In Your Voice

Letter from 1988 St. Brieuc Alum

Hello IUHPFL Team,

I received your postcard requesting updated info at a time where I’ve been contemplating how to give back to the organization.  Let me bring you up to speed on my path since my summer in St. Brieuc in 1988.

After the stay with “la famille Mahé” on their self-sustained dairy farm, I continued studying French in high school and essentially tested out of a minor in French on the Purdue placement test.  I continued to keep the language fresh with conversation and composition courses, took engineering summer courses abroad, and graduated with a degree in chemical engineering from Purdue in 1994.  I took a job with a global consumer products company which took me to several countries for work within the first few years working and a 2 year local assignment in Germany in 2000-2002. 

Throughout the years, I maintained contact with my host family via phone, letters, and visits.  They have seven children and three were teenagers during my original stay.  While there, we became very close, and I was even honored to be the Confirmation sponsor for a host sister.  Several times, my host brother and I often joked about exchanging our children one day.  In the summer of 2013, my husband and I took a sabbatical in France with our three kids and had a reunion with the famille Mahe.  Some of the kids of my host brother are the same age as mine, and they managed to work out the language to play Monopoly, rugby, and a week-long visit together.  That started phase II of the exchange.  During that summer visit, we arranged the first kid’s visit to the US.  When each of their children is 17, they will spend a summer in the US for the language and cultural experience.  The first arrived in summer 2014 and their next child has plans to spend summer 2016 with us.  The circle continues in hopes of sharing an American experience for all of his children and a French experience when my children are older. 

The IUHPFL exchange program provided a few life lessons for me:

  1. The world is much smaller when you take time to know the people.  Learning about a culture and how to communicate and value others has served me in my personal and professional life.  After living in France, I became more comfortable abroad, learned other languages, and now work with others around the world on a daily bases.  This foundation and respect for others results in effective relationships and great joy and richness in learning from others. 
  2. Life provides a chance to receive and give back.  The Mahe family took a brave step welcoming a strange American into their family almost 30 years ago.  I am now very grateful for the opportunity to share in their family and want to continue the cycle and welcome their grandchildren into our family and give back to a program that ignites this passion to share.  I’m also happy to support the program with an online donation in the next 3 months.

What started as my childhood dream to do an exchange has blossomed into a growing family experience that truly has shrunk the size of the world.  My kids refer to my host parents as “Mami and Papi” just like their grandchildren do.  We stay in touch via Facetime across the thousands of miles and share our homes as real siblings might.  The program has been one of the most influential experiences shaping the person I am and is continuing to build life-long relationships with another generation.  Thanks to the past and current resources working on this program- mission accomplished!


Margaret (Hartman) Allen