Martinique Study Abroad Program Combines French Language with a Unique Cultural Setting
At an elevation of over 4000 feet, engulfed in the humid mist of a windy volcano, a blue and gold University of Delaware banner flutters in the air. With sweaty smiles on their faces, a group of students snaps a photo to document their achievement on social media.
Hiking the tallest mountain on the island was one of the many highlights of the January 2018 Martinique study abroad program. The twenty-two participants were led by French instructor Ms. Flora Poindexter and teaching assistant Ms. Milagros Chiri-Zapata.
Since the program’s inception in 1993, over 300 students have traveled to the French Caribbean island, where they live with local families, advance their level of French, and experience the island’s history and culture firsthand. This year marked the 25th anniversary of the founding of the program, which has since grown, while retaining its core elements.
Twenty-two students studied at the Université des Antilles, Martinique, and participated in several weekly excursions that highlighted various aspects of Martinique’s past and present.
Classes were held on the Martinique campus of the Universtité des Antilles in the city of Schoelcher, with weekly participation by featured guest speakers. The French conversation class had the opportunity to meet author Suzanne Dracius, whose work they read in class. (see picture). The students engaged with the author in an extended conversation on the post-slavery power dynamics of the plantations, a major theme in her writing. Students met several times with artist Daniel Valejo and his dance instructors to experience the syncopated rhythms of the afro-Martiniquan bèlè call-response.
The lessons often went beyond the classroom setting. This year, students participated in two-day internships to learn about contemporary Martinique, in placements tied to their personal and professional goals. At the Anse Madame elementary school, students assisted with English classes, while learning how a newly-adapted curriculum combined the French national school system with an emphasis on regional culture across disciplines. Two students were placed at a veterinary clinic, and three worked at Martinique’s main newspaper, collaborating on an article in French that was widely read by the local population. Other students worked at a music school, and another group was placed at a hotel.
The excursions activated the lessons learned in the classroom. The group visited several historic plantations, and took a train through present-day working sugarcane fields. Other excursions focused on the island’s geography, flora, and fauna through hikes, and a memorable morning kayaking through the mangroves.
Many continue to keep in touch with their host families. “We talk about once a week on Whatsapp,” says one junior. “They said I can come back anytime!”