Claude Carriot, Director of the Château-Chinon Vocational School
Even though his predecessor Lionel Pierdon had agreed to hold Christmas in Europe, Claude Carriot was terrified in 2008 when he attended Christmas in Europe in Semmering in Austria: as he says, ‘terrified by all the work involved, by the quality of the organisation of the event, the exchanges, the conviviality.’
On his return from Semmering he naturally got together with his ‘project leader’ Jean Michel Wautelet, head of the hospitality department, to set up a working group of 25 people representing more or less all the school’s various branches.
Claude Carriot remembers that ‘we had to put a lot of work into looking for funding, and we managed to find around 90% of what was needed – the remaining 10% had to be found by the School. Official bodies supported us, in particular Château-Chinon town hall, local and regional authorities, as well as private contributors. Also we were fortunate that our Christmas in Europe event coincided with the French presidency of the EU.
I think the most difficult part was internal communication, but everything fell into place thanks to a large number of meetings, and from the autumn half term break everything was ready for off and we had our act together. Just for the European buffet we sent out 300 invitations; and 84 young students carried out their various tasks to perfection.
So now, a few hours from the end of the Château-Chinon Christmas in Europe, I’m very pleased and it’s a complete success. I’m thinking of all the students who’ve given of their best, and I’m receiving favourable feedback from all directions. I’m also very proud to pass on these messages to all the students, in particular to the BTS (HND) students who really excelled themselves!’
Jean Michel Wautelet, head of the hospitality department and ‘chief conductor’ of the Château-Chinon Christmas in Europe
You could call him the ‘steady strength’, a title given to one of his illustrious predecessors in Château-Chinon (François Mitterrand). He was present at the opening of the vocational school 35 years ago, he militates for a universal republic and since 1987 has taken part in exchanges all over the world. He is discrete yet omnipresent, and kept his eye on everything. He never got agitated and had a response to everything, with an infinite stock of solutions up his sleeve. Let him tell his own story:
‘It’s been a dream of mine for the last five years, ever since Christmas in Europe in Senigallia. You’re entitled to dream, but then you have to organise things, don’t you! Our ideas matured over three years, and then for the last three years we have been putting the finishing touches. We had to set up a team of professionals around an idea: that France equals gastronomy and wine. I was given carte blanche and I gave the others carte blanche. We had to motivate four classes of around 25 students each, while of course adhering to the teaching programme and to the number of hours on the timetable, using around 20 teachers who had volunteered their services.
Now that we are nearly at the end I feel that the outcome has been really positive. The delegations are fantastic and communication between the students has been great. And I think that each year people want to meet up again to relive Christmas in Europe. I live for the moment of everything I do and plan, together with my wife Edith.’ There, he’s said it all!
Edith Wautelet is the School’s chief educational adviser and Jean Michel’s wife, and the two of them make a wonderful team, each as discrete and efficient as the other. Their eyes are everywhere, making sure that there are as few snags as possible. Edith was in charge of coordinating and organising what was needed to accommodate students in the halls of residence; she also looked after the coordination of the cultural programme, the decoration of the hall, arranging accommodation, etc. In a word, Edith was the person who ‘oiled the wheels’. Just like her husband, she too thinks of herself as a ‘citizen of the world’ and emphasises that ‘it fits in with our values. This Christmas in Europe is a couple’s dream.’ And that is all she will say on the matter – though she does emphasise her words with a beautiful smile.
Danuta Przybylak is a teacher at the Poznan school in Poland where the next edition of Christmas in Europe will be held – it was also held in Poznan in 2001, an event still fondly remembered by those who attended. Danuta is in charge of international relations at the school whose director is Roman Tauber, and she is a regular at Christmas in Europe – despite health problems she insisted on coming to Château-Chinon. She makes a mental note of everything and already knows how they will run the 2009 Christmas in Europe in Poznan. When she returns home she will give a report to her boss Roman Tauber, who never runs out of ideas for promoting his school!
Vanessa Mangini, aged 22, is in the management department in Diekirch, and her friend Tom Philipps, aged 19, is in the kitchen. Both have beaming smiles which show their thoughts on the matter, and they are both ‘very happy to experience such an event.’
Anne-marie Poloni aged 19, Alexandre Gentil aged 23, Clémence Souyri aged 19, Emmanuelle Blondelle aged 20, are all on the BTS (HND) tourism programme and are sort of ‘hand-holders’ each having been ‘volunteered’ to be attached to a delegation; they say that ‘they have no regrets at all about having this experience which only a few months ago they would never have dreamed of.’
Marianou Radjabou Boina, aged 23, from Mayotte, is also on a BTS (HND) tourism programme and is also amazed by it all. ‘We’re discovering so much, we’re meeting so many people, it’s as if we were on a long journey! I’m slightly anxious because of languages, but we get by and it’s a unique experience. Especially as we are visiting lots of different countries without spending any money!’
Matej Ostir, aged 21, from Bled. He’s a tourism student and has his moments as a talented violinist, and his enthusiasm worked wonders during the exhibition. He persuaded a number of participants to dance with him. ‘I’ve enjoyed this event and am still enjoying it, it’s great.’
Lukas Kraitky, aged 19, is a tourism student from Poderbrady who thinks that this Christmas in Europe is fabulous and lets you meet lots of people. He tells me with a big smile that he has made some new friends.
Katalin Tönö and Klaudia Ignacz are both aged 17, Hungarians from the Budapest school. Just like all the other students I spoke to, although very shy they have a lot to say about how much they have discovered during this Christmas in Europe.