I have long been aware of the Erasmus Programme (European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students) having had many Erasmus students in my classes over the years whilst at Imperial College. It was however, only after moving to Harper Adams University, that I found out that there was also a similar programme to enable academic staff to spend time teaching at sister institutions. I was contacted earlier this year by Joséphine Pithon from the Ecole Supérieure d’Agriculture d’Angers who wondered if I would like to come across to Angers a city I am ashamed to admit that I had very little knowledge of. The chance of spending a week in France, my favourite holiday destination, was too good to turn down and my wife Gill was also very keen to have a short break and refresh her French language skills. To cut a long story short, on Monday 24th March, we caught the Eurostar to Lille and then the TGV on to Angers, arriving mid-afternoon in, to our dismay, a very wet Angers. We booked into our hotel, found somewhere not too far away to eat and then retired to deal with emails (sad to say we had both brought our laptops with us) and for me to double-check that my lectures were ready to deliver.
Tuesday dawned warm and sunny, much to Gill’s relief who had a day of sightseeing planned and I walked to ESA, which was only ten minutes away, collecting a roundabout on the way, albeit not as spectacular as those in the south of France.
I arrived at a very welcoming ESA and managed to make myself understood at reception and was introduced to my first class, a group of third years getting their first introduction to
entomology. It seemed to go well and despite me lecturing in English they asked a lot of pertinent questions. I then gave them two lectures on sampling and survey methods before going for lunch with my hosts. I must give the staff canteen (cantine) a rave review – for less than €5 we got a three course lunch with coffee. Then it was back to lecture to a fourth year group about biological control and pest management, again to a very interactive group of students. Then it was the short walk back to the hotel followed by an excellent meal in the city centre with my new French colleagues. On the way we admired the bendy trams and marveled at the ingenuity of having ‘green’ tramways wherever possible.
The next day I gave a seminar and then we headed out into the field with the third year students to collect insects and other invertebrates using a mixture of methods, pitfall traps, yellow pan traps, pooters, beating trays (known as Japanese umbrellas in French), sweep nets and extendable butterfly nets. French students in the field are very similar in
behaviour to their British counterparts ;-) Then it was the end of the day and time to relax and find somewhere nearby to eat and get ready for a morning in the laboratory on Thursday.
Thursday morning was spent with the students helping them identify the various organisms that they had brought back from our day in the field. It appears that whilst students have to wear lab coats staff are exempt! Our lab manager at Harper Adams would never allow that; I am frequently being told off for popping into the lab sans coat.
In the lab I had to use my French a bit more as some students were better than others at English and in a one to one situation I feel a little less hesitant about demonstrating my inept language skills. I think we all had a fun morning and learnt a lot from each other. After an excellent lunch it was time for a break; there is no teaching at ESA on a Thursday afternoon so I was free to join Gill for an afternoon of sightseeing around Angers. Needless to say it began to rain! Nevertheless we saw the magnificent Château d’Angers, once the home of René I a most impressive building even in the rain and with a nice entomological surprise on the ramparts; beehives..
And of course a mini-vineyard complete with a rose bush at the end of the row to give early warning of mildew infections! Great to see pest management in action;-)
Thursday evening saw us at a great little restaurant in the city centre where we met up with Professor David Logan a plant physiologist at the University of Angers, and someone I had previously only met on Twitter. He introduced us to a couple of very nice local wines and we had a superb (and very reasonably priced) meal. It was a great end to a fantastic and educational trip. I think it is very impressive that the French students are willing and able to be lectured to in English. I am ashamed to say that I think that very few of our own students would be able to cope with a week of teaching in French!
Given the chance I would definitely like to repeat the experience and spend more time there.
Whilst roaming the corridors of ESA I came across a departmental notice board where I saw this cutting from the February issue of the L’Éleveur laitier a French agricultural magazine, and was very amused to see how they portrayed British farmers!