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What does Journées Portes Ouvertes mean? And How To Succeed in College.

Just back from Aix-en-Provence, where Jackie and I visited a potential faculté, or college... and it has nothing to do with fashion studies!

Domaine Rouge-Bleu will soon embark on another USA tour. Meet Thomas! Click here for cities and schedules.

TODAY'S WORD: les portes-ouvertes

    : open house (U.S.), open day (U.K.)

Thanks to Nancy, Katia, and Audrey and all who helped with the English translations when I posed the question earlier on Facebook! My mind was drawing a blank. Does this happen to you, too, when you study languages for so long and are multilingual?

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Les portes ouvertes. Aujourd'hui, Maman et moi sommes allées aux portes ouvertes en faculté de langues à Aix-en-Provence. Open house (or open doors). Today, Mom and I went to the open house at the language college in Aix-en-Provence.


    by Kristi Espinasse

Learning How to Learn

If it were up to the Gods of French Academia, they would have my children declaring their future careers by the age of 12.  But how can a kid know whether he wants to be a scientist or baker before the age of adolescence? 

Neither of our children were able to declare their future metier at such a tender age. Max, who now studies international trade in Aix, once chose literature--and lived to regret all those book reports. And his sister, Jackie, eventually found her way into fashion studies. She will take her baccalauréat exam (graduate high school) this June, and is set further her fashion studies this fall. Or was....

"I would like to be a writer like you," Jackie recently announced. Once I picked myself up off the floor, a smile began to form across my face. Wasn't that ironic! I thought. At her age I wanted to be a fashion designer! 

"Don't worry, Mom! I want to somehow combine the two fields...."

Jean-Marc and I had mixed feeling about this recent vocational switch-a-roo. But in the end I realized that what's important is not what we study, it's how we study. What's important is to learn how to learn.

The language arts school that Jackie is interested in cites a 4 percent success rate for students who are coming in from vocational schools. But Jackie is not daunted. "I think of you, Mom," she says, remembering the story of how a D student made it into college on probation and went on to graduate cum laude.

It's funny how Jackie remembers that, and this tells me two things: she really is listening to me, and two, she's got a good memory. With those two tools she is on her way to succeeding in college. Add to that a steady stream of motivation and determination and her success in at la fac is surer and surer. 

What, dear reader, would you add to that? How can a student succeed in college? 


Jackie and her brother, Max, in the college town of Aix-en-Provence

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Neil Plakcy

As a college professor and a writer, I can say that the key to college success is motivation. If Jackie is motivated to attend her classes and do the work, then success is in her grasp. And having the background in fashion design can be helpful for a future career -- she could work in public relations for a fashion company, for example-- combining her knowledge of fashion and the ability to communicate clearly. Bonne chance!

Charles Rutledge

Keep up day by day. don't get behind. Study with a friend. Take copious notes. Stay healthy. Ask Question
Charles Rutledge, Retired Professor and Dean

Cynthia Lewis

Jackie is a talented and intelligent young lady who has the support of a wonderful family. If she follows the advice of the two professors who commented prior to me, she will have every success with her studies. (Another detail but an important one: get enough sleep each night.) My very best wishes, Jackie!

Commitment and an open mind...even when you wish U were elsewhere, & believe me, U will have those times....but one day U will B so glad U had this experience, not to mention the knowledge!


Kristi, as I mentioned earlier this morning, I understand the struggle very well. By the way, have you watched this Ted talk? You might want to share it with Jackie and Max: In the past 14 years, I have changed my career four times. I have been a freelance writer, an educator, and am currently working in the corporate world as what I refer to as 'sidekick to the boss,' all while teaching yoga as my 'fun job.' When I think of advice that I will one day give to my children (they are still too young to ask me about choosing a 'metier'), I will probably tell them to follow their passions. I know it sounds cliche and downright banal, but that is how I feel about it. We continue to change and evolve, and it's only reasonable to expect our interests to change throughout our lives. So, why worry about marrying ourselves to one chosen field when there is so much unexplored potential out there? All we can do is focus on doing our best right now, staying focused, and trusting that, with diligent work and strong integrity, we will always be in the place that is right for us. We are so fortunate to have the choice to change our path at any time! P.S. I can see Jackie as a great fashion journalist or, as Neil mentioned above, a PR professional for a fashion house. She is right to look up to her mom for guidance and is blessed with a supportive family.

Leslie Riley

I was always a good student, good grades, almost effortless, but driven not to learn as much as to succeed, to get the good grades. My wish for Jackie, what I wish I had known then and done, was to care less about grades, though they are important, and to focus on learning. Don't study "for the test" but for what you want to know about the subject. Now in my sixties, I find there is so much to know, how interesting different subjects and disciplines are, when I can explore them going in depth here, skimming that as less interesting. Perhaps not the way to succeed in college, but a better way to learn? I wish her all the best!


