Ozarks Teacher Shares Memories of Childhood in France
Welcome to Around the World, Here at Home. I’m Jennifer Davidson. Today, we’re exploring the most visited country in the world: more tourists flock to this country than any other. But for its citizens, it’s a home with moderate climate, outstanding food and fine wine.
It has a president and a parliament, and it’s a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Geographically, it’s the largest country in Western Europe, and its gentle plains rise up to the Pyranees Mountains in the south, and the Alps to the East. It’s France.
One person who grew up there is Elisabeth Cheminel-Roten, a foreign language teacher at Logan-Rogersville High School. She was raised in Vichy, a resort town.
“[It’s] a place where they use the spring waters that have been around since Roman times—mud baths, and treatments for, mostly, the digestive system and those kind of things. That was my father’s specialty; he was a physician there. That’s why we ended up in that town,” Cheminal-Roten said.
Her parents had met in Vietnam; her father was in the French military there, and decided to stay after Vietnam got its independence. That’s where he met Elisabeth’s mother, who is Vietnamese and had fled to South Vietnam. The two married, and moved to France in the 1970s.
“My father, being 50 years older than I was, was a very traditional Frenchman. He believed that boarding school was going to be a good fit for me and my brother. So my brother was sent to military school and I was sent to a public boarding school, which originally was founded by Napoleon, of all people,” she said.
The school was strict, she said, and the girls didn’t have much freedom, but they did get a solid education.
The school is still open, she says, and it’s only for the daughters or granddaughters of people who have earned the Legion of Honor or other civilian awards. Her father had received the Legion of Honor for his military service in Indochina.
She says even though her family was multicultural, she didn’t feel different in France.
“I grew up speaking French with every member of my family and everybody at school, so I felt as much French as everybody else, really,” Cheminal-Roten said.
There was one time, she said, when someone insulted her Asian mother with a racist term, and she was stunned.
Now, the thing she misses most about France is very personal: it’s her father, who has passed away.
“He was the only real link to traditional France that I had, and I miss that very, very much,” Cheminal-Roten said.
Her father was born in 1921, and went through so many landmark moments and changes in French history.
“I realize now that he was my best history teacher,” Cheminal-Roten said.
Her father experienced WWII in a young man, and was thrown in jail in Spain because he was trying to join the free French forces, when France was under Nazi attack and occupation.
She says she tries to dispel stereotypes about other cultures, including France.
“It’s difficult to get our cues from mainstream media and advertisements and movies sitcoms and those kinds of things, because they usually rely on stereotypes. So what I try to do as much as possible is just let people know, and especially the students I’m in contact with, to get to know people. And what better way to do it than through language?”
Again, Elisabeth Cheminel-Roten is a foreign language teacher at Logan-Rogersville High School. She lives in the Ozarks with her husband, who is also a teacher and a musician, and her daughter. She was naturalized as a United States citizen six years ago. This has been Around the World, Here at Home on KSMU.