Our speaker on March 18 was Mr. Uku Urb, a member of the Georgia Rotary Student Program–GRSP RY19-20. Uku has attended many AWER meetings, both during his GRSP time in the USA while a student at Clayton State University, and since returning to Europe.
Uku is currently living Reims, France, a college town of approximately 200,000, on the northern edge of the Champagne wine region, where he is attending the Paris Institute of Political Science. Some of his coursework is conducted in French so his understanding of the French language has become quite advanced. He will soon try to attain a C1 designation, which is an advanced level indicating that the speaker can understand a wide range of longer and more demanding texts or conversations on complex topics for social, academic, or professional situations. For example, he is taking an art workshop class taught in French where his project topic will focus on African inspired music.
In addition to classwork, Uku works in the library as a student assistant and has made time to travel the continent with friends. He has made it to Finland, Norway, Romania, and even quick jaunts into Sweden for groceries and Latvia for a beer. Uku and friends have explored France also. Not only by train but by bicycle on a 40-mile course they charted themselves. He says Leon was one of the most beautiful places he has ever been to. He also attended a reunion of GRSP students in Copenhagen and informed us that all the participants still speak very highly of the program. However, Uku assured us that France has not overtaken Georgia as one of his favorite places.
AWER members took an opportunity to get input from Uku on current world events, French politics, and college by asking a few questions at the end of his presentation.
Asked if his home country of Estonia had taken on an influx of Ukrainian refugees displaced by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we learned that perhaps 10,000 had been anticipated but that already 25,000 had been taken into a country of only 1.3 million people. Most of those taken in are women and children because the men remain behind in Ukraine to fight. In fact, many Ukrainian men that had been working in Estonia have returned to fight.
Fuel prices and the price of heating oil have increased because of the conflict in Ukraine. Although France is somewhat insulated from rising energy costs in a way that Estonia and Germany are not because of the significant amount of energy that it generates from nuclear power.
French President Emmanuel Macron is likely to win re-election in April in Uku’s estimation and he feels that Macron has positioned himself well by his handling of the Russia/Ukraine conflict. In contrast, some of Macron’s opponents in the race for the presidency have been too cozy with Putin in the past and this is now a liability for them. With Germany’s Angela Merkel retired, Uku wonders if there is opportunity for Macron to ascend to her former place as the de facto leader of Europe.
On a lighter note, when asked of all the places he had visited, what he found most intriguing, he said that the ease with which he could communicate with Americans, maybe Georgians in particular (and Rotarians especially perhaps!), was noticeably different than that of communicating with the French. He mentioned that the French have some idiosyncrasies and preconceived notions, though don’t we all. The French can project a sense of cultural superiority, which is unfortunate for the rest of world not born in France.
Uku looks forward to returning to the States for his third year abroad at the University of Notre Dame beginning in August 2022. He is looking forward to some easygoing and friendly conversations he has been missing about Americans and also looking forward to returning to US style higher education, which has some differences from that of the French system.
Lastly, if the networks of any AWER members extend into the area near the University of Notre Dame campus (northern Indiana, SW Michigan, Chicago area), let Uku know, because he will be starting over in a new place and any friendly contacts would be greatly appreciated. Reach out to him at Ukuurb1@hotmail.com.