After four eventful years as the Director of Alliance Francaise (AF) Ahmedabad, Gael De Kerguenec is set to move back to Paris on 31 August. VOI! Caught up with the 48-year-old Frenchman at his glass walled office at the AF Centre in Manek Bagh for one final interview, where he talks about the challenges of hybrid education, French havelis and why Ahmedabad is such a great place to lose weight:
Vo!: How was your experience of heading AF Ahmedabad?
Gael: I found people here to be exceptionally kind. The best thing about AF is that we are included in the life of a city. I report to the Foreign Affairs Ministry in France, but AF is not a typical diplomatic entity, where there is tight security and it is hard to get in. Everyone can come here. We have an art gallery, a restaurant, we screen movies. AF is a place of entertainment, as much as education. I stayed on in Ahmedabad through the lockdown. During that time, we got our on-line classes going, something 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 around 3,000 students enrolled in our French language classes. Now the challenge is to create a hybrid model where they occasionally come to the Centre. Everything can’t be taught on-line.
Vo!: How does your Ahmedabad stint compare with your previous posting in China?
Gael: It was very different. AF Ahmedabad is a non-profit organisation with a Board headed by Pavan Bakeri. In China, all AFs come under the Chinese Ministry of Education, so the focus is on teaching. For any cultural activity we have to go through censoring. But China was a very interesting experience because it was going through an economic boom when I was there. There were all these posh restaurants and people were spending so much money. China is a foodie society and I would be invited to extravagant parties every evening with 15 course dinners and the best wines. China has over 60,000 French expatriates and most of them are there because of the lifestyle. For the French, that is very important. That’s why you will 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 who are sent by their companies. Ahmedabad has a lot of Japanese expatriates who are here to work. They are not here for fun.
Vo!: How many French expatriates does Ahmedabad have?
Gael De Kerguenec: There are a total of eight French expatriates and all of them are married to Indians. There are around 4,000 French expats in all of India.
Vo!: Does Ahmedabad get many French tourists?
Gael: French tourists go to Delhi and Rajasthan, but they don’t come here. We are trying to promote Ahmedabad for French tourists with a Heritage Centre in Raikhad where we will teach tourist guides to speak French. There will be a museum showcasing Ahmedabad’s heritage. France renovated 56 havelis in Ahmedabad around 2001 and these will be showcased. For tourists, India is actually much better than China. There is so much more to see. We also have plans to open an AF in Surat. We are already present in Vadodara.
Vo!: What has been your greatest achievement in Ahmedabad?
Gael: Personally, it is reducing my weight. I had become bloated in China. I weighed 90 kg. I was a monster. From August to October 2020, I went on a diet of fruit and vegetables and lost 25 kgs. This was during the lockdown when I was working from home, so it was easier. I can run up the stairs to my apartment on the 9th floor, which was impossible before. I have changed so much that I was recently stopped at Mumbai airport because I no longer look like the person in my passport photo.
Vo!: You think Ahmedabad is good for losing weight?
Gael De Kerguenec : It was good for me because Gujarat is a dry, vegetarian state. The food is full of oil and sugar, but after trying everything, I stopped. Ahmedabad was a good place to be during the pandemic. In Beijing or Paris, I might have been depressed because I was missing the parties and shows. In Ahmedabad, there was nothing to miss.