Released March 11, 1999
Centre College senior discovers real people behind textbook pages
DANVILLE, KY -- When Centre College adopted a next textbook series for French courses last fall, French professors Charles Vahlkamp and Ken Keffer wondered if the people in the pictures were real. They looked at Centre senior Whitney Cammack, who is very fluent in French, and decided she was just the right person to answer that question. So the Cynthiana resident recently traveled several thousand miles and spent three weeks in the south of France, knocking on doors to find the people from the pictures. In the process, she made dozens of new friends -- and confirmed that the textbook company, Holt Rinehart, told the truth when it said that the pictures showed ordinary people from real families in the beautiful town of Besançon.
Cammack accepted the challenge from her teachers as part of an independent study and internship that capped her French studies at Centre. She admits to being terrified at the idea of living for nearly a month in a town where she knew no one, but soon discovered that her fluent French and ready smile could open almost any door.
Cammack started with the one contact provided by her professors, the name of a woman employed in Besançon at a language institute. The woman immediately wanted Cammack to assist with English classes at the institute and, in turn, she provided introductions to some of the families from the textbook. From there, one family simply led her to another, and Cammack found herself having dinner in the very kitchens she had seen on the textbook pages.
Enthused by the experience, Cammack cheerfully asked the families to pose for pictures that looked exactly like the ones in the book -- except that the toddlers now are in elementary school and the high schoolers now are in college. The book had taken about three to five years to produce, and everyone had changed slightly. Still, Cammack says it wasn't hard to recognize the people after staring at their photos so many times.
"When I met them, it was like meeting celebrities," she says with a laugh. "I always found myself exclaiming, 'Gosh, it's really you.' They thought that was very funny because helping with the book hadn't seemed like a big deal. They had done it as volunteers, not as paid actors, and the photographers had just followed them through their usual routines."
Cammack now says that the experience did more than give her the necessary academic credits. It may have changed her life. "This was such a wonderful experience," she says with enthusiasm, "that I'm thinking seriously about pursing a career in France. I've loved the language from the very first timePa class, and now I know about jobs that might be available there."
Cammack gained her early French training at Harrison County High School, where she graduated in 1995. She is the daughter of Marc and Sally Cammack.
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