Interview with Margaret Fairhurst, Coordinator at Alliance Française de la Sunshine Coast
Picture by Jodie Price
Could you tell us about the history of Alliance Française de la Sunshine Coast?
The Alliance Française de la Sunshine Coast (AFSC) is a not-for-profit organisation, part of the largest network dedicated to promoting French culture and teaching French language. There are more than 819 Alliances established in over 137 countries including 30 in Australia (6 capital city Alliances with directors and 24 regional Alliances). All regional Alliances Françaises are self-supporting and independent. However, the Alliance Française de Canberra provides support to us, by means of guidelines and processes to ensure our customers benefit from the same high quality teaching available in the Alliance Françaises all over the world. We will soon have a new constitution that should be approved in November by the Fondation Alliance Française in Paris. We will be one of the first regional Alliance Française to have a ratified revised constitution.
The Alliance Française de la Sunshine Coast relaunched in 2008 thanks to the support of enthusiastic local Francophiles and volunteers both from Australia and France, as well as other French speakers from Switzerland and Reunion Island. Since then, the AFSC has been growing constantly, offering classes both out of Noosa & Minyama. We have now reached the number of 196 members and are very happy to say that our members’ retention rate is very high. Thanks to a reciprocal agreement signed last year by all Australian Alliances, our members are now able to attend events at member rates in any Alliances Françaises nationwide.
How would you describe the activities of Alliance Française de la Sunshine Coast?
Our main focus is teaching French and spreading French culture. Since 2010 we have offered a range of French language courses for all levels. We are very proud to host 55 to 60 students every term, with the help of three teachers. We have a library of over 350 French books, fiction and non-fiction, at the disposal of our students and members to support their learning experience. This year we have launched online French lessons programme via Skype. It is progressing smoothly at the moment, but we really think that it offers a strong growth potential as it is a modern and practical way to learn French. We are the first Australian Alliance to work via Skype. We are also considering opening more formal ‘Conversation Classes’, following requests from many of our students.
In addition to our French lessons we organise events throughout the year to promote French culture. One of our most popular events is our Café Conversation held most months on a Saturday morning. It is free for our members and gathers around 25 people, from beginners to advanced speakers. The Café Conversations are great opportunities for attendees to meet other members in a relaxed atmosphere and, above all, to speak French. We also run other events such as La Galette des Rois, a Bastille Day event, a Beaujolais Nouveau degustation, and our famous Sunshine Coast French Film Festival, now progressing to its 9th year.
Can you describe your personal background and your role as Coordinator at Alliance Française de la Sunshine Coast?
I was born in Minnesota, in the Northern part of the USA, bordering on Canada. France has had an important influence in the history of the State. The State emblem identifies Minnesota as ‘L'Etoile du Nord’. Towns, lakes and streets often bear French names ‘Lac qui parle’ -a reference to the sound of cracking ice on the frozen lake in winter; early maps are annotated in French, etc. My family has always had an admiration and interest in France and French history and culture. Mother has a degree in French and taught in high school and my father’s work as a Professor of Rock Mechanics saw him travel often to France. In 2013, my father was made an Officer of the Legion of Honour, my sister's husband is a French man, and my brother completed his PhD in Engineering at L'École des Mines de Paris. When I was 13-years old my parents sent me to study with a French host family for a year; that is why I speak French now.
In 1998, I moved to Queensland, Australia and, in late 2008, moved from Childers to the Sunshine Coast. Early in 2009, I joined the AFSC because I really missed speaking French and wanted my two children to learn French and appreciate French culture. From 2009 to 2010, I served as Secretary of the Alliance Francaise de la Sunshine Coast before becoming President from 2010 -2014. I am now the Ex-Officio of the committee, Coordinator in charge of national and international partnerships and supporting our new President, Jan Jarman.
How do you envisage the future of your association and how can FACCI help you achieve your objectives?
Besides promoting our online French lessons programme via Skype, our main objective is to focus on improving the quality of our events rather than the quantity, so our calendar should remain stable for 2016. However, we would like to give the chance to our members to attend French events organised by other associations in the region. For instance, we are looking into organising a bus for our members to attend the Brisbane French Festival next year.
Our goal is also to attract FACCI’s members to our region and our events, and also using FACCI to facilitate professional networking. The Chamber can help us achieving those objectives thanks to its strong and dynamic network. We’ve had very positive feedback from our committee members regarding the impact of the FACCI this year; this is why we have decided to continue this partnership. FACCI events are good opportunities to meet people that are both Francophile and professional but also people from other French associations enabling us to benefit from their various experiences. The FACCI also provide us with valuable information about French-related events in Queensland, which we can share with our members. From a personal point of view, as I am a consultant geologist in the mining and metal sectors, the Mining Industry Series events offered me a lot of interesting knowledge and opportunities for networking.
For more information, please consult the Alliance Française de la Sunshine Coast website: www.afsunshinecoast.org.au.
Interview conducted by Camille Barbe on 24 September 2015.
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