learning to love the people of Nice. A recent highlight was our church service on Sunday with cupcakes brought out after the service to welcome us — delicious, of course….

It feels like an honor to be here during the D Day memorials and to have President Obama in our host country for a few days. It reminds us  to be grateful for the amazing sacrifices of all the allied soldiers who freed Europe from the Nazis. Just last week we were serenaded by an older French gentlemen who sang “Vive les United States”!

There have been showers of blessings as you will see once we post our amazing photographs. More to come soon — straight from the student’s mouths!

Hilary with Helene and the entire abroad group!

Welcome to the Nice Abroad

The original Russia Abroad Program had to switch its destination due to a volatile political situation involving Russia. After studying Russian and the culture of Russia for a semester on campus, our participants will go to Nice, a southern French city that has welcomed Russian people on vacation or in exile since the 19th century.  There, they will continue to learn the Russian language and explore various areas of Russian culture in connection with immigration or exile to France. Cross-cultural understanding, a main component of this program, will benefit from the third element—introduction to French culture and the experience of Russian expatriates—as students better  understand how to bridge the gap from one culture to another, including their own.

Exploring Russian culture through the eyes of expatriates