French Exchange Student Lost in University Archives

My name is Harry Rajaofetra. I am a 2011 Summer exchange student in UofL’s Ekstrom Library. My city of Montpellier, France became Louisville’s first Sister City in 1956. As you can imagine, there has been a long standing friendship between our cities. Since that year, thousands of students have been involved in a summer student exchange program between these two cities, including  me and eight other French students from Montpellier, in 2011, working in various positions around your city.

Tom Owen, an archivist at the University’s Archives and Records Center, invited me to examine the historical records of UofL’s International Center and to write this blog describing what I discovered. So, at this very moment, I am here, at the University Archives and Records Center and I would like to show you a piece of our “common history”.

First, follow me! We are about to open box n°33.  Now, as Brad Pitt said in one of your most popular American movies: “What’s in the box?”. Well, a lot of files, 1960s files especially. I can see “Madrid 1965”, “Learning Spanish – 1969”… and what is this?! “Mayor of Montpellier – Maître François Delmas Correspondence”.

Inside, there are dozens of letters signed by the Mayor of Montpellier François Delmas and the Director of the International Center of the University of Louisville Dr. George Brodschi.

But who are these men?

Dr. Georges Brodschi (1909 – 1989) was born in Romania. He had a doctorate in economics and political science from Bucarest State University. He and his wife fled Eastern Europe in 1941. During World War Two, Brodschi served in the British 8th Army in the Middle East and East Africa (Cairo, Egypt) after having lived in Palestine. In 1948, Brodschi moved to Louisville because he was selected as an International Fellow under a plan sponsored by Joseph E. Seagram & Sons Inc.  eagram “lent” him to the three-year-old International Center in 1949.  Brodschi became director the same year and remained in that position until 1978.  He was active in arranging the “Sister City” arrangement with Montpellier in 1955.

Maître François Delmas (this is how we call lawyers in French), was born in Montpellier. He studied in Sciences Po Paris (political science school) during the 1930’s. In 1940, he was one of the 100,000 French people who had been evacuated from Northern France to England because of the German invasion. He came back to Montpellier after the war and lived there until the end of his life. Delmas was the Mayor of Montpellier from 1959 to 1977. He was involved in the expansion of the city during the 1960s and is remembered as an enthusiastic promoter of his city. Delmas was an amateur historian and a member of the Académie des Sciences et des Lettres of Montpellier.  Both men received Honorary Doctorates: Brodschi from the University of Montpellier and Delmas from the University of Louisville.

The University Archives file shows that the two men wrote frequently between 1969 and 1971. They usually spoke about routine issues involved in the several exchanges between the two cities. In addition, one of their main topics concerned Delmas’ 1969 vision of creating  a Cultural Center in Montpellier.  For Brodschi and Delmas, the purpose of the center was the reinforcement of relations between the two cities and the concretization of Brodschi and Delmas’ friendship! (I was unable to confirm that the Center continues to exist).

The two men also discussed personal challenges surrounding international student exchanges. For instance, during the Summer of 1969, a group of French students was disgusted by some American meals (like celery with cream cheese), and pushed their plates away without even tasting, causing Brodschi great difficulties with the UofL Cafeteria staff, especially since earlier exchange students from other countries had praised the staff for the quality of their food. Thanks to the friendship between the two men, the problem did not become a diplomatic “incident” because Delmas responded quickly and said that he was sorry and he would do his best to avoid such problems  in the future.

While I am reading this correspondence, I can find some funny anecdotes; one French student assigned to work at the Bank of Louisville had a beard and really long hair (imagine the picture!), but back in 1969, young men had to have a “conservative” haircut.  So, Brodschi apologized for the president of the bank’s request that the young man cut his hair but wanted to avoid any embarrassment.

We can read that in November 1970 that a Louisvillian was going to be the coach of the Montpellier Basketball team and a young French woman who had been in the summer exchange program got married in Louisville to an American (she was the fourth Montpellierite to get married in Louisville). Some letters contained  notes such as “this letter is highly confidential”, “this letter is strictly personal”… well all I can say is “Oops!  Here I am eavesdropping!”.

By reading all these letters, we can see that Brodschi and Delmas pursued the same vision:  to encourage a better understanding between the French and American people including languages and ways of life and therefore, create links of friendship between the two countries.  Well I think I am living proof that after more than five decades of visits between our two cities new friendships and improved understanding continue to occur.

I’m glad you got a chance to look over my shoulder as I paged through a 1969-1971 correspondence file in the University Archives and Records Center between my former Mayor and the Director of UofL’s International Center.