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Essay on a trip project to the US for students from Stendhal University (part I)

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Introduction presentation of the project: 

Before starting to tell about the project, I am going to explain how I ended up doing this. At first my work should have been on the corporation Greyhound. I was supposed to organize a trip throughout the United States with that bus company but only for a single person. Nevertheless I thought that it would be more interesting to try to organize a package tour through a part of the country, if not all of the country, for the class of L3 LLCER English.

Not any trip though, the aim of this work is to respond to this problematic which is “How can we – through a pedagogical aim – send a group of students to the United States thanks to financial aid we would receive from the University of Stendhal or other associations?”

By ‘pedagogical aim’ I mean to link this trip to one or several courses the students of L3 currently have as literature or maîtrise de la langue. In this case we are going to link the trip to the course of American civilization and mostly Humanist Geography. We chose these courses for the first obvious reason which is this current essay is part of the second course mentioned and also because it would be a little bit easier to find intellectuals in those domains in the United States.

I am now going to explain why we decided to chose to do a trip. As a student in an English language degree, it is important for us to go at least once in an English speaking country before the end of our degree. Therefore we would be able to practice the language we are currently learning. Moreover it would be a great experience for us, as we would meet intellectuals, students, American citizens or workers from magazines or maybe corporations and so we would able to see different differently the social lives of these people.

 Doing such a trip would cost us a lot. Sadly we cannot afford it which is why Laura K-W and I will try to convince the University of Stendhal and other organizations and associations to finance a part of it if not all of the trip.

Through this dissertation I am going to write all the steps that we had to go through to organize the trip.  I will try to be as precise as possible and stay in the chronological order.

 

Contact the class: 

Before contacting any person working at the university, I had to first contact the class so I would see how many would accept to be part of this project. In addition, I would be able to give the names of the students participating to the trip – in case I would have been asked to give any of them. Moreover this would give us some support from them in case we struggle for anything through the steps. Throughout the Facebook’s group page of the class, I asked who would be willing to go to the United States as the professor F. Feeley mentioned it once and since I was going to organize it. I was expecting twenty to thirty people to participate. At first they were really surprised about the project and were wondering when it would take place. I have chosen the date from 20th May to 3rd of June so it will not take place during the period of the courses or the exams so they would not be disturb for their revisions. Furthermore it will not interfere with the students that would have to pass the second session that takes place during the mid-June as the trip ends the day after the results of the first session which is the 2nd June.

They were wondering where exactly in the United States the journey would take place and why should we go to that city at not another one. This was when I understood that the class was not really into the trip and that they were trying to find any excuses so they will not go. Finally that was what happened, they started to give me some excuses as that the university would never support a such project or that they will not have the time or, most important, the money for it – even though I told them that one of the main points of this project was to have all the financial support we could find so they would not pay much or in a better case, nothing. Despite the fact that most of the class (41 persons) has seen the post only six of them answered and this little group was nipping the project in the bud. I have therefore decided to contact some member of the university telling them it was a hypothetical project with a hypothetical class. Doing this might help the next generation of L3 LLCER English to make the project come true.

After some meetings, that Laura and I we talk in more details later, we asked the class a second time who would be willing to go for the trip since we have met some responsible of the university and they did not gave us a negative response. This time we had candidates ready to go if of course it was not expensive. Some also admitted when I asked the first time they thought it was a joke. We finally had eight students disposed to go.

 

Administration and associations: 

At first I was doing the project alone. The involving of Laura will come in this part.

I was not sure who to contact in the university to talk about this project, therefore I decided to start with the accountants. As there are several ones in the University of Stendhal, I chose randomly three of them and sent them an email – to Mr. Fabrice De-Rivas, Mrs. Elizabeth Achard and Mrs. Françoise Chaix-Viande. In these emails, I presented briefly the project of making a group of students, currently in 3rd year of LLCER degree, go to the United States to study more about the corporations. I explained more precisely that it was absolutely hypothetical. Then I asked if it would be possible to have an appointment so I would be able to ask them questions about this proposal. I had the very same day an answer from Françoise Chaix-Viande giving me the days she would be at her office, so that I could pass by anytime. I had no response from the two others.

As I never did investigate or organized a trip like this before I asked some questions to Laura – as she is already preparing a trip across the United States for the summer – since I knew she might be a great help. Therefore we both ended up in the office of Mrs. Chaix-Viande.

