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Getting Started in Biarritz

by John O'Neal, professor of French

Each September since 1957, Hamilton students on the College's Junior Year in France program have begun their orientation to French life in the seaside town of Biarritz in the Basque country before moving on to Paris for the remainder of the academic year.

The program's founder, Professor Marcel Moraud, an American whose father was French, had taught French and Italian in Biarritz immediately following World War II in the Biarritz American University (BAU), a school for American troops who remained in France under the direction of Colonel (later General) Samuel L. McCroskey.

Having been among the first American soldiers to land in Normandy in 1944, Moraud was also among the first to arrive in Paris, where he was met by many joyful Parisians, including his future wife, Paulette. While teaching at the BAU, Moraud naturally made many acquaintances to whom he turned 10 years later when he wanted to establish an orientation program for Hamilton's Junior Year in France.

In 1955, he approached M. Hérisson-Laroche, principal of the Biarritz Lycée, who agreed to help find experienced professors for Hamilton's fledgling program from the ranks of his high school teachers. The tradition of hiring professors from the Biarritz Lycée has continued over the years. Many of the Junior Year in France orientation professors of civilization, grammar, literature and conversation have come from this secondary school or the nearby lycée or university in Bayonne.

The first group in 1957 had 32 students: 10 young men and 22 young women. For many years, students traveled to France by ocean liner, and a certain amount of orientation and instruction actually began on the ships. But with the emergence of lower fares on airlines in the 1970s, students started taking planes overseas. In the early years, the Biarritz portion of the program lasted for six weeks. Now, it lasts only three, as the beginning of the academic year in Parisian universities has moved up from early November to mid-October.

Throughout the years, however, what has not changed in Biarritz is the warm welcome students receive in their host families, who often invite them back for a return visit during the students' spring break. The success of the Hamilton program is due in no small measure to the orientation program in Biarritz with its dedicated teachers and friendly families who for generations have given Hamilton students the start they need in a new culture.

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