Having worked in media since I was 16, I have seen many success stories as people near me used their education as well as their ambitions to to find a success that was not what really planned. A young man at a Seattle radio station working in promotions who from childhood wanted to go to Univeristy of Colorado and be a part of their football team. It was never going to happen as he lacked the talent and the physical ability. So he used his marketing degree and got interested in the broadcast business. Then it happened, University of Colorado had an opening in the sports program for a promotion and marketing person. Bingo. And there are more. A not so good DJ years ago who is now the broadcaster for University of Idaho football and basketball. My brother, a good DJ who got interested in sales and a few years later owned 14 radio stations. Oh, and most of ttese opportunities occurred because of their writing skills. Most very successful people have good communication skills, both verbal and written. And, by the way, I wrote to you recently about my brother. For years he was a functioning alcoholic. Four years ago found AA and is today sober and having sold his radio stations is starting a new career, part of which is shooting video for some of my projects.

Dawn Johnson

It's funny how when our kids get older they finally realize their parents might have an ounce of wisdom. Maybe Jackie could become a fashion writer. One of my other favorite authors Karen Wheeler (Tout Sweet series) was a fashion writer in London.

Maria Cochrane

Time management is key. And surrounding yourself with friends/roommates who also want to work hard and not party all the time.


Hi Kristi,

I think it is really difficult for high school kids to really figure out what they want to study. I remember the struggle Tara went through. She said, "mom there is so much to choose from". She started out in Environmental Science and ended up switching to Economics and International Studies with a minor in French. She works right now in the wine industry. Be motivated, fall in love with learning and study what you are interested in and follow your heart. I talk with so many friends who work in a totally different field from what they studied in college. Be open minded too to other possibilities.

Trina, St. Petersburg, Florida, USA

As a lifetime learner, I agree that motivation is the key and getting enough sleep is pertinent.

Study what you love.

Pay attention to your course syllabus and manage your time accordingly.

Don't look for a teacher with a reputation of being easy. Look for the ones who classes where where students believed they learned the most.

Choose your group project partners wisely.


Talk with your professors.

Don't be afraid to ask for help or advice.*

If there is a student success center, use it.

Make new friendships and have fun!

I returned to school for graduate studies while off work and caring for my mom. Instead of an MBA, I chose my passions - writing and ethics - and completed my MLA (Master of Liberal Arts) at 59.

* Not all professors are good teachers. Some are excellent researchers and hold their position for that reason. I am not saying this to sound negative, but I found it to be true. Over all my years of studies, I've had only 2 instructors who were brilliant in their field, but lacked teaching skills. I found other mentors to explain the subject or assignment to me. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

Julie Farrar

Ah, Kristin. How lucky you are to have a daughter wanting to follow in your footsteps. At Jackie's age young women are so often trying to distinguish themselves from their mothers.

Speaking as someone who taught writing to college students for over 20 years, I can say that there is no other skill that better prepares you for a future in EVERY career. Even technical fields need someone who not only understands the science but can communicate the idea to non-scientists. And a writer has the most wonderful luxury of following her interests wherever they take her. I'm so happy your daughter wants to explore all options while she is young. Here in the U.S. too often the college students I taught chose majors because their parents thought it was good, or because it was where the jobs were at that moment, or because they really didn't know what else to do. So, bravo Jackie for following her desires!

Trina, St. Petersburg, Florida, USA


Don't look for a teacher with a reputation of being easy. Look for the ones whose classes were where students believed they learned the most.

Shall I add ... PROOFREAD?!


I echo what Eileen said above. My son floundered a bit before finding his footing and has been happily engaged in his chosen profession for 20 years. My daughter didn't have a clue so elected to go to business college. The summer before her first year she discovered a love of teaching. After suffering for 2 years at the business school she transferred and graduated with a teaching degree which she has been using for the past 18 years. Jackie will find her footing and do just fine - especially because of the excellent examples set my you and J-M! Je voudrais bonne chance à Jackie de ses études.

Rosalie Hill ISOM

Mélanger les deux intérêts, c'est excellent.
Connaissez-vous Garance Doré et son blog?
Elle mélange aussi Paris et New York.


Succeeding in college is a matter of learning how to study and please the professor. The latter is the more difficult because you have to figure out what that is. It isn't always obvious. I used to be a college trustee. During a discussion with one of the students, I learned that her writing professor told her that her problem was that she wrote like she spoke. Was what you wrote grammatically incorrect? Did you follow the intent of the assignments? Did you follow his structure for crafting your work? Yes to all the above. Well, then I thought, your professor doesn't understand a writer's personal style. After reading her work, I saw that what she was doing was infinitely marketable and decided to sit through the writing class. I was appalled at the way the instructor was stifling individual style and forcing the students to write as he had been taught. In the real world it would never sell. So if Jackie is going to go to college to learn to be a writer, I highly recommend that she look for a school whose faculty have actually sold their work to something other than professional journals. I also recommend she take marketing and social media marketing classes regardless of her major. This combined knowledge will help set her apart from those who only learn the craft and art, and better insure that she can make a living.

