Sunday, March 9, 2014
After serving over 20 years in the US Army, retired veteran Andrew Breault did not expect to be studying French at the University of Maine Augusta. “I thought, perhaps, I’d learn to speak French after I graduated from UMA,” he says.
Now, he’s president of the UMA French Club. He’s finding how studying French reconnects him with his family’s Franco-American heritage.
Professor Chelsea Ray and Andrew Breault (seated front right) at UMA
When he enrolled at UMA, he was encouraged to experience some of the French cultural and language immersion programs offered by Professor Chelsea Ray. As a result, Breault is now studying French as a minor subject. Moreover, he’s looking forward to taking “Franco-Americans: Cultural Identity in Context”, a humanities course beginning in the spring, 2014 semester, also taught by Ray. It’s an intensive writing class where Breault expects to expand his knowledge about Franco-Americans and his family’s heritage.
Breault graduated from Waterville high school where, unfortunately, French was not offered to him as a foreign language.
“Now, after learning French, I can see how important the language is to connecting with my father’s heritage. I’m learning more about my ancestors and our shared history with others who immigrated to Maine from Canada,” he says.
Breault experienced the importance of learning foreign languages when he and his family lived in Europe. “It’s not unusual for some Europeans to speak as many as six foreign languages. Most Americans never learn to speak more than one,” he says.
After retiring from the Army with his family, they moved to South China. He was pleased to hear from Erskine Academy, a private high school in South China where two of his children attend, about their 5 foreign language programs in Chinese, Russian, Spanish, French and German. “Speaking more than one language is very important in today’s interconnected global society and world economies,” he says.
Andrew Breault President of UMA French Club connects with his Franco-American heritage
Connecting with his Franco-American heritage is important for Breault.
Breault’s father, Milton, 80 lives in East Vassalboro. His family’s genealogy records documents Vincent Brault (a variation of their name) as their ancestor, who was born in 1631 in the Poitou region of France. He came to North America around 1652, to the French colony of Acadie, at Port Royal, now Annapolis Royal in present day Nova Scotia, Canada. His descendants migrated to Grand Pre, in Acadie, to Quebec, then to Maine where they lived in Lewiston, and finally, Waterville. His grandfather was born in the French section of Waterville. “My father was also born in Waterville. He did not speak English until he went to public school at the age of five. When I was born, my family moved to East Vassalboro and I grew up in the country away from the influence of the French community of Waterville,” he says.
“My father grew up speaking French but we never spoke the language at home,” says Breault. “I wish I could have spoken French with my father, especially when we worked in the woods together when I was growing up.”
In “Franco-Americans: Cultural Identity in Context”, Ray connects Franco-Americans like Breault with their heritage through language and history. A key feature of the course is having the students write a memoire about their cultural background. They also interview a Franco-American in their final project. Guest speakers from the Franco-American community share their experiences with the students. The course brings awareness to the similarities, differences and the cultural diversity within the Franco-American community. “It’s one of my favorite courses to teach,” she says.
Franco-Americans from the community are also invited to enroll. Contact the UMA registrar’s office at 621-3145 for information.
Link to information about the UMA French programs at http://www.uma.edu/campus-and-community/french-at-uma/Page-2.html
Juliana L’Heureux is a freelance writer whose articles about Maine’s Franco-American history and culture have appeared in Portland newspapers for 25 years. She serves on the Maine Franco-American Leadership Council.
Juliana and her husband Richard live in Topsham ME. Feel free to contact her at Juliana@mainewriter.com.