Say bonjour to our March Alum of the Month, retired owner of McQuade Distributing Co., Inc. and author, Sam McQuade (Nantes ‘67-‘68). With IES Abroad being the only permanent U.S. study abroad program in Nantes, it was and continues to be an ideal locale to become immersed in French culture. In this interview, learn how this St. John's University alum returned to the states with a French fiancée, a Porsche, and a 3.9 GPA. These experiences and many others are included in McQuade's funny and poignant memoir, There is a Road in North Dakota.
IES Abroad: What led you to Nantes for your study abroad experience?
Sam McQuade: I wanted to study in Europe my junior year. The lady in charge of approving applications was the head of the French Department of my college. She didn’t like my answer to the first question: “State two reasons you want to study in Europe.” I wrote, “1. To buy a Porsche at the factory in Stuttgart; 2. Attend the ‘24 Hours of Le Mans.’” Since I was just beginning my second year of French, she insisted I study in France. I thought, “OK. The ‘24 Hours of Le Mans’ is in France.” Then she insisted I attend the Institute in Nantes, so as to avoid “the distractions,” as she put it, in Paris.
IES Abroad: What were some of your most memorable study abroad experiences?
SM: My most memorable study abroad experiences are really too numerous to recount here. My professors were truly wonderful and interesting; one of the best courses I ever took was Art History, taught by the curator of the Nantes Museum of Art. I traveled extensively: mostly France, but also England, Scotland, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Spain. In six months I put 20,000 miles on the Porsche I picked up at the factory in Stuttgart. I met my future wife, and got to know her extended family.
IES Abroad: You married a Nantaise you met while abroad. How did you two meet? How did meeting her influence your experience abroad?
SM: I met Maryvonne, my future wife, when I was invited to a party in Nantes by one of the other students in our academic year program. She made a world of difference to my French experience; I know of no other student that year who lived what I did. I returned to the U.S. with a fiancée, a Porsche, and a 3.9 GPA in a foreign language!
IES Abroad: When you first arrived in Nantes, did you have any career goals in mind for after college?
SM: My career goal was to be a college English professor. After my year at the Institute I obtained a degree in both English and French, and went on to get an M.A. in Comparative Literature. I taught English and Humanities in a college for three years. In 1975, family circumstances resulted in my return to our family beer distributorship in Bismarck, North Dakota.
IES Abroad: In your book, There is a Road in North Dakota, you talk about study abroad, meeting your wife, and your experiences growing up in North Dakota. How did studying abroad influence your writing of this book and others?
SM: I wrote my first book, There is a Road in North Dakota, at the suggestion of our younger daughter, who told me my life story should not be forgotten. About 100 pages are devoted to recounting my incredible year in France and subsequent marriage. There are many funny stories about a young, naïve American abroad.
IES Abroad: What advice would you give students who are thinking of going abroad?
SM: My advice to prospective study abroad students? Don’t pass up this opportunity! Your life will be absolutely transformed. You will develop a more open attitude about the world and how foreigners might view things differently than we…often for very good reasons.