After four eventful years at the direction of the French Alliance (AF) Ahmedabad, Gaël De Kerguenec should return to Paris on August 31. VO! Meet the 48-year-old Frenchman in his glass-walled office at the AF Center in Manek Bagh for a final interview, where he talks about the challenges of hybrid education, French havelis and why Ahmedabad is such a good place to waste time weight :
Vo! : How was your experience at the helm of AF Ahmedabad?
Gael: I found the people here exceptionally kind. The best thing about AF is that we are included in the life of a city. I report to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in France, but the AF is not your typical diplomatic entity, where security is tight and it is difficult to enter. Anyone can come here. We have an art gallery, a restaurant, we show films. The AF is a place of entertainment as well as education. I stayed in Ahmedabad during the lockdown. During this time, we launched our online courses, which we had tried to do before without success. Now we can offer our courses to many more students who are far away and cannot come to AF. We have approximately 3,000 students enrolled in our French courses. Now the challenge is to create a hybrid model where they occasionally come to the Center. Not everything can be taught online.
Vo! : How does your time in Ahmedabad compare with your previous assignment in China?
Gaël: It was very different. AF Ahmedabad is a non-profit organization with a board of directors headed by Pavan Bakeri. In China, all FAs fall under the Chinese Ministry of Education, so the focus is on teaching. For any cultural activity we have to go through censorship. But China was a very interesting experience because it was going through an economic boom when I was there. There were all these fancy restaurants and people were spending so much money. China is a foodie society and I was invited to extravagant parties every night with 15 course dinners and the finest wines. China has over 60,000 French expatriates and most of them are there because of the way of life. For the French, it is very important. That’s why you’ll find so many French people in fun places like Shanghai, Rio and London. They go to these places and find work. They are different from those sent by their companies. Ahmedabad has many Japanese expatriates who are here to work. They are not here for fun.
Vo! : How many French expats are there in Ahmedabad?
Gaël De Kerguenec: There are a total of eight French expatriates and all of them are married to Indians. There are approximately 4,000 French expatriates throughout India.
Vo! : Does Ahmedabad attract many French tourists?
Gaël: French tourists go to Delhi and Rajasthan, but they don’t come here. We are trying to promote Ahmedabad to French tourists with a heritage center in Raikhad where we will teach tour guides to speak French. There will be a museum showcasing the heritage of Ahmedabad. France renovated 56 havelis in Ahmedabad around 2001 and these will be on display. For tourists, India is actually much better than China. There is so much more to see. We are also planning to open an AF in Surat. We are already present in Vadodara.
Vo! : What was your greatest achievement in Ahmedabad?
Gaël: Personally, it reduces my weight. I had become bloated in China. I weighed 90 kg. I was a monster. From August to October 2020, I followed a fruit and vegetable diet and lost 25 kg. It was during lockdown when I was working from home, so it was easier. I can climb the stairs to my apartment on the 9th floor, which was impossible before. I have changed so much that I was recently arrested at Mumbai airport because I no longer look like the person in my passport photo.
Vo! : Do you think Ahmedabad is good for losing weight?
Gael De Kerguenec: It did me good because Gujarat is a dry, vegetarian state. The food is full of oil and sugar, but after trying everything I quit. Ahmedabad was a good place to be during the pandemic. In Beijing or Paris, I might have been depressed because I missed parties and shows. In Ahmedabad, there was nothing to miss.
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