At the beginning of my sophomore year at St. Lawrence, I learned that I was accepted to study in Bordeaux, France for the following spring semester. I was thrilled; French language and culture have been an important part of my identity for nearly 10 years, and although I had been to France before, I had never spent such a long period of time living in the country. I knew that I wanted to come up with a travel enrichment grant that would further my knowledge of the country as whole. I also wanted to do something that would complement my government major and French minor. The idea to visit Corsica came to me after I recalled the great experience I had with my first French professor at St. Lawrence, a professor that happens to be Corsican! And so, voilà, my idea was born: to visit l’Île de Beauté and study the roots of France’s most notorious emperor, Napoléon I.
Upon finishing a wonderful semester studying in Bordeaux, I flew over the Mediterranean to Ajaccio, the capital of Corsica. Corsica is unique in that while it is currently part of Metropolitan France, it was only conquered by the French in 1768. The island was formerly under the control of the Republic of Genoa, what is now a region of Italy. Corsica’s unique history, as well as its removed geographic location, have allowed the island to be in many ways culturally and linguistically independent from the rest of France. While French is widely spoken on the island, the Corsican language is also still heard, and Corsican culture is unique in regard to over-arching French culture.
My plan while in Ajaccio was to learn about the life of Napoléon I, a leader who was a true testament to archival French power. Many do not know that Napoléon was born in Corsica as opposed to Mainland France. While in Ajaccio, I was able to visit La Maison Bonaparte, the home in which Napoléon was born and spent the first few years of his life. The home had been turned into a museum decades ago and today it boasts a fascinating collection of artifacts and information on Napoléon. Did you know that Napoléon’s stark personality comes from his mother? And that he was bullied as a young boy studying in France for his strong Corsican accent? Nevertheless, Napoléon successfully waged several wars against different European nations and greatly expanded the French Empire. He was truly a remarkable as well as controversial political figure in France’s history. Other sites I was able to visit were Le Musée Fesch, a museum that holds a wide array of art pieces connected to Napoléon’s life, and La Chapelle Imperiale, a chapel that houses the remains of several members of the Bonaparte family.
My time spent in Corsica was just amazing. I was able to learn about an important political figure in French history as well as employ the French skills I developed after 6 months in Bordeaux. The knowledge I gained fit perfectly into my fields of study, and it also opened doors for me to work closer with my Corsican professor back on campus at St. Lawrence. I know that one day I’ll return to the Island of Beauty. À bientôt !