Franklin Countys First News

New ‘Global Perspectives’ program: UMF students study Lac-Mégantic there

Where the train was parked outside of town before a small fire that was extinguished took off the break resulting in it rolling into town and exploding. (Photo by Linda Beck)

This is where the train was parked seven miles outside of Lac-Mégantic in Nantes, Quebec, before a small fire that was extinguished released the brake, resulting in the 73-car train carrying crude oil to roll into town, derail and cause massive explosions and fire. (Photo courtesy of Nicole Kellett)

FARMINGTON - It's one thing to study a place in a classroom, but quite another to actually be there to experience it.

As part of a pilot study abroad program at University of Maine at Farmington, eight students and four faculty members recently stayed for two days in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, to learn as much as they could about a town rebuilding itself after the 2013 trail derailment explosion and fires that killed 47 people and destroyed much of the downtown area. Nearly a third of the total number of residents living in town were displaced after their homes were destroyed by fire.

While there, UMF students interviewed public officials, civic leaders and business people, all of whom have been working to rebuild the city. They also toured the damaged city and visited the public library that was recently rebuilt.

Civic Leader, Gilles Fluet: This gentleman pictured with Clint is showing us various photos of the explosion, aftermath and civic activism. The poster of the sign says: "Papa, can the train still explode here?" A focus of their current activism to divert the train's path from downtown LM. (Photo by Linda Beck)

Civic Leader Gilles Fluet, standing at right, with Clint Bruce, UMF associate French professor, shows UMF students various photos of the explosion, aftermath and civic activism. The poster of the sign says: "Papa, can the train still explode here?" A focus of their current activism to divert the train's path from downtown Lac-Mégantic. (Photo by Nicole Kellett)

Pauline Lefeuvre viewing the photos of each victim with messages from family and friends. This was put up at the explosion site and then transported to Civic Center in downtown LM. (Photo by Linda Beck)

University of Maine at Farmington student Pauline Lefeuvre views the photos of each victim with messages from family and friends. This was put up at the explosion site and then transported to Civic Center in downtown Lac-Mégantic. (Photo by Nicole Kellett)

Here is the section of Lac-Mégantic where the explosion on July 6, 2013 took place. (Photo by Linda Beck)

Here is the section of Lac-Mégantic where the explosion on July 6, 2013 took place. (Photo by Nicole Kellett)

On the night the train derailment on July 6, 2013, more than 30 firefighters from Franklin County responded to the massive fires and, in the aftermath, there was a flood of support for Lac-Mégantic's residents. Farmington, the sister city of Lac-Mégantic since 1991, held several fund raisers, as did other Franklin County towns, and there was an exchange of visits by town officials from both sides of the border.

This was one of a number of donations given to the people of LM expressing people's condolences. I thought the identical message in French and English (bottom line) was lovely. (Photo by Linda Beck)

This was one of a number of donations given to the people of Lac-Mégantic expressing people's condolences. I thought the identical message in French and English (bottom line) was lovely. (Photo by Nicole Kellett)

The Farmington Public Library, along with libraries across the state of Maine, raised funds to help rebuild Bibliotheque de Lac-Mégantic. The town's library bordered the train tracks and was one of the many buildings leveled by the explosions in the downtown area. The library's entire collection, estimated at 60,000 items, was lost with the exception of those books currently checked out by patrons. The popular library served 3,000 community members each month. Recently, a newly rebuilt public library reopened.

UMF students and faculty returned from Lac-Mégantic bringing gifts of thanks from one library to another. Last week, they presented Farmington's library director Maurie Stockford with a booklet of Lac-Mégantic's rebuilding efforts and a friendship pin. Both are on display at the library.

Getting the opportunity to meet with the various residents connected to Lac-Mégantic, including the library director and then bringing back mementos was a meaningful experience for both the traveling students and faculty, said Linda Beck, a UMF political science professor and director of UMF International and Global Studies Program.

Mediatheitque/Library Director, Jacques Dostie: Photo of our meeting in the library board room before touring their new facilities. This was the gentleman who gave us the book and pins that we gave to Farmington Library Director. (Photo by Linda Beck)

Mediatheitque/Library Director, Jacques Dostie, at center, meets in the library board room before touring their new facilities. "This was the gentleman who gave us the book and pins that we gave to Farmington's library director, Maurie Stockford," said Linda Beck, UMF professor of political science. (Photo by Nicole Kellett)

"It reinforced the relationship with Lac-Mégantic," Beck said of the trip. "We saw some really powerful images." Included in those images were the ongoing efforts to rebuild the town, but also photographs of the disaster and the protest demonstrations advocating for better rail safety.

As part of its new strategic plan, UMF recently joined the Institute of International Education’s Generation Study Abroad initiative that helps give more U.S. students international experience through study abroad programs. UMF is the only Maine institution included in the IIE’s coalition of 450 partners.

Launched earlier this year, the Generation Study Abroad organization is working to increase study abroad participation by bringing employers, governments, associations and others together towards finding new ways to extend opportunities and resources for the nation's college students.

