Students sat down for boxed salads and sandwiches rather than baguettes and brie, and there were no berets in sight. Yet the rapid-fire exchange of bonjours and je m’appelles between members of the French Association of Ibis Students (FAIS) during this week’s meeting evoked afternoon conversations reminiscent of the streets of Paris.
FAIS, an acronym that means “to do” or “to make happen” in French, was first established in fall 2013. The organization, which is part of the Council of International Students and Organizations (COISO), aims to engage students of all backgrounds with Francophone culture, which encompasses French-speaking nations from all corners of the globe – from the Caribbean island of Martinique to Canada to regions of the United States.
At each reunion, which lasts from 12:30-1:30 p.m. every Tuesday, students participate in discussions about a timely theme or topic. The meetings are conducted primarily in French, with English used for necessary clarification. This week’s discussion centered around Sunday’s football game and Thanksgiving plans.
The language proficiencies of the students in FAIS are as diverse as their backgrounds. Some are still figuring out the nuances of French grammar, while others can carry on completely fluent conversations without pause. Yet it is still a learning experience for everybody, and during this week’s Thanksgiving discussion, students were unashamed to turn to Google Translate as a last resort to find the correct translation of “cranberry.”
Some students shared their favorite Thanksgiving foods and family traditions, while others with international backgrounds were not as familiar or as involved in the holiday. Genevieve Alix, a Parisian native currently living in Miami, also explained the traditions of “La Fete des Rois,” or the Festival of Kings, a French holiday that occurs in January.
Alix is a teacher with Miami’s center for the Alliance Francaise, an international organization that focuses on teaching French to students across the world. Though not a university faculty member, Alix often comes to FAIS meetings as a special guest and facilitates discussions for the students. She is also the president of Miami-Accueil, a voluntary organization for French citizens living in Miami.
“I first heard of this club at UM when I met [club president Giunëur] Mosi at a meeting hosted by the Canadian Consulate,” Alix said in French. “He explained that he had a group here that hosted discussions and was looking for someone to aid the discussion. So, voila, I came.”
In addition to regular discussions, FAIS meetings also involve watching short films, or films courts, and listening to French music, such as the songs of French hip-hop artist Stromae.
Outside of meetings, FAIS participates in other on-campus events, such as International Week and COISO’s annual banquet. The club works closely with Planet Kreyol, the Haitian student organization, and Pi Delta Phi, the French National Honor Society. FAIS also works to promote the Department of Modern Languages and Literature by showing French films at the Cosford Cinema every semester.
Moreover, FAIS hosts informal outings for its members, such as visits to the Lowe Art Museum to discuss artwork in French.
“We hope to have outings to places like The Big Cheese and La Crêperie in the future, in addition to more trips to events like the opera,” said sophomore Ella Haynes, secretary and co-founder of FAIS.
Some students attend the meetings to earn extra credit for their French courses and practice the skills they learn in class, while others simply want to brush up on the language and learn more about Francophone culture.
Micol Echeverria, an Ecuadorian student who is currently the logistics officer of FAIS, discussed how she first became interested in the language.
“I started learning French when I was 14 just because I needed some extra help. But the teacher that came to my house made me love the language, and from then on I have been learning French,” Echeverria said. “I went to Montpelier two years ago to practice, and I decided to do a minor in French in order to keep practicing the language in college.”
For more information about FAIS, visit https://www.facebook.com/
FAIS meets every Tuesday in Room 207 of the University Center.