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For the new director of the Alliance Française, Bangalore poses the perfect challenge

On his maiden visit to India, and just a month into his tenure as the director of the city’s Alliance Française, Mikael de la Fuente shares his journey in cultural diplomacy, why he’s too enthralled by India to miss home, and what we can look forward to at the Alliance Francaise.

Your career journey so far
After graduating, I wanted to do public service rather than working in a big company. I began as a trainee in cultural service at the French embassy in Columbia, and then I took up a post at the Alliance Française (AF) in Columbia, where I discovered the beautiful spirit of the institution. That was in 1999, and since then, I’ve only worked with the AF, in countries including Spain, Brazil and France.

First impressions
I asked to come to India, as I wanted somewhere completely new, to be disorientated again, like I was when I first went to South America. It’s hard to have a clear picture after only a month but I am not shocked by any cultural differences, and it’s not as crazy as people told me it would be! My first impression is very good. The people I’ve met are very curious, and I like the interactions that we have. Indians are also very open to the French language and culture, and after English and Indian languages, French is definitely the most taught foreign language in India.

Cultural highs
Two days after I arrived, we hosted Anne Paceo and her jazz quintet. I will always remember that as something very special. A full auditorium and a standing ovation showed me how fantastically the people of Bangalore respond to modern French jazz. Coming up, we’re hosting a rock concert on October 26, and I’m looking forward to a very special event on November 7 — La Nouvelle Cirque (the new circus). We’re not here to impose our culture, but to engage in dialogue. Those who come from France to perform give something, but also take something away with them.

On funding the programmes
Not many people realise this, but the AF is not actually externally funded by the French government. While we often collaborate, the AF is completely independent. This is more of a strength than a weakness as it gives us freedom, and we’re not affected by central cuts! But we have to raise all our funds through understanding our locality, and offering the best French classes possible.

Reflections on home
Travelling for 15 years, I’ve learned to adjust! I do miss family, but right now, everything here is new and exciting, and I’m enjoying discovering things. But you know, Bangalore is also very cosmopolitan, so if you need anything French then you can find it!

— Maegan Dobson Sippy

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