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In conversation with Philippe Ostermann, director at Alliance Française de Sydney

Two months ago, Philippe Ostermann took a leap of faith hors des sentiers battus and began his journey to Australia—a country he had only dreamed to discover.

After 17 years heading a prolific Franco-Belgian comic book company, Philippe is now the director of a different sort of cultural institution—Alliance Française de Sydney—continuing his passion for language and cultural exchange.

Le Courrier Australien recently spoke to Philippe about his new role, goals for the institute, and initial reflections of his first two months in Australia.

 

From bandes dessinées to the language of Molière

For Philippe, his new post is far from a wild career change, yet a culmination of experience in various cultural bodies. “I lived all my life in the cultural industry especially in comic books, and before that for a cultural newspaper,” he says.

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While being a director of a comic book company and Alliance Française de Sydney are two seemingly different roles, Philippe says there are some definite similarities. “You have to be creative, you have to find new ideas, and you have to defend a certain kind of culture,” he says.

“You have to be creative, you have to find new ideas, and you have to defend a certain kind of culture,” he says.

Despite the increasing trend of eBooks, Philippe is a firm believer that print comic publications will still survive. He says, “The beauty and interest of entering comic books is quite different to the experience of reading digital comic books. So, I think books will stay for a very long time.”

 

A tale of two nations

When asked to comment on cultural differences between Australia and France, Philippe says, “Well it’s a tricky question because I must defend France, I must say France is better. But in fact, the Australian way of life is better than the French one. People are less stressed here than in France. The main thing here is ‘no worries’ – it’s true.”

While manners and codes of behaviour are distinctive in France—from unconsciously saying pardon and merci to making zero eye contact on the Parisian metro—Philippe says Australians are also ‘respectful’ in their own way.

“I think the people here–they listen more to each other and try to understand why people think in a different way.”

He gives the example that there is less “klaxon” otherwise known as horning on the streets. “Here, people are not stressed—they don’t want to force people to move, they don’t honk,” Philippe says.

Philippe gives another example–the recent results of the same sex marriage vote. While same sex marriage was legalised in France over four years ago, he says people’s reactions on both sides—before and after—were fuelled with animosity.

“The two sides were fighting a lot and continue to fight a lot. It’s something we have to learn from Australia—to discuss without fighting. He adds, “I think the people here–they listen more to each other and try to understand why people think in a different way,” Philippe says.

 

Australian cinéphiles

Each March, French cinema pulsates through Australian theatres with the annual Alliance Française French film festival. With 174,500 French film tickets sold nation-wide in this year’s festival, there is a growing Australian audience for French cinema.

According to Philippe the Alliance Française French film festival in Australia is the biggest French film festival outside of France.

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“Australian people have seen more French movies than German or Spanish people (…) it shows the real ‘Francophile feeling’ of Australian people and I am really proud to be a part of this friendship between Australia and France,” Philippe says.

 

Bringing French to local Australian schools

“The goal is to go in schools to teach French to young children,” Philippe says. Alliance Française de Sydney’s school’s initiative focuses on providing French teaching resources to local Australian primary schools. If a school signs up, they are provided with resources and a teacher from the institute.

Philippe says the Alliance Française teacher conducts engaging classes targeted to young children with activities like singing and roleplaying. He adds, the program is ‘not part of the school curriculum’ but it is an additional offering to students.

“The goal is to go in schools to teach French to young children,” Philippe says.

Currently there are six schools onboard: Marrickville Public School, Annandale Public School, Bondi Public School, Forest Lodge Public School, Erskineville Public School, Alexandria Park Community School and one childcare, Chifley Early Learning Centre.

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Philippe sees a market for such an initiative when many primary schools have a shortfall in resources and staff in language departments. “A lot of schools for young children don’t have a lot of teachers in the school so we give them that and organise everything,” he says.

Philippe says, “It’s a great challenge but we know now that learning a foreign language is very good for the mind because you learn to see the world with a different view in a different language.”

When asked whether he sees these same benefits from his own experience, Philippe laughs before saying, “Well, as you see my English is very bad so I have to work on it. But yes of course, to be open to a new culture is very good because you change your way of thinking—you say, ‘oh they do that differently’ and then ask ‘why?’”

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