IES Abroad turned 65 this year, and with it, our Nantes Center is celebrating its 50th Anniversary.
Since the founding of the Nantes Center in 1965, homestays have been a cornerstone of our Nantes semester program. Although the focus of the program has changed from Mathematics and Engineering to French Language and Literature, the integral part of homestays has remained a constant for students throughout the decades.
In honor of our 50th anniversary in Nantes, we take a look back with the Douillard family, who hosted 53 IES Abroad students in their home from 1974-2006.
It all began at the university choir where Mme. Douillard and her husband, Michel, were members. One night, they struck up a conversation with several American students in the IES Abroad Nantes program who mentioned they lived with local families. Interested in the opportunity for cultural exchange for themselves and their three daughters, the Douillards applied to become a host family. In 1974, their first student arrived: Elizabeth, a Brazilian who was attending college in the United States.
Elizabeth quickly adapted to life with the family, and by the end the semester, Mme. Douillard said she felt like she was saying goodbye to her own daughter. “When Elizabeth left, the whole family cried so much,” she recalls. Each subsequent student became a part of the family, too. “We shared everything with them like we did with our own children," Mme. Douillard says. "We were very happy to have them in our home and incredibly sad when they left.”
From setting the table to cutting bread for meals, students quickly immersed themselves fully into daily life as a part of the family. At that time, students were allocated only three dinners per week (now five), but Mme. Douillard always gave students the opportunity to eat dinner with the family on one condition: they didn’t tell the other students in the program.
Over dinner, students practiced their French, shared stories from the day, and learned about a variety of French cuisine, from crêpes to raclette to cauliflower gratin. “I loved helping them discover new dishes and teaching them about French gastronomy,” Mme. Douillard remembers. One local dish she made sure each of her students experienced was oysters. “Some took a chance and tried them, but others weren’t as courageous,” she says.
The Douillards also welcomed students into many other aspects of their family life. “In Nantes, we often took students for walks along the Erdre river, to the market, and on trips to visit friends,” Mme. Douillard explains. “We also went to classical music concerts, including performances where our daughter Delphine played the harp.” Outside of Nantes, the family included students on excursions to Brittany, Vannes, the Gulf of Morbihan, and nearby historical sites like Carnac and Clisson.
“We shared everything with the students: family parties, anniversaries, baptisms, weddings, the family get-together for the Pentecost, and preparations for Christmas,” Mme. Douillard recalls. But it wasn’t just the students who benefited. “Culturally-speaking, it was a very rich exchange. We learned about their culture and our students learned about French culture. For my daughters, it was wonderful—they had new sisters they could share their lives with.”
The constant presence of American students also enriched the life of Mme. Douillard’s granddaughter, Eugénie Fouré, who was born in 1981. Whenever Eugénie visited her grandparents’ house growing up, there was always an American student present who, she says, “seemed like a true member of the family.” From holding her as a baby to playing with her throughout childhood, the students intrigued Eugénie at all stages of her life.
In 1996, after hosting 35 students, Mme. Douillard took Eugénie on a grand tour of the United States to visit nine of her American daughters. Spending a week with each, they toured historical sites and sampled the local cuisine of each region before moving onto the next. By the end of the trip, they had visited the entire span of the United States, from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. For both Mme. Douillard and Eugénie, the most memorable moments were the reunions after so many years apart. “There were so many emotions,” Mme. Douillard explains. “I was so proud to see how my American daughters had developed into accomplished young women, mothers, and seasoned musicians. What happiness!”
For Eugénie, the trip solidified her desire to pursue a career teaching French as a foreign language. A few years later, at the suggestion of her grandparents, Eugénie moved into their home for the duration of her studies at the University of Nantes. Her grandparents’ American daughters quickly became her American sisters. “We were the same age and we shared a lot of things in common—we talked, went to the movies, and went out for coffee together,” Eugénie says.
At the IES Abroad Nantes Center, Eugénie participated in activities for local students including language exchange partners, receptions, and the annual Thanksgiving Dinner for families and host students. It was there that she met her future mentor, Associate Director Chantal Rouchet, who began her career at IES Abroad Nantes in 1967. They kept in touch after Eugénie left Nantes to complete her Master’s degree and start a career teaching French to international students. In 2011, upon nearing retirement, Mme. Rouchet called Eugénie to ask if she was interested in a position as Housing Coordinator at the Center.
“I said ‘yes,’ without a doubt!” Eugénie remembers. It was an opportunity she had been preparing for her entire life. With her background, Eugénie was uniquely qualified to take on this new role evaluating and matching students with host families. Her new position also meant the opportunity for Mme. Douillard—who retired as a host mother in 2006 after moving to a smaller home—to maintain her connection with the Center.
Looking back, 53 students later, Mme. Douillard says that what she misses most is the cultural exchange, helping students discover French cuisine, and the presence of a friendly student at her side every day. Today, Mme. Douillard looks forward to attending the theatre performance by Nantes students each semester, which she says, “brings back such wonderful memories.”
Students Remember the Douillards
“Mme. Douillard’s generosity was tangible and practical. She told me the kitchen was mine, and I was welcome to enjoy a meal, snack, or whatever I felt I needed at any time. In fact, they got a custom-made bowl with my name on it that I used for most of my meals the whole time I was in Nantes—I still have my bowl ‘full of memories.’” —Maame Afon Yelbert-Obeng, Fall 2002
“The biggest life lesson I learned from Mme. Douillard was to be generous, with time, resources, humor, and love. I was deeply appreciative of the opportunity to repay her generosity in kind, and I strive to follow her example at every opportunity, great or small.” —Sue Ann Manbeck, 1979-80
“[Mme. Douillard] was very adept at demonstrating food culture in France…I still make a version of salmon with beurre blanc that I learned from her to this day.” —Jessica Rosenstein, Spring 2001
“I remember it was cold outside, and we spent an evening in the living room talking about Nantes and what it was like during the war. They pulled out a book of newspaper clippings. I felt at home that night and part of the family.” —Sara Kirby, Fall 1999
Learn more about IES Abroad Nantes!