In keeping with the IIE Generation Study Abroad goal of doubling the number of U.S. students studying abroad by the end of the decade, UMF announced it is pledging to double the number of its students studying abroad by 2020 with a projected goal of having 10 percent of its student body participate in some type of international educational experience by that year.

“Studying abroad helps students learn new skills, develop new strengths and apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to the real world,” said Kathryn A. Foster, UMF president. “The experience plays a critical role in a student’s education and enhances their self-confidence and independence—skills that can really set them apart in today’s job market.”

UMF students and faculty present tokens of friendship from Lac-Megantic Public Library to Maurie Stockford, director of Farmington Public Library (far left.)  Left to right (back row) Brad Dearden, associate professor of geography; Rachel Mas, language assistant; Zhanna Ivanova and Tobias Logan. (Front row) Maurie Stockford, director of Farmington Public Library; Nicole Kellett, assistant professor of anthropology; Emmaline Waldron; Pauline Lefeuvre, exchange student from France; Sarah Gould; Celeste Carpenter; Clint Bruce, assistant professor of French and Linda Beck, professor of political science and director of UMF International and Global Studies Program.

UMF students and faculty present tokens of friendship from Lac-Mégantic Public Library to Maurie Stockford, director of Farmington Public Library, at far left. From left to right, back row: Brad Dearden, associate professor of geography; Rachel Mas, language assistant; Zhanna Ivanova and Tobias Logan. Front row, from left to right: Stockford; Nicole Kellett, assistant professor of anthropology; Emmaline Waldron; Pauline Lefeuvre, exchange student from France; Sarah Gould; Celeste Carpenter; Clint Bruce, assistant professor of French and Linda Beck, professor of political science and director of UMF International and Global Studies Program. (Photo courtesy of UMF)

To help increase student interest in studying abroad, the new initiative includes “Global Perspectives,” a two-day excursion program designed to make international education more accessible to fit student’s busy schedules and limited budgets. The recent trip to Lac-Mégantic served as the pilot for the new program.

In the planning stages are continued travel to Quebec, other parts of Atlantic Canada and global cities in the U.S. that will help students experience the benefits of longer-term studying abroad experiences. New ways of disseminating information on the value of international experiences and engaging study abroad alumni to advocate for their importance and relevance will also be pursued by UMF. Additional funding for student scholarships is in the planning stage.

UMF currently offers semester-long formal exchange programs in France, England, Argentina, China and throughout the U.S. and Canada through the National Student Exchange program. UMF also offers travel courses during winter and May terms.

Generation Study Abroad partners to date include 298 colleges and universities of all sizes and types across the country and around the world, as well as 13 governments, 16 education associations, 67 international partners, and 56 study abroad, K-12, and social network organizations who have committed to specific goals to increase the number of U.S. students studying abroad.

These drawings were part of the participartory form of urban planning that LM has down thru "Reinventer La Ville" (Reinvent the City), which is the topic of the book we gave the director. These drawings were done by children of the community as to how they would like to see their city "reinvented". (Photo by Linda Beck)

These drawings were part of the participatory form of urban planning that Lac-Mégantic has down through "Reinventer La Ville" (Reinvent the City), which is the topic of the book donated to the Farmington library. These drawings were created by children of the community as to how they would like to see their city "reinvented." (Photo by Nicole Kellett)

Built to reconnect the two neighborhoods of LM that were split in the aftermath of the explosion as result of destruction of infrastructure. Translation: "For the love of those who are no longer, continue the path with courage and hope." (Photo by Linda Beck)

This bridge was built to reconnect the two neighborhoods of Lac-Mégantic that were split in the aftermath of the explosion as result of destruction of infrastructure. The inscription's translation: "For the love of those who are no longer, continue the path with courage and hope." (Photo by Nicole Kellett)

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3 Responses »

  1. Thanks so much for sharing our experience and photos. While I shared the photos, the awesome photographer was my colleague Nicole Kellett.

  2. Great trip! Thanks for bringing Canada into closer focus, and pointing out how porous borders really are.

  3. The world is shrinking every day, less than a second to Asia on the internet. Global interdependence grows each day. Study abroad programs are vital to education, cross cultural understanding and economic growth. Kudos to UMF in educating world citizens.

    The students who participated in learning first hand about the difficult challenges that our Sister City Lac Megantic are dealing with are continuing to help as did our Franklin County first responders during the tragic accident. Searching for how to find ways to improve the future is a serious, noble endeavor. Looking closely at the pictures one can see the powerful lessons about real life on the students and presenter's faces and body language. I experienced similar feelings from my visit to Dachau while a college student and sitting in on Dr. Bert Jacobs, UMF Professor's 2 hour class of 3 NYFD 911 Tower responders who were in our area later that fall. With grace and respect Professor Jacobs guided their sharing their personal experiences with the students.

    These are real world experiential learning moments that shape the leaders of tomorrow today. Congratulations UMF on your expansion of your International and Global Studies Program.

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