Kitty Wilson-Pote

Wow, Kristi, what an exciting time for Jackie! As an academic advisor and prof at a Canadian college for over thirty years, I second all the tips above. Let me add one more that often startled the students I taught. In fact, those who caught on found that it's a master-key for college success. (Heck, for anyone's success in anything, really.) Here it is:
Any dreary or daunting learning issue can be transformed. For example, boredom and lack of motivation are states of mind that exist within the student. As such, these states of mind can be reversed step-by-step by a student who uses strategies to CREATE interest and excitement in any subject matter. There are clever ways for students to empower learning well from any instructor, too. The old slogan, 'Be a victor, not a victim' applies neatly.
eg. My daughter Emma, no math whiz, found in her first year Statistics courses that the well-meaning prof was a newly graduated PhD who had yet to learn how to teach beginner students. Out of desperation, Emma decided to form a study group for the course, with permission. The professor was thrilled, and even rounded up a grad student to tutor the study sessions. This initiative proved a success, and two study groups ending up helping everyone involved to get through a tough challenge. (PS: Emma is now a Psych prof herself.)
In short, learning bit-by-bit how to choose and to tweak proven success-oriented behaviours and responses leads to becoming a confident, skilled and resilient "Master Student."
For Jackie, there are new excellent and lively resources available that offer truly practical tools for navigating through the ups and downs of post-secondary years. Google-searching and checking college resources should yield some great information. No need these days to 'reinvent the wheel'.
To top all the hints we're tendering here, of course, is the beautiful fact that Jackie already has a supportive family with two parents who authentically model the very qualities and values needed to do what it takes. These years of a young adult's development are meant to be a triumph, no matter what obstacles pop up. It will be so for Jackie, I predict.

edie schmidt


I think a student can succeed in college if they are open to new learning experiences and don't narrow their focus. How many of us end up working in the same field throughout our lives?
Few of us have the luxury of of a straight career path, but sometimes the opportunities we encounter along the way give us a chance to grow in new directions. Often, as in your daughter's case we are inspired by a teacher, a friend or relative to embark on a new path.I think curiosity about the World and creativity will serve her well.

Edie from Savannah

Karen Cafarella

Jackie seems so willing to put in the hard work and learn, learn, learn. That will get her far in college. I love that she remembered what you did. We think they aren't listening but they are, you must be so proud of both of them.


Judi Dunn

Kristin.... I believe that inspiration and motivation are the two most important factors in being suscessful in any endeavor... whether viticulture, writing , photography or any chosen field or vocation. Jackie could put her valuable 'fashion sense and design ability' very easily into becoming a 'Fashion Reporter'. The media is always hungry for brilliant descriptions of fashions... there are many avenues for her to realize her abilities. Dedication to one's chosen field usually means lots of long hours and hard work. As parents, you have only to look to your two children so see this! Think of jean-Marc's and your dedication to your 'metiers' and there you have another example. Have faith and be supportive and she will find her way..... Judi Dunn, Tallahassee, Fl


Earlier posters have touched on larger attributes of successful learners. But these need to be combined with specific methods. And, sadly, in 12 years of schooling kids are rarely if ever taught what the best methods are to learn.

A lot of kids study by reading thru the chapters before a test and looking at homework. Yet these are two of the least effective techniques. Effective approaches include self-testing, interleaving, and distributed practice. I recommend getting the book "Make It Stick" that is written by two of the leading researchers in the study of learning. Not just a review of the literature on learning, it has plenty of practical advice for HS and college students.


Our dear Kristi,
This is such a loving,lovely post!
Jackie and Max are wonderfully gifted and motivated;the best part,though,is knowing that their family always has their backs,and will always be there for them.
Reaching for their dreams is such an exciting part of life!And if that journey hits a dip
somewhere along the trail,the knowledge that they have a hand to hold while jumping across is a blessing we all long to have.
Congratulations to them,and special congratulations to you and Jean Marc,for the awesome job you have done as parents.
So proud of you all!
In our prayers always.
Natalia XO

Linda Roll

How one studies is very important. In high school, one of our teachers taught us the Munich method of studying. That helped a lot.

Joan G

As a retired faculty member, I second (third, fourth) many of the above. Do your out of class work regularly, and don't be afraid to ask about things you may not understand. Also if (when) you are bored with what is being taught--find a way to keep paying attention, and maybe it will become interesting and you can learn even when the material or prof is boring. Life has many boring moments now and then--don't tune them out. You can learn a lot from them. Why are you bored, what would make this less boring, what is your own reaction?