Once in the office we exposed her briefly that we would like to know if we could have any financial help from the university for this journey. She kindly told us that we were talking to the wrong person. She actually answered to my email because she was curious about the project but that in fact she cannot do anything about it as her job is just to pay what the Stendhal University asks her to pay and that is it. After making sure we were from the university and we wanted students from our university, and not any students from the other universities, go for the trip she re-directed us to Adeline Leroux the responsible of our department. Laura and I decided to face Mrs. Leroux straight away without previously inform her of our coming and our aim. We found her in front of her office already dealing with someone. Once she was free we presented ourselves and the project. We barely could ask the fatidic question that she already said “ce n’est pas possible” (this is not possible). We pretended not to insist by telling her that we know about other organizations such as the one from the Region (Rhône-Alpes) that might be able to help us for the financial side. Only after hearing this she said that she might be able to do something for us and invited us in her office so we can talk more comfortably about it. Laura will tell you more about this in her part The Administrative Work.

I received later that day an email from Adeline Leroux asking me and Laura to write a paper where we would put on it the destination, the dates of the travelling, the reason why we are doing this, the pedagogical aim, etc. So Laura and I worked together on this paper and Laura sent it to her.

Now let us move on with Cap Berriat. This is an association where we can find assistance in the design and development of projects (administration help, support with the redaction of funding applications, etc). At their office we can have access to any documentaries – about youth, politics and cultures – to computers, to meeting rooms or workplace, etc. They also offer to meet other associations that might help with some projects similar to theirs. One of the administrative officers (Thomas) kindly offered his help through a phone call. He told me about different associations or organizations that might help us with our project like CRIJ (L’information jeunesse en Rhône-Alpes), FSDIE (fond de développement et de solidarité initiative étudiante), the cultural service of our university or the service relation international and E.V.E. He also added that I should contact the students involved in this project and ask them to contact their towns’ councils, since they are not all from the same town, the different councils would not see a problem helping them going for this “pedagogical” trip. Thomas has been for a great help with all the information he provided to us.

Laura and I divided the work to contact as most as possible the different organizations. Sadly the FSDIE has already had its commission on the 12th March; it was too late to ask for their help. I have sent an email to E.V.E (espace vie étudiante) presenting them really quick our project and asking them if we can meet some day to discuss more about it. Sadly I never had any answer from them. After the meeting with the professor F. Feeley Laura and I had more associations and intellectuals to contact but so little time. I made a little research about People to People and discovered it was exclusive for American students or citizens. I have decided to send them an email in case they would be interested, but still had no answers from them.

As we did not have any news from the responsible of our department I have sent an email as a reminder and she answered right away that she sent our project to the responsible above her and was still waiting for an answer. She sent them an email as a reminder too.

Laura will tell in her part more in details about the rest we have done together and what she had done.

 

Activities:

Once Laura and I started to look for the tickets, we realized that we have also to think about the accommodation and the work they would have to do there. Laura will talk about the accommodation part. Here I am going to talk about the different corporations and intellectuals the group of students might be able to meet and interview and then the possible magazines they might find an internship for a part of the period they would stay.

 

a.     Corporations

I was thinking about some really known corporation such as Google, Twitter, Facebook or Ford motor Company. I know that in Silicon Valley there is several big corporations and that some tours are managed by organizations which provide not only guided visits but also some meetings with the workers from the different companies. I have contacted one of them, a French one, which help small or large companies to go there for a week and meet some personalities and workers from different companies. In some cases they can even, through the contact created, build a relationship that would give a boost to their small companies. Even though it is made only for companies I have decided to send them an email hoping that they would accept. I had answer from Romain Buché who takes care of the companies outside Paris. He explained to me that indeed they organize this for companies but they are willing to do this for students too. However the problem for us would be the price they propose as it costs 4 890€ per person which is too expansive as we are already struggling concerning the financial part. Therefore, I have decided to stop focusing on the corporations and try my chances with some intellectuals.

 

b.     Intellectuals

First as Grenoble is the sister city of Phoenix we thought that we might try to contact some intellectuals there. Therefore I contacted two professors from Basis Phoenix. Angelique Owanga is teaching French; I have contacted her thinking she might be willing helping us with the project and maybe create a new relationship between her students from high school and us. Why from high school? Because they could be the next exchange students of the first year of Stendhal if they appreciate they stay here. Sadly she did not respond to us. However, Matthew McCorkle professor of economics did answer to the email. He is willing meeting us so we can interview him about the economic conditions of the corporations and the American citizens.

