One of my ideas had been that if there’s something you want but it doesn’t exist, create it. I had loved the café polyglottes when I was studying in Nantes, but nothing of the sort existed in Nîmes. So, with the help of the Rotaract and some fellow assistants, a sort of English Café was created in the town. Sadly, the initiative failed. But it was an educational failure. I mentioned my desire to start the group sometime in December. With the help of the Rotaract president, Pierre, we were provided a free room to use on the Hoche campus of the university late January or February. Based on this experience and another experience attending a meeting run by the youth center of the town hall implementing community activities, I learned a bit about how to organize an educational event for a large community. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the club started until this month. Organization was slow and the two week break was not ideally timed for the club. While everyone I’d spoken to about the club thought that it was a great idea, unfortunately, very few people committed and none of we assistants were able to get our students to come. Why did a good idea fail?
- The Hoche campus is fairly out of the way, a good 30 minute walk from the town center. The club is in the evening, and while students may be free, public transportation stops around 8PM. Granted, this is about when the meetings end, but transportation becomes more sparse in the evening, so arriving on time and leaving on time would be issues. Not everyone lives within walking distance of the Hoche campus and I wouldn’t recommend walking alone in the evening outside the town center, either.
- The Hoche campus is also a building, not a café. Part of the ambiance in Nantes was being in a café environment and the ability to speak over a drink (sometimes with a cute little Breizh flag stuck in it… I digress).
- I think students, high schoolers, BTS students, and university students, may have seen the club as “extra work.” It was supposed to be just plain old fun speaking English at the start, but the idea was proposed to help students prepare for their bac and this was advertised. It’s a great idea, but maybe not the most tempting for students who already have a long school day. Our ideas for activities were of the entertaining variety, but I don’t think our posters made that clear. Perhaps it would have been best to stick to a purely fun café polyglotte idea.
- The amount of native English speakers may have been intimidating. Personally, I always loved talking to the native language TA’s at Gettysburg and several became good friends. I never felt intimated by their language skills. Isn’t that the point? That they speak better than you so that you can learn something? But that’s the Lauren point of view, not perhaps shared by my students or the students of other assistants. I think in the future, it would be imperative to make students understand that all levels of proficiency would be more than welcome.
- The general problem I’ve noticed with getting people in Nîmes to commit to groups. I don’t know that this problem is limited to Nîmes and I don’t know if it’s true for all groups, but the aumônerie and Rotaract have attendance and recruitment issues. Most of the members of the aumônerie who come regularly are foreign (American and Czech). I’ve never quite understood this problem. Perhaps there’s a general lack of communal spirit?
Are these ideas why it failed? I don’t know, all I know is the experience helped me learn how to set up such a community event and what I would do differently next time, and that’s important. I appreciate the support of the Rotaract and fellow assistants in this initiative. I very much hope that the Rotaract, working with the new group of assistants next year, can try again to start an English conversation group in the city. Perhaps if people work to start it sometime during the first half of the year, it would be more attractive. Late March may seem an odd time of the year to start a new activity.
I am at least happy to say that while attendance may not be booming at my English Club at Hemingway, the club is a success. I love my students who come and we have fun. I have noticed an improvement in the speaking proficiency of the students and I’m proud of them.