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Manifest Destiny

BAPTISTE.jpg

Today I’m at my desk and I’m asked to write my last Willamette World News post. I look out the window of my Uaps apartment, it’s sunny out, the petals of the blooming flowers this flash Spring brought are already falling, and there he is, in the distance: the Golden Man —Looking west.

So I remember all those tedious hours when I had to look over the 150 American universities that are part of the ISEP program, the exchange program I’m here with. I remember how I had to come up with a list of 10 only, and one of those 10 would choose me. I had been in the States three times already, so I had a good idea of what I wanted, and what I did not want. All the central states, out. Minnesota, and Pennsylvania, out —already lived there, was great, but let’s go for a new adventure. California, out. First choice, some college in Amherst, Massachusetts. I’ve always been attracted to New England. Second choice, Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City, across from Manhattan —New York City is my ridiculous must-go place.

When I finally got the answer, I was really excited. I was given my third choice, Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. Grand! I had always wanted to go to the west coast. I’m an avid hiker and I had heard of Oregon’s wonderful landscape. I had been reading Raymond Carver that year and our boring literature teacher kept praising this state for its natural beauty —and he was right! I had heard of Portland as a great city, too, from a friend that I met in Philadelphia but has a house in Portland.

So off I go. Hop on a train in Bordeaux, hop on a plane in Paris, land in New York City… yeah, I told you, I have to go there each time I come to the States. Spend some time there, trying to bear the August hot humidity (or humid heat, as you wish), I’m visited by my “American mother” from Pennsylvania, the first place in the US where I lived. Take another plane, fly over Minnesota, the second place where I lived in the US, and land in Seattle. Spend some time there, couchsurfing, having fun, loving it. Then hop on the train down to Portland. Couchsurf, find Portland ugly but incredibly charming and fun, and finally, carpool to Salem. Over the years I have explored the US, traveling like a pioneer towards the unknown territories of the west. It’s just been my own manifest destiny history —founding of the US, Louisiana purchase, westward expansion, get the title of this post?

My time in Salem and as a WU student was great. It took me only a few days to realize how lucky I was to get not my first, not my second, but my third choice on my ISEP list. Willamette University is the small community where everybody knows everybody (at least by sight) that I wanted. It’s a place with the student-professor relationships I like, something close and casual, fulfilling and pleasant. It’s a place where students think. Yes they have fun, yes some do things that are not that smart. But yes, they think. They are world-aware, they are knowledgeable about plenty of things, they are active and dynamic, et cetera. It feels good to converse with one’s peers here.

As for Salem, well yeah, it’s even uglier than Portland. But it, too, has some charm. The riverside, if not embellished to make it an active heart of town, is still pretty and I enjoyed my walks along it with dates, strolling on the pedestrian bridge, or reading in the grass by the carrousel. Some cafés and coffee places are quaint, like Gov’ Cup or the more remote Clockwork Café. In Salem, you also find hidden bookstores and mysterious passages, or you go up the hill and you find out that Salem has some enormous mansions. Some restaurants are good. It’s not any close to Portland quality (and, to be a snob, very far from  European quality), but they’re not bad. Andaluz has some real cheese and will serve you squid for a reasonable price. Gamberetti’s has good gluten-free options. The Indian restaurants serve good cheap food.

So yes, Salem has the ugliest capitol building of the 50 states, and yes, the city board and Amtrak haven’t ever thought that they could put fences along the train track so that trains wouldn’t have to push the horn loudly and drive us all crazy, and yes, Salem has neither the charm of New England nor the life of New York, but I really enjoyed my time here…

… And in Oregon in general! I just loved going for a hike every weekend or so. The Columbia River Gorge is gorgeous, the coast is cool, and central Oregon is a heaven for adventurers.

The coast

Mount Hood

Silver Falls

As a matter of fact, I liked it all so much that I’m staying here. Well, trying to at least. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher and I have decided I would teach French in American middle and/or high schools. So, I spent a considerable amount of my time looking up information about the best schools of education of the country, the best way to be certified to teach in the US, the best way to get financial aid, etc. It turned out that the University of Oregon is the 8th best school of education in the country, even far better than the UCs, NYU, and most Ivy League schools! (according to U.S.News and world report)

After some tedious application processes, I was admitted at the University of Oregon. I am pretty excited. Eugene is actually uglier yet (yes, possibly uglier than Salem), and the U of O is a big school, while I prefer smaller ones, but I am really excited. The MAT program is really good apparently, and it will give me a license to teach French and English as a second language. I am still looking for funds, because what I didn’t get, however, is the $20,000 scholarship I was hoping for, but I hope to be fine: I keep looking for grants and scholarships, I work several jobs on campus, and I am also doing a big fundraising. And what I haven’t raised, I suppose I will borrow.

So this May, when I go back to France, it will be for a short month. I will visit friends and family, stop in Paris to get a new visa and just because I love the French capital, and I will show France around to my girlfriend who’s coming along too. And then I’ll be back here. Which will be weird because I have not lived in the same area for two years in a row for the past 7 years… but I guess I need to make sure Oregon becomes a state… (if you’re going “what?” it’s a reference to my lousy carry-over comparison to the US westward expansion).

Well, voilà, what else can I say? I guess I’ll finish on a praising note for Willamette University, where I spent a fun and happy year. A University with a pretty campus that makes up for Salem’s otherwise lack of aesthete…

A university where people take eagles for chickens…

A university that makes effort to have a variety of foods and accommodate everyone’s needs (from vegans to gluten-frees). A university that makes green efforts, it even has its own organic farm and forest, which is really awesome. I really enjoyed my day making apple cider at Zena:

A university with… ok, let’s stop my random praises here. But in a word, WU rocks. Thank you Willamette!

Baptiste Delvallé, April 2012

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