If we cannot make it to Phoenix we thought about Boston since the price tickets are cheaper. Thanks to the meeting with Professor F. Feeley I could contact several people from different places and particularly Mr. Michael Albert, founder of ZNet, ZMagazine and IOPS, who lives in Boston. He replied positively to the request interview and informed us that he is actually not in Boston but in the surroundings. So I will have to find a way for the group that would meet him to go to his office. He proposed us to do the interview through the email if we cannot make it to Boston. Mr. Michael Parenti, political scientist and author in Berkeley, is also favorable for a meeting with him anytime during our stay in the United States.

Mr. Bertell Ollman, Professor of Philosophy in NYU, Mr. Monty Kroopkin, Community Organizer in San Diego and Mrs. Susan Wingfield, Psychologist in San Diego did not send any answer to the email that presented briefly the project and asking for a possible meeting with them.

Mr. Herman, Professor of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, answered to the email but sadly he cannot make it as he has been in ill-health for several months and cannot be under any stress. However he advised me contact Paul Street. Like Mr. Herman, Mr. Jack Hirschmann, Poet Lauriet in San Francisco will not be able to be part of this project as he will have to leave for Cuba at the exact same date as our travelling.

Thus far, we have people ready to be part of our new experience. Nevertheless the most motivated one is Mr. Fred Lonidier. He is Professor of Photography at UCSD. Not only he answered positively to the email, but he also sent me some very interested links about the Maquiladora (http://sdmaquila.org/ , http://ollincalli.org/). I kindly remind him that we might not be able to do the trip and in that case this project will be passed on the class 2016, which would be better prepared than us. That is when he informed me about his tour in Europe. He will be showing some of his maquiladora works in Rome and Geneva. I think it would be interesting if some students can make it to Geneva as it is not far and expansive from Grenoble.

 

c.      Magazines

We thought that it might be a good experience to work in a magazine and maybe do some deeper research about their problematic which is: How do the intellectuals and the American people interpret the social reality of their country

Therefore I looked into several web magazines in order to see if it possible to get hired for a short time. The web site Third World Traveler proposes an interesting list of magazines. I have looked through every single one of them and was very surprised about the results. Indeed nearly none of them recruit. Mother Jones magazine has a post about hiring that is ten years old (Fri May 20, 2005). Magazines like Dollars and Sense, Left Business Observer, The progressive or Socialist worker do not propose anything but only articles talking about volunteering or about illegal internships.

However One World and The Nation propose internships or volunteering not for them but other organizations or even around the world.

Dissent and In These Times are the only one that propose an actual summer, spring or winter internships. For example this is what we can find in Dissent page:

“Dissent’s office in Manhattan has three 16-week internship programs each year. Editorial interns at Dissent work closely with the staff and assist with the entire range of magazine work – copyediting, researching, formatting articles, fundraising, producing events, participating in editorial meetings, and so on.”

The range of work is very wide; therefore the group of students will not have many difficulties to find answers to the final work and filming they will provide at the end of their journey.  Sadly it is too late to apply for this summer as the deadline for applying for the internship was for April 15.

Concerning In These Times, the magazine proposes a volunteer job as long as the people work at least two days a week in Chicago office.

What is different from Dissent is that In These Times proposes to some interns to write for other magazines such as Huffington or Buzzfeed.

 

Means of transportation within the United States: 

a.     Buses

We can find within the United States many bus companies well know that permit to travel through the whole country or at least in a great part of it like West or East Coast. In this case I am going to select two bus companies; MegaBus Company and Greyhound Bus Company.

The first one cannot be found in any state of the country. MegaBus does not propose its service in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi and thirteen other states.

Once you have chosen from where you would like to leave sadly it does not propose any arrivals. Let us take an example:

If we chose to leave from Boston we can only have as a destination: Baltimore (MD), Burlington (VT), Montpellier (VT), Hartford (CT), New Haven (CT), New York (NY), Philadelphia (PA), Portland (ME), Secaucus (NJ), Washington (DC).

I have selected New York, one passenger and from the May 27th to May 31st.

It would cost only $10 which corresponds to approximately 9€.

 This is a great deal for the group of students that would do the little loop.

Concerning the bigger loop the Bus Company Greyhound seems to be the only sure company.

