Bordeaux 50th

The Ultimate Capstone Project,
by Leslie Meyers Zomalt, Bordeaux ’62

Today, many academic majors require a Capstone Project, a challenge to integrate individual strands of academic study into a broader perspective.  In October 2012, eighteen of the original eighty-two students who studied in Bordeaux, France during the inaugural year of the University of California’s Education Abroad Program had their own “Capstone Experience.”  We returned to Bordeaux after Fifty Years and spent three days participating in University-organized events and reacquainting ourselves with both the city and each other.

Most of the group as we embarked on a river cruise to our dinner destination.

What did we find?

A World Heritage Site with buildings cleaned, a large pedestrian quarter, a revitalized riverfront, a modern tram system and a lively youthful population.  The Faculté de Lettres, where we had struggled with Balzac and the Hundred Years War, had been converted to a free regional historical museum.  The Faculté de Droit still housed the Institut de Science Politique where we studied how the Fourth Republic was becoming the Fifth Republic as Charles de Gaulle asserted his personality and leadership.  The Café New York still serving students and seniors alike.

Lunch in the French Countryside, what else? Ann Kohlmoos and Karen Okleberry.

Beyond the physical changes, there were the people.  Several in our group found old friends.  Others simply wandered the streets trying to trace old memories.   Is that the window you climbed through when we missed curfew?  I don’t remember any Roman ruins?  Can you believe that long train ride to Russia at Christmas?  What have you been doing for the last fifty years?  Where were the old women who always wore black?  Looking back, we now realize that many were war widows, now long gone.  

Has climate change reached Bordeaux? None of us remembered an evening like this...

Much, if not most, of our study abroad year was highly individual and personal, but we had also made lifelong friends and shared experiences.  Most of us had maintained contact with at least one or two others from the program.  Occasionally we organized reunions, but we were busy with our careers, our families, our lives.  Yet, whenever we got together, the idea of returning to Bordeaux as a group repeatedly surfaced.    As the Fiftieth Anniversary approached, it was “now or never.”  Happily, the University was also ready to mark the occasion with a series of formal events, both in California and at the various Study Centers.

Mike McNamara (right), Bordeaux  ‘62, and his wife Brenda on our river cruise

Returning to Bordeaux in 2012 with others who had shared the experience converted it to a “Capstone Project” rather than just a “Memory Trip.”  We prompted each other’s memories and reflected on how challenging and unique our year had been.  We evaluated the ways in which personal priorities and career choices had been influenced and changed.  We shared how we had become better risk takers.  We reflected on our hand written letters, which many parents had saved, as well as the changes brought by technology. We congratulated ourselves on “surviving”... all eighty-two of us.   No one went home early.  Over 100,000 have followed.  We had been told our success would determine the “future” of the program.  True or not, we took this seriously and declared ourselves “part of history.”