Karine Jourdan Ferry, 2019 SUSI SSE grantee
‘We are Montana!’ is the first sign I read as I enter the lobby in Pantzer Hall, my new home for a month here at the University of Montana. ‘Are we?’ I ask myself in my skeptical French mind. My new home is shared with 18 wonderful worldwide English teachers. What I do not know yet is that we will soon enough become friends.
Our campus immersion starts right off on our first week. The days are packed with outstanding lectures, and the slight jetlag I suffer from can do nothing to lessen their impact. Dr Tobin Shearer has come prepared with such clear and stimulating facts on current American Cultural values that questions and exchanges are only stopped because of lack of time – a frequent pattern in our meetings with the various speakers!
Another day, Dr Beverly Ann Chin impresses us all by unfolding her ‘writing and reading’ strategies. Her two lectures will probably be the most quoted in our final projects, all teachers valuing the academic research Dr Chin has conducted all her life on the subject. This is clearly pedagogical material that will make it back to France and into my classroom. How to motivate kids to read and write? What steps, as a teacher, should you take to succeed?
Lectures are an essential part of our daily routine in the Mansfield Centre, housed on the University of Montana campus, but they constitute only a fraction of the many activities designed for us by the excellent Saldin-Mansour team. If Dr Robert Saldin has organised such brilliant moments for us, Deena Mansour and Elena Zlatnik have field trips, cultural events and extraordinary meetings in store for us.
Our meetings with politicians especially made an impression on me : 2 Mayors, 1 State Senator, 1 Lt Governor spoke to us from what was dubbed the ‘Montana Democratic microclimate’ by one of them. With passionate conviction, all of them conveyed to us the knowledge of public service they have accumulated over the years. The great responsive party of SUSI educators could not believe their luck and candid robust discussions with each of these speakers took place everywhere we went.
Sure enough these moments have taught us something about the American Dream, values and the day-to-day battle it is to enforce your convictions – especially in the present political context, most of them emphasize. It also debunks some of the preconceived ideas I had about, well, about Montana. Not everybody is a bloodthirsty cowboy carrying a gun at his belt. Intelligent caring people are proudly serving their country here but first and foremost their State in a liberal way I did not anticipate. Thank you, SUSI programme!
In fact, isn’t that the beauty of this programme? To welcome you, your knowledge of the States and to make you experience, in a hands-on way, what is correct and what is fantasy? At the end of my stay in beautifully green Missoula, I can honestly say that I feel I have a more authentic nuanced comprehension of this wide varied country.
As I leave Pantzer Hall and Missoula, the sign still reads ‘We are Montana’ and my French mind does not think twice about it – ‘You bet, I am Montana!’. The 18 of us, in fact, are Montana by that time! Montana – our newly found home state, SUSI participants – our newly found family. I could not thank Senator Fulbright enough for the programs he initiated back after World War II, they do bring countries together in a most useful and meaningful way. I cannot believe my luck in being one the grantees!