As for the first one, I did a simulation and chose the journey from Boston to Phoenix with the same dates as above. It would cost $258 which corresponds approximately to 237€.

Concerning Greyhound, they used to have special ways of travelling but they stopped doing it and the students offers seems to be exclusive to US students.

 

b.     Trains

As for the trains it really depends on the region where the students would be. Usually it is not the same company from a state to another. It would be then hard to plan anything for them. It is better to let the students see by themselves once there which one is more suitable to the situation they might encounter. Generally trains are more expansive than buses; therefore to save money they should take the buses.

 

c.      Planes

Planes are suitable if they have to travel from East Coast to West Coast without wasting more time than why they should, since two weeks is very short to do all the interviews.

For example with JetBlue, from Boston to Phoenix for one person it will cost $157 which is even cheaper than the tickets of Greyhound. Nevertheless we have to keep in mind that there is not as much plane as trains. However in this case it would be better for the group of students doing the big loop to take the plane rather than the bus.

Contrary to the bus it is better to take the tickets as earlier as possible due to the places.

 

Personal preparation:

Before going to the United States the group of students has to prepare themselves. By this I mean there is some step to not forget to do.

 

a.     ESTA/VISA

This is an Electronic System for Travel Authorization.  This permits the travels from around the world to travel in the United States without having to ask for a Visa. To do so they have to find out the website that proposes it and follow the different steps to see if they are eligible.

It consist on filling an application in which they would have to respond to some questions about for example their police record or criminal record, also about if they have ever been to a Nazi meeting and so on.  

For some students that are not from the EU, they might have to ask for a VISA. Fist they should check if their country is part of the Visa Waiver Program. If it is not the case they would have to ask for a Visitor Visa that would give them the right to travel. To do so they have to go to the American embassy.

 

b.     Passport

As they are going outside the Europe, students will have to use their passport and no longer just their ID as they might have been used to it when they travelled within the EU. Therefore students will have to check their passport several months before the travel so they would have time to update it if it is needed, as it can take fifteen days to more than a month to be ready since it depends on the place and the demands where it is made.

 

c.      Baggage

Every time Laura and I looked up at the tickets for the plane we never took in consideration the baggage hold as it would be more expansive. We have therefore decided that the hand baggage should be enough as the minimum is around ten kilos which should be enough for two weeks. But if the students have more to take they will have to pay the extra by their selves. Little reminder: students should take with them a mains adaptor since American plugs are different from French ones.

 

d.     Allowance

As the University of Stendhal will not give any pocket money for the students, they will have to find another way to earn some. Laura and I thought about organizing some events such as second-hand trade or car wash. Nevertheless, when we asked the class through the Facebook’s group page who would be willing to do so, no one answered! I had to put a sarcastic comment so only one person answered, the rest of the class just ignored it.

Little reminder: since the money is not the same in France (Euros €) and in the United States (US dollars $) students will have to do the exchange before they go or once they arrive at the airport.

 

e.      Work

Once they are back from the travel the students will have to hand back a paper, or filmic work. We suggest them to do a sort of diary in which they would note down everything they did and they had to face but also record people when they interview them so they would after all do an editing work and show it in the Amphidice.

 

Conclusion: 

Throughout the project I had to face several problems. The first and the most surprising one was the reaction of the class. I really did not expect from them to think that Laura and I were joking. We did tell them several times it was not a joke but they did not believed us immediately. I am wondering if their reactions are due to the fact that Laura and I just met them in January since we started our 3rd year for the second semester and neither of us met them before. They always seemed enthusiastic for these kinds of project but once it became concrete we barely had some support.

What also surprised me was how the responsible of our department welcomed us. I felt like she was actually ready to say no to whatever we would have asked.

The second difficulty was the time. The time was too short to organize a huge project like this one. But hopefully this mistake will not be repeated with the next generation if they want take over the project. By rushing everything sometimes I am afraid we passed by important things without noticing it.

More we worked on it, more we realized that we have not only to find how to make them go but also to find for them activities that would have a pedagogical aim. How could we do this without knowing where we would send them first? Should we first buy the tickets then find who would in that region would be willing to be interviewed by French Students or first find the people and they buy the tickets. As we were looking for an answer to this question we could see the price of the plane tickets getting higher and higher in every state.

However we did all we could to make it comes true. We sincerely hope that the next generation of L3 LLCER English will take over this project.


 

 

 

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