Six months ago I attended a writing workshop in France – ‘Writing from the Heart…in the Heart of Champagne’ – held twice a year by teacher, writer, and editor Janet Hulstrand. I had written for as long as I could remember – never seriously and without showing my work to anyone. So taking a few samples of it with me and handing them over to her was a bit like jumping off of a cliff. Luckily she didn’t let me crash, but facilitated a safe landing.

That’s the beauty of choosing the right teacher and the right location.

Why France?

If there is an artist’s soul inside of you, any city in France will draw it out. How could it not? The history of great sculptors, painters, photographers, architects, and writers is another dimension in its culture. I dare you to arrive in Troyes, welcomed by medieval buildings and gothic churches along cobblestone streets, and not want to exhaust every word you have ever known for the feelings it creates inside of you.

I half joked to friends that if I were about to discover that I had no talent, at least it would be in a foreign country and possibly in a language I couldn’t fully understand. But again, maybe I thought I would at least have a nice trip to look back on.

Ernest Hemingway said all that he needed was one person to believe in him and his writing skill. He found that person in France – more than one really, a whole community of writers.

I found my community in France as well. The group of smart, accomplished women that were my workshop classmates have become my writing sisters. We don’t live anywhere near each other, but the internet makes it possible to remain in touch. We share encouragement and ideas through e-mail and facebook messaging.

And as for our teacher, she has remained in all of our lives. So our classroom just continues although we are spread out across the globe. That’s when you know that you discovered a gem among stones.

I wrote an essay about the experience I had and whittled it down to the word maximum for a contest about lessons learned while studying abroad. It received an honorable mention and is published on the website for international study. You can read it at:

http://www.rateyourstudyabroad.com/blog/travel-essay-contest-honorable-mention-renee-johnson.html

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