But mostly have fun with your work! And with the experience of being around others who are interested and interesting.

Lynn Johnston

Jackie could be a fashion blogger! There are a few out there she could start following now for tips. Or a Youtube star,giving fashion tips...comparing french and american fashion trends???

June Turner

Christie - I found your piece very interesting on choosing a career at an early age. A highly respected teacher at my children's school (some years ago!) told me that boys don't on the whole get interested in a career, especially if they're sports-minded which mine were, until they are about 14 and start to think what course they want to pursue. Girls on the other hand are pretty conscientious with homework and classes and that's what we found with ours. Love your writing, June Turner

Phyllis Sigmond

Do not give up. Failure is not a reason to stop creating a future reality. It is an opportunity to re-evaluate goals, re-tool skills, and network with faculty to seek advice on how to proceed. Do not ask, "Why didn't you accept me?" Instead ask, "What can I do to present myself as a candidate for your acceptance?" Developing grit is a necessity in life on the road to success.

Neither of our children were able
Correct grammar is :Neither of our children was able...." because neither means not one of the other.

susan klee

My advice: If possible, study with one or two other students nearly all the time. Talk about what you are reading and writing and thinking. That way, when one of you does not understand a point in the material, the others can help you grasp it. Also, by discussing the material, you are analyzing and distilling it, and it will stick in the brains of all of you. *And,* it will be more enjoyable, thus easier to do!

Audrey Wilson

You have it in one Kristin .One of the main factors in success academically is determination . I have one of my children who has this & she is now in the final stages of her Doctorate in her 50's ,plus looking after three teenagers !
Judging by the work you have shown on FB & here, Jackie has loads of talent & appears to apply herself wholeheartedly to the task in hand .I'm sure she will go far,as will Max


I did my study abroad in Aix 2003 & 2004. bpbest time in my life! Gail



Leslie NYC

I was a terrible student, so I don't have any advice there!
I was struck by how sublime your photo of the sunrise w/almond flowers is.
Maybe your next book cover?

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, Fred--and thanks again to all who have responded. These are the best, most heartwarming and inspiring tips!


Without reading what others wrote yet, because I'm at work now, I want to say never procrastinate. This year I went back to finish my degree, 30 years after graduating from school. I remember procrastinating. Well I'm still doing it, but of course now I have a career that gets in the way. I wrote a paper this week, finiishing it at 130 am, for my History of France class. I do not recommend it. It's stressful!! I will say do what you want in my because you only live once. I have been fortunate I having two careers I have loved. Now I'm studying for my last after my semi retirement. Get your studies done when you are young. There is nothing wrong with me going back now, but it gets harder to remember.


Good writing skills are ALWAYS a benefit. No matter how her focus or direction changes through the years, being able to write with competence will always serve her well. Good luck, Jackie!


Many studies have shown it is who you get to know and keep in touch with that is as important as your grades and what you study. Maybe more so. Later, these friends become your contacts and supporters as you move forward in your life. So don't forget, therefore, to develop friendships, have fun, and stay curious about what others are doing.

Leslie in Oregon

I cannot make specific suggestions because I'm not sure how similar French "colleges" are to American colleges (i.e., institutions that provide 2- or 4-year undergraduate programs). (When I was at university, the American and French university systems differed in almost every way.) For me, it was important to dedicate myself to my studies while I was an undergraduate in college (Occidental College, University of California at Berkeley and Stanford). I was always too tempted by ways to learn other than through my classes, and I wish I had realized that this was my one opportunity in life to be a full-time undergraduate student and focus on my formal studies. (I had to learn that later, in law school.) A "language arts college" sounds intriguing, as it may be not only an opportunity for Jacqui to learn a lot about writing, but perhaps also a great deal about critical thinking, an important tool for any writer (or any person). In any case, I, as one who has always tried to open, and keep open, as many doors as possible for as long as possible, applaud her broadened focus. That approach has served me very well during my 60+ years.

At the start of your post, you mentioned drawing a blank when you were trying to remember an English term, and you asked whether that happened to those of us who study languages for a long time and are multilingual. I cannot claim to be multilingual, but I love languages and spent two separate years studying French in French-speaking Switzerland and three successive winters studying Russian in the U.S.S.R., and yes, that very definitely happened to me...repeatedly. I learned during that first year in Switzerland that what I most needed was an English dictionary and grammar book.


Joseph Campbell said "Follow your bliss"
What is your bliss? When you are doing something and you look at your watch and say "Where has the time gone? I thought I had only been here doing this for 15 minutes!"
* Joseph Campbell - The Heroes Journey, The Power of Myth and other books

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