The 16 days that Pamela Barentine spent in France this summer were invigorating.
Despite the stress of traveling in the midst of a pandemic, Barentine, a world languages teacher in the Fox Chapel Area school district, knew the importance of travel to her and her students.
“I don’t think there is a substitute for being really immersed in the culture and the language 24/7, especially for a language teacher,” she said. “I think it’s important that we do this every now and then to maintain our own skills and keep abreast of new technologies.
Barentine of Highland Park, who teaches French at Fox Chapel middle and high schools, received a $ 6,000 grant from the Center for European Studies at the University of Pittsburgh for this summer’s immersive linguistic study in Montpellier, in France. It was almost a miracle she was able to leave, with travel warnings from France low enough for her to travel to Europe for two weeks.
There, she studied at the French language school LSF Montpellier alongside teachers from all over the world, learning about culture, linguistics, current affairs and new literature and cinema. Most days were spent in class, the evenings spent admiring the sights and sounds of the region and collaborating with other program participants.
“Pam’s participation in this program illustrates her continued dedication to her students and our high school,” said Daniel Lentz, program director at Fox Chapel Area High School. “These experiences will be extremely beneficial for her students, as she uses real-world experiences to bring the French language and culture to life.”
Kelly Barone, chair of the World Languages Department, echoed these sentiments.
“Pamela is a passionate and dedicated teacher,” she said. “Her training and her travels around the world allow her to create culturally rich and relevant experiences for her students. Bringing the language to life through programs such as the French language school LSF Montpellier is invaluable to both the teacher and the students.
Travel around the world is nothing new for Barentine. She spent her first year at the University of Kansas studying in France. After earning a BA in French Studies: Language and Culture with a minor in Journalism, she went on to earn her MA in Linguistics from Old Dominion University and her Teaching Certificate from the University of Hawaii. Barentine married a Naval officer and moved across the country, teaching in South Carolina, Virginia, Massachusetts and Hawaii.
She spent a few summers teaching at a boarding school in Switzerland and studied for a month almost 20 years at the Université catholique de l’Ouest in France.
It had been a while, however, since she had been to Europe.
“I just thought it was time to go back, not only for my language skills, but for the skills that I could pass on to my students,” she said.
Barentine was on the Pitt’s University Center for International Studies mailing list, where she learned of the grant’s existence in early 2020. She applied, only to have all trips canceled due to the spread of covid-19. Earlier this year, she was contacted by the program’s engagement coordinator, Samantha Moik, who informed her that the program was back up and running this year.
To his surprise, Barentine received the grant.
“I was so happy,” she said. “I was texting and calling everyone I knew.”
But the US State Department’s travel advisory for France was at level four, which is a “do not travel” advisory. Barentine planned to follow the program remotely from her home until she learned that the travel advisory had declined for France. She quickly booked her trip.
Traveling during the pandemic was not easy. Barnentine was to be vaccinated, which she already was, and was to submit a negative covid test result taken within 72 hours of the flight each way.
France had also instituted a new law requiring people to be vaccinated to enter cafes, restaurants, museums and even hospitals.
Barentine stayed in a hotel in the heart of Montpellier and walked about 10 minutes each day to school, located in the Occitan region of France and 10 km from the Mediterranean coast.
“In the classroom, the focus was on technology and media and how to integrate these elements into the students’ language classroom,” she said.
One of the reasons why she chose LSF Montpellier is the resources it makes available to its students.
While the whole trip was memorable, there was one day she spent on foot, surveying the perimeter of town that stood out in her mind. Earlier today, she visited an art museum, where she had to show her proof of vaccination to enter.
Then she crossed a boardwalk where free swing lessons were given in the park.
During his trip, there were protests in the streets surrounding the new vaccination requirements.
“I was able to watch the presentations and talk to people and hear the different perspectives of those who were pro and con, and then bring that back to the students,” she said. “These are things you are not going to put in a textbook.”
Looking back, Barentine still can’t believe she was able to leave. Shortly after her trip, France reverted to a Level 4 travel advisory.
“For it to open like that, it was really like it was almost a miracle. It was pretty amazing,” she said. “Nothing replaces immersion in culture. It’s living the language whatever the length of your stay. I didn’t want to leave after the 16 days. I wanted to stay longer.