Everyone should have the pleasure…

…of a conversation with my dad at some point. He was recently asked by his undergrad university to serve on a study-abroad panel since he was one of the first students to participate in such an endeavor for St. John’s. His answer is quintessentially him and particularly salient given the current political climate imo. So because I’m a writing-nerd and way get off on things like this:

Good morning. I had earlier replied indicating that I am available on October 25, and promised to provide more information about my life since SJU and how the study of foreign language has impacted me.

I attended l’Universite de Grenoble for the entire ‘65-‘66 school year and was among the first of the original five students from SJU to study abroad. The others were Jim McKeown, Joe Messina, Gary Youso, and a young man whose name I no longer recall and who dropped out of school in France and “bummed around Europe” for the school year, not returning to SJU for our final year. Jim went to Dijon, Joe to Paris, and I believe Gary went to Paris as well. Upon our return we were to present our experiences to faculty and students, and it is from that, I believe, that a sanctioned study-abroad program was developed. It was, as I now recall, my intention to teach French, and as a senior at SJU did some tutoring of seminary students seeking a post-graduate degree that required a foreign language – and quickly finding out that I did not have the DNA to be a good teacher! Instead I went into a management training position with a retail chain for two years, then began law school, working at the same time as a law clerk, an investigator for a law firm, and an insurance adjuster. Upon completion of law school I took a position with a Minneapolis law firm where I gained immediate trial experience, and left there after two years to take over a retiring lawyer’s practice in west central Minnesota where I remained until retirement. I served for approximately 30 years as a county attorney, and for the past 14 years have worked part time as a child support magistrate for the State of Minnesota, hearing cases in our Seventh Judicial District from Moorhead to St. Cloud.

The experience of studying in France for a year was truly life-changing for me. As a product of a rural upbringing and a very small high school, everything was a broadening event, from experiencing the resentment of Americans (think Viet Nam) in Europe to being classmates with the children of business tycoons and ambassadors and the famous. And I would be remiss, if not misleading, if I did not disclose that two years of college French did not make me conversant in the language, a fact that became painfully apparent upon disembarking the ship in Le Havre knowing no one and having no prearranged place to stay or live. But one learns quickly when necessary. Almost all of the friends developed over the course of that year were Spanish-speaking, from Spain and Central and South America, and communicating was accomplished through a combination of charades, French and Spanish. The people themselves, the history embodied in the country of France, the polyglots encountered, the politics, the prejudices, and, of course, the food and the wine were all new at the time but the impressions if not the choices have remained with me to this day.

The impact of learning French and studying abroad on my life and career is immeasurable, not by any specific application or accomplishment on my part or for reasons of economics, but in my willingness to accept other cultures, other foods, other opinions that differ from my own (a part of the Benedictine values??); and perhaps even a way of thinking. My wife and I have traveled to France over 20 times and have made friends there, as well as from around the world. As a lawyer and judicial officer, the study and learning of French has helped me to better understand, appreciate, and use our own language. And literature seems best read in the language in which it was written.

Here is another bit of information to ponder: After WWII France wished to distance itself somewhat from the USA and established La Francophonie, which brings together all of the countries that speak French, not necessarily as the native language but where it is spoken by most educated people, a total of 56 countries. Put another way, and as pointed out to me by a friend from the Canary Islands with whom I studied in Grenoble, anyone who speaks French, English and Spanish can travel to and communicate in almost every country of the entire world.

Thank you for allowing me to reflect on this matter. It has been a very, very pleasant voyage of the mind.

Lyndon L. Kratochwill
SJU Class of ‘67

Dad in Paris