Sept. 15, 2023
Culver Academies senior French instructor Angela Barton Haynes spent nearly a month in France this summer brushing up not only on the language but also immersing herself in the country’s ever-changing culture.
“I feel privileged to be at a school that recognizes that the human-to-human connection that we make through culture is something to bring to the forefront to young people. Because it is so motivating,” Haynes said.
Haynes earned her master’s degree in French culture from The Ohio State University, so she has a keen interest in remaining a connoisseur of what’s chic.
She lived in Rennes, in the Brittany section of France, from 1997-2000, teaching at a university there. One might think living in France for three years would make her an expert on all things French. Au contrare mon frere.
She tries to get back as often as possible because she thinks keeping up with ongoing cultural changes helps keep her classes stay avant-garde and more interesting to students. Call it the je ne sais quoi factor.
“It keeps it fresh. Because I’m always learning about how things are evolving in different parts of the world. To have a good professional conscience, I have to do my best to stay aware of what is going on,” said Haynes, who teaches in Culver’s World Languages & Cultures program. “Because the events of today are going to be creating the realities our students are going to be facing down the road,” she said.
“Slang changes. What people are talking about changes. Events change. Part of the impetus for going on this trip in particular was knowing that France was going through a real big cultural change,” she said.
She was particularly interested in returning this summer in the wake of protests this past year after President Emmanuel Macron raised the retirement age from 62 to 64 and after police fatally shot a teenager who refused to comply with a traffic stop in a Paris suburb.
She spent time with Anne-Claire, a physics and chemistry teacher, and her husband, Gilbert, a former philosophy teacher who now does authentic restorations of castles and other historic buildings, and Frankie, who owns a thrift shop housed in what was once a medieval prison.
“I felt lucky to have relationships with people who were from different sides politically so I got to hear how Anne-Claire and Gilbert interpreted the riots and how Frankie, whose business was threatened, interpreted the riots,” she said.
Frankie brought Haynes and her husband, Travis, to Mont-Saint-Michel, a 1,000-year-old abbey that is one of the most popular French destinations outside Paris. Anne-Claire brought Haynes and her husband to the Chateau de Vitre, a medieval castle that overlooks the Vilaine River. Haynes found out that Anne-Claire’s son lives in what was once the castle’s guardhouse, which Gilbert owns and restored.
“Now it’s one of the most photographed pieces of architecture in Vitre. It’s on all sorts of postcards,” Haynes said.
The next day in Rennes, while waiting to meet with former Culver Academies fellow Meaghan Teitelman, who now teaches in Lyon, France, Haynes spotted a teenager wearing a Culver Military Academy T-shirt. She called out to him. She found out he was Polo Thompson ‘25, a student from Ensenada, Mexico, who was staying in Rennes over the summer as part of the School Year Abroad program.
“I’m so grateful that Culver supports students in going abroad. I know it has been transformational for so many students whether it is going on the GPS (Global Pathways Spring) trips or through programs like SYA, IU Honors, or CIEE. Because I think once they see that speaking the language is only part of the equation. Human connections are there to be had despite our perceived challenges with communicating in the language of the country. People are people.”
Thompson is now in Haynes’ French III class.
Haynes recalls when she was taking her third year of French in high school she felt as though she wasn’t close to mastering the language. She remembers a group of exchange students from France coming to her high school and feeling the same way about English.
But she said meeting those students changed how she felt about the class.
“It was the human-to-human connection. We could understand each other. It was beyond language,” she said.
Haynes was part of a group of students from her high school that was able to go to France as part of that exchange program. She still has a binder full of pictures of the trip, her travel agenda and a note she wrote to her host family. More than 35 years later, she keeps in touch with some of the people she met.
“I hope to further underscore the idea that the connections you make, regardless of your perceived abilities, are connections that can be lifelong,” Haynes said. “One of the things as language teachers we struggle against is people tend to label themselves as, ‘Oh, I’m not good at languages.’ I always respond with, ‘Not yet!’ ”
Haynes said once someone becomes motivated enough, they can learn a language. Which is why she believes going back to France to learn about what is happening there can help motivate students to learn French.
“Although it would be wonderful if all of our students have the opportunity to experience their language in an immersive setting, I feel like the more of my personal anecdotes that I can bring into the classroom, the more students can envision themselves using the language they’re growing here at Culver,” she said.
Because helping students learn to love language is where Haynes finds her joie de vivre.