PB: My husband started the company 14 years ago so it’s a family business. I joined him five years ago, before I was working for Air France. We are in Martinique so we are French in the Caribbean and we are the only agency in Martinique so we do everything for everybody!
We like to work and we are solid and we have a lot of customers. We even work for the government.
The PIE: What do you do for the government?
“What they want to learn is hospitality in an English area – mostly in Barbados because of the luxury hotels”
PB: We work for the French unemployment agency because we have a lot of tourists so people need to speak English, Spanish etc, so I provide them with quick courses abroad, with internships and hospitality. I send them to the UK, Ireland and in the Caribbean – in Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.
The PIE: So students go to Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago to learn English?
PB: Yes. It’s a good course. It’s very close so it’s easy for us and we have a very, very good contact there. What they want to learn is hospitality in an English area – and that’s mostly in Barbados because of the luxury hotels there. The companies hire the people and then the government grants help pay for the students to study to learn English.
We also work for high schools and universities to find internships – you know the Erasmus programme? I work for this too and I work for summer camps and for young people and juniors in the summer.
The PIE: And how many students would you say you send overseas a year?
PB: Overseas? Around 200 – 230.
The PIE: What types of changes have you seen in 14 years?
PB: Martinique people were a little bit afraid to send their kids abroad. Before, when you have finished your high school degree you would go to Paris. This was the only target, Paris Paris Paris, because we only have one university in Martinique. And now people understand that they can send your kids to Canada, to the US so they prepare them before. They go to language schools, summer camps. The mentality has changed.
“This was the only target, Paris Paris Paris, because we only have one university in Martinique”
The PIE: What do you think caused the change?
PB: A lot of it is because of the security and also because of the economic crisis. Young people can find jobs in the US and Canada but it’s really difficult to find jobs in France. My daughter is 25 years old, she works in London. If she stayed in Paris I don’t think she’d find work even though she has a good diploma and she speaks English, Spanish and French! There are a lot of jobless people in France.
The PIE: And people from Martinique have European passports?
PB: Yes. And even if we go to the US or Canada, we have a special relationship between France and these countries. We are lucky in the Caribbean.
The PIE: Do you send students to the US on the J1 visa internships?
PB: Yes, because we have a special programme for juniors or sports – soccer, basketball, athletics – so we send them to high school or prep school to find a university, because it’s very difficult in France to continue with sport and studies where after high school you have to make a choice. But it’s not the same in the US – you can do both. This year I have 15 juniors in prep school or high school and they want to be doctors. But it’s not possible in France.
In the US at high school level there are good sports, so they can then find a college or university and they offer them scholarships. Parents don’t pay a lot – they pay just the first year just to go to the US and after the university or the college sees them and recruits them for the team at the school.
The PIE: Are most of your students price sensitive?
“Even if we go to the US or Canada, we have a special relationship with these countries. We are lucky in the Caribbean”
PB: You know in Martinique it’s not a poor island if you compare with Saint Lucia or the other islands – because we are French and European citizens – so Europe sends a lot of money to our island and there’s a good programme for our studies and people earn money. There’s people who have nothing, but there is a real middle class, and they can pay easily for study overseas.
The PIE: So you’re quite unique in the Caribbean and in that whole area.
PB: We’re like Guadalupe because Guadalupe is the same as us, French and European so there’s no problem. OK, there are a lot of jobless people, but jobless people are not poor because it’s like jobless people in France – the government gives them money.
The PIE: What are students from Martinique looking for when they study overseas?
PB: In Martinique we have a lot of people with high diplomas, many have master’s, but the problem is there aren’t enough jobs for everybody. They go abroad for their studies in France and when they come back to Martinique, a lot of them have a good diploma but they don’t speak English at all. We are a French island but around us there are only English speakers or Spanish speakers and so businesses and companies need people who speak very very fluently Spanish or English. So when they come back to Martinique and say ‘ugh I don’t speak English what can I do?’ So we send them for three months.
The PIE: You’ve also just launched a French language school? Tell me about that.
“They go abroad for their studies in France and when they come back, a lot of them have a good diploma but don’t speak English”
PB: We have a new French school – the name is Carib French and we are based in Trois Ilets – the biggest tourist city in Martinique. There are two French schools in Martinique and the difference between us is the first one is in Fort-de-France in the city centre and we are in the beach area by the sea. In two minutes walk you are on the beach. We have a lot of accommodation – for families, apartments, hotels – all in the same in the area. We have every level of French even absolute beginners and all our teachers have a diploma in French. We have also Italian teachers, Spanish teachers, English teachers… We even have a Russian teacher.
The PIE: How is business going since you opened in September?
PB: For the moment we have about 10 students – mostly au pairs from different areas – German, South American. They’re going to take French lessons in our school for the year.
Trois Ilets has many expats from France and Europe – so they need to take a lot of au pairs, so they take classes.
The PIE: Who else are you targeting to study at the school outside of au pairs?
PB: I have people from the US because we have a relationship between Martinique University and the US and from South Africa. We have a lot of agents from Eastern Europe and Germany. You know there is a lot of people now who don’t want to go to Paris because they are a little bit afraid about the security and terrorist attacks.
I was born in Paris but it has changed, it’s difficult to see a lot of military police – you don’t feel safe in Paris. In the south of France neither because of what happened in Nice. Martinique is an alternative – they go to a lot to Montreal and they can come to Martinique too. It’s exactly the same thing; it’s exactly the same French, no accent, good teachers but you are in a safe area.
The PIE: And you have the beach!
PB: Yes you can surf, you can take a boat, and if you want for the weekend you can visit another island because it’s very close.