CLEARWATER BEACH — Chamber of commerce president Darlene Kole is delighted to have her latest contingent of French college students in town and couldn’t be any prouder of the way the community has embraced the 12 scholars eager to learn about doing business American-style.
“The community has embraced the program tremendously … everyone has come on board,” Kole said.
The students are enjoying discounted meals at local restaurants, free bus passes and excursions provided by beach chamber members, she said.
Back home, they study business management and international hospitality at the University of Pau (pronounced Po). It’s located in the south of France near the border of Spain in an area known as a popular tourist destination.
The group arrived earlier this month and began a three-month stint in Clearwater Beach where the students work, attend classes and familiarize themselves with area business and tourism practices, earning college credit in the process.
“They attend school two days a week at Clearwater Yacht Club, who donated the classroom space, and work three days a week,” Kole said.
Sandpearl Resort, Jolly Trolley and Tropic Boat Tours are among the local businesses that are providing internships for the students.
The program is sponsored by B.E.A.U. Institute, an acronym for Business and Enterprise Alternative University. The organization was founded by Philippe Beau, a business professor and a commercial property specialist for the real estate firm of Klein & Heuchan in Clearwater.
Beau is originally from France, where he received a business degree from the University of Bordeaux. After moving to Florida in 1984, he continued his education and ultimately obtained a master’s in management and a Ph.D. in organizational/industrial psychology.
According to its website, the institute offers foreign students a “10-week training program in a busy American business context” and is suitable for those majoring in international business, marketing, tourism and entrepreneurship. Enrollees are required to speak English fluently.
The program costs each student $3,500 and includes lodging, some meals, internships and course materials. Lodging is provided by the Magnuson Hotel and Travelodge, both in Clearwater Beach.
Three years ago, Beau approached the chamber about developing an internship program with the University of Bordeaux for students wishing to travel abroad to study the tourism industry while working at the chamber of commerce. Kole embraced the idea and together they established the program with the University of Bordeaux and this year expanded it to include the B.E.A.U. Institute and University of Pau.
In addition to the 12 students from the University of Pau, four interns from the University of Bordeaux currently are interning at the chamber. Their assignments include doing visitor profile research, maintaining the website, conducting surveys and working at visitor centers.
“One of the most encouraging and delightful aspects of the program is that the students are becoming ambassadors to our area — with all their tweeting and texting — they are putting Clearwater Beach on the map in France,” Kole said.
Camille Heptig, 21, from the University of Bordeaux, has been interning at the chamber for three months and enjoys working with the organization’s business members and visitors.
“I think the chamber is happy that most of us speak multiple languages and can help communicate with foreign visitors,” said Heptig, who speaks flawless English and also is fluent in Spanish and French.
She’ll return to France in November and graduate with a degree in international business at the end of the year.
“What’s not to love about Clearwater Beach?” Heptig asked.
Most of her friends back in France had never heard of Clearwater Beach, she said, and they’re awestruck when they see pictures of the area’s white sand beaches.