PORTLAND – A group of French law students and professors will have several more days to enjoy Maine lobster, visit the area’s beaches and compare local microbrews, thanks to the volcanic cloud that has grounded most flights to and from Europe.

The group has been in the United States since April 10 for the 16th annual exchange seminar organized by the French Law Program at the University of Maine School of Law.

The group includes 16 students, five professors and one administrator from the Universite du Maine in Le Mans and the Universite de Rennes. They were scheduled to fly home last weekend, but their flights were canceled because of the dust cloud created by the ongoing eruption of the volcano beneath the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in Iceland.

A few of the staff members have rescheduled their flights to today, hoping that air traffic will resume, said Martin Rogoff, a professor at the law school. But most of the people in the group have rescheduled their flights to Sunday.

They’re among many visitors and Mainers who have been stranded on either side of the Atlantic because of the volcano.

A group of students from Portland High School canceled a trip to France and Spain during this week’s school vacation. And a group from Cape Elizabeth and Cheverus high schools had its trip to France canceled. Fifteen students and three chaperones were scheduled to leave last Saturday for London, then connect to Nice in southern France.

“The kids were obviously disappointed,” said Lisa Melanson, an English teacher at Cape Elizabeth, although they can reschedule for June.

The group from France plans to take advantage of a disrupted itinerary and enjoy more of Maine and nearby tourist destinations.

“It’s not a problem staying here,” said Alexandre Loyer, a fifth-year law student at the Universite du Maine in Le Mans, the city in northwestern France that is famous for its 24-hour car race.

“The hospitality is great,” Loyer said. “We’re not stuck at the airport. The (law school) has arranged our accommodations and is helping some of us plan trips to Boston and New York.”

The French students started this year’s seminar with a three-day stay in Washington, D.C. They visited the U.S. Supreme Court, the Federal Reserve headquarters, the French Embassy and the Capitol, meeting with U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.

“The Supreme Court was very impressive,” said Loyer, who helped to host Maine students when the seminar was held in Le Mans last year.

After the French students arrived in Portland on April 13, they visited the Cumberland County Courthouse, the jail and the legal aid clinic, as well as a large law firm and the State House in Augusta, where they met Gov. John Baldacci.

Between excursions, French and American students presented and discussed research papers delving into French and American perspectives on the international financial crisis.

The French students also visited Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth, ate at various restaurants and homes, and found some “awesome” deals while shopping in Freeport, where the more-valuable Euro goes a long way, Loyer said.

On the down side, some of the French students are missing work, and most of them have final exams next week. They hope their professors will give them a few extra days to study after they get home, “but there’s no guarantee,” Loyer said.

Four of the five professors have children waiting at home, and most have professional obligations beyond their university positions.

“It’s very difficult,” said Beatrice Parance, an environmental law professor, speaking through an interpreter. “But I’m learning to speak English a little better and strengthening my professional relationships here at the law school.”

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: [email protected]