Monday, June 7, 2010

Biarritz and Higher Education

We barely get back from Scotland when my dear friend, E.'s husband swoops in to pick us up and take us to their apartment in Biarritz. Have I mentioned that Pays Basque is about my favorite spot on earth? Biarritz is in the heart of the Pays Basque, situated on the ocean where the Pyrenees Mountains begin and the endless beaches of les Landes end, it stunning. My friend E. will tell you; "but there is no one but white people there," which is about the only criticism I would tolerate of Biarritz, the rest is bologna. The first time I saw Biarritz when I was eighteen, I realized that I would have a hard time returning to the Midwest after experiencing the breath-taking view of mountain and sea, the waves crashing up against the gigantic rocks out in the water, and the picturesque villages dotting the mountainside between flocks of snowy white sheep. A few months later I was applying for an exchange program with a university in San Sebastian, or Donostia, in Spanish Basque Country. My husband and I need regular gratitude sessions in order not to feel that our whole lives are a quest to return to live in Pays Basque. We are extremely happy with both the people and the region we live in and will not leave it, but gosh, the ocean is compelling.

Needless to say (or did I?), I was pretty happy about spending the weekend with my friend and her family, and in Biarritz to boot. E. and her daughter took the train and got there before we did, but our trip was uneventful and we were soon at their weekend residence, and almost as quickly, suited up and on the beach. My little water-bugs were all on boogie boards, into the wild waves and out of sight, except for the two youngest. I was a nervous wreck, having promised my absent husband not to lose sight of them and to bring them home again in one piece. These are kids who have seen nary a ripple on water in their lives. The first two grew to the ripe old ages of two and four on the ocean, but that was a long time ago, and the others were born on the banks of the Mississippi, hardly a reference for surfing the waves. Something primal and inherited seemed to take over (Daddy was practically born on a surfboard) and they acted like they'd been navigating ocean currents their whole lives. Biarritz is the surfing capital of Europe, and there were dozens and dozens of surfers to the right and left of the lifeguarded area. I spent a few hours keeping track of Puck and Arthur and making sure I could see live children every ten minutes or so for the others. It was not quite as warm as a hot summer day, so my friend and I bribed them into drying off and getting dressed by promising an ice-cream.

We talked and walked, and caught up on things as we have not done for four years. Of course, with the kids listening, we did not catch up on nearly everything, but they got to hear lots of interesting things as it was.

E. and her husband are both brilliant mathematicians and professors of mathematics, and two of my children, naturally, immediately confided to their daughter, within earshot of the adults, to hate math. Endless discussions about math and growing to love it and becoming proficient and confident in one's skills ensued. They were good discussions, but I fear not ones that showed homeschooling in its best light. My own confidence in our life and learning style remained unshaken, but all of those questions that normally haunt a new homeschooler came wafting back up to the surface. The "what-ifs" and "is there a better ways" that cause one to rethink and redefine what works and what is not working were abundant and will make for many hours of discussion this week with my better half.

Of note was a reminder of our original plan in homeschooling; give them a bilingual education and thus the choice of attending college in either country. Let's face it; school is free in France. When you have five children, this has its advantages. E. is a great proponent of the educational system here and had some convincing arguments about how this could work for us. Each child could spend the last year of high school here preparing for the great Baccalaureate, the exam that ends your high school years and allows you to proceed to college, for free.

She did not go through the system herself and I did, so we have differing views. On the other hand, she has been teaching here for twenty years and knows well the ins and outs as well as the ups and downs of higher education in both countries. While I much more enjoyed life on an American college campus, I will admit to having had a few excellent teachers in both Spain and France along the way. The relief of not having a constant and long-term financial burden to pay for my education was also great here. Did I learn more in one country than in the other? That is hard to say, and I think much of it depends on the student's attitude and willingness to work hard. When it comes down to what I want for my children...once more, I come to the conclusion that I will give them all I can and leave the choice up to them in the end.

After a long evening of great food, good wine and lots of laughter, we all went to bed too late and slept soundly.

The next day was stormy in the morning, but it cleared up enough for a walk out onto the rocky walkways surrounding the bay; the Rock of the Virgin and a trip to the lighthouse. No one wanted to leave, except for me. Even though I love Pays Basque, my husband was home, hard at work, and it was time to get back.

I forgot the camera, not that I would have had time to use it, making sure no one fell off the cliffs or drowned was a full-time occupation, and Lily's camera can't be plugged in until we get back home to her cable. Here, however, is a link to a website with 114 photos of Biarritz, the first one is my favorite, "A Storm in Biarritz," as I love the sea when it is wild and dangerous. There are also links to photos of places all over the globe, it is an amazing website. Enjoy!

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