My Road to Montréal – Part 1 of 4

There are two questions that I am asked often. They both involve long explanations and they are intrinsically intertwined with one another. The two questions are: “What brought you to Montréal?” and “How did you and your wife meet?” Although the answer to the first question can be easily answered with “My wife is from here.” it really doesn’t tell the whole story. Even the spoken answer to the second question doesn’t really tell the whole story like I could here. So I’d like to relay the history and story behind both. Though after sitting down and putting this to paper, I kinda got carried away. So this has become an answer to those questions combined with my/our life story for those twelve years from when this story begins and actually moving here. Some of this has already been covered here, while some of it will likely be elaborated on in the future.

Probably the event that had the most influence on the direction of my life happened in the fall of 1990. It was what they call “Dad’s Day Weekend” down at the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana. It was my sophomore year and the most grueling semester in the architecture program. You went from a wide-eyed freshman with free time to “experience” college to someone whose entire existance revolved around your design project. It’s basically the year when architecture students disappear from campus and can only be seen late at night through the windows of the studios. But I digress.

Around the architecture buildings, there were flyers announcing a slideshow on Saturday morning about the Versailles program. It sounded interesting and I think some people had been talking about it, so my father and I went to go see it. I was blown away. It was an excellent presentation set to contemporary music and included both pictures of famous places taken by the students and pictures of the students during their time over there. The program was a school year studying in one of the buildings of the Chateau de Versailles. The curriculum was almost identical to the one back in the states and the classes were taught by professors sent over for the program. So all of the classes were in English and you wouldn’t lose step in your studies. The cost of the program was relatively cheap compared to other study abroad programs and sometimes the accommodations reflected that. While some people had an actual apartment with a real kitchen. Others had a bedroom in someone’s house with a hot plate. Another of the very appealing aspects of the program was that there were ten weeks of designated travel time. Three two week breaks and one four week break at the end. The reason for all of this time is that this program is an excellent opportunity as architects (and human beings) to actual experience the buildings and the history that is so accessible once stationed in Europe. We actually got course credit for “life experience”.

Needless to say my father and I were extremely interested in and excited about the possibility of participating in this program. He offered to help out as best he could. I thought about it very often between that slideshow and actually participating. But I did not know until later than most whether I would be able to go. You see, my grades during my freshman year were pretty lackluster. So I ended up near the bottom of the waiting list and had to wait for others to determine if they wanted to and/or were able to go. The wait was excruciating but eventually I made the list.

Petite Ecurie

I’ve partially documented my experience during the time on the program on the European Memoirs blog, but I’ll recount what pertains to this story. As you can imagine it was quite an experience. It put 2d images and text on a page into 3d moving real life objects with sound and smell. Along with all the experiences of the culture. The building where our classes were held also housed the French School of Architecture in Versailles. So although we were also taking architecture classes, we did not take any in the French school. Our interaction with the students consisted of passing them in the halls and maybe meeting them at the cafe or cafeteria. It was similar to working in the same building, but not for the same company. You start seeing the same faces. But due to the language barrier, I only met a few people who could speak English. My French was horribly basic and I’m not very outgoing. In the end I really only met four people outside of the program. Our roommate who was a French secondary student, a German au-pair that I met on a train, and two other women in the architecture school (a German and a Polish). So although I spent nine months over there, I really did not experience French culture very much more that an attentive tourist.

The next year at school was my senior year. It was back to life at school with an odd ambiance. The class had been split in half with each living together on opposite sides of the ocean, so you were a bit distanced from some of the friends you made before. But I became much more aware of the French students who had come over on the opposite exchange. BTW, there were only one of them for every seven of us that went to Versailles because the French government paid for their part of the exchange. Their year was spent with the first year grad students, so I only saw them occasionally and didn’t really get to know them. It was this year that I realized that although I had experienced so much, I missed the boat on French culture. During the first semester, we seniors were all trying to decide what we would do the following year. The taste for something different was sparked in many who participated in the program and they either moved to other cities to start working or went to other schools. I decided to stay put because: it was familiar, I had just been away for a year, and the in-state tuition was cheap.

Continued in Part 2.

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~ by Frank on July 22, 2007.

6 Responses to “My Road to Montréal – Part 1 of 4”

  1. Great start! I love these stories that even though we know how it ends, it’s still exciting to see it unfold.

  2. […] in Montreal Observations, Memoirs, and Opinion « My Road to Montréal – Part 1 of 4 My Road to Montréal – Part 2 of 4 July 23rd, 2007 [This is part 2 of a 4 part series. In […]

  3. […] Chicagoan in Montreal Observations, Memoirs, and Opinion « My Road to Montréal – Part 2 of 4 My Road to Montréal – Part 3 of 4 July 25th, 2007 [This is part 3 of a 4 part series. In case you missed the first installment, read this first] […]

  4. My friend, you are living my dream. Well, it’s really my backup dream. My primary dream is, of course, to live as a successful writer in Paris with a young and very beautiful French-Moroccan wife, who is of the secular persuasion.

  5. […] Chicagoan in Montreal Observations, Memoirs, and Opinion « My Road to Montréal – Part 3 of 4 My Road to Montréal – Part 4 of 4 July 26th, 2007 [This is part 4 of a 4 part series. In case you missed the first installment, read this first] […]

  6. […] swimmingly. It has changed my outlook, my drive, and my mood. While it was an odd road to get here (like so many things in my life), everything is so different for just one year ago. LD_AddCustomAttr("AdOpt", "1"); […]

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