Interview: Janet Hulstrand – 2

6496715733_eea8d664e6 Janet Hulstrand with her students in the Luxembourg Gardens

Advice on writing

Read the Episode 1 of our interview with Janet Hulstrand, in which she talks about herself and her french favorites here.

Your essays and articles have been published in Bonjour Paris, the Christian Science Monitor, International Educator, and many other publications. What do you like to write about best for these varied publications?

I like writing, period. Much of the writing I do is about travel, but I’ve also published book reviews, personal essays, long feature articles, even one poem. I like to write about things I feel passionate about, whether it’s a favorite place or a pet peeve. If I’m writing about something I hate, writing helps to discharge the anger. If I’m writing about something I love, it’s fun to share my enthusiasm with others. To me each piece of writing is a challenge, a kind of puzzle to solve. I enjoy both the process and the product. I still feel kind of a thrill, seeing my words in print.

You and Linda Hetzer have set up a companion blog to the book you co-authored, Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home. What are the benefits of keeping a blog?

Linda and I started our blog, Downsizing the Home: Lessons Learned, partly as a way of continuing the conversation we began in the course of writing our book. We talked to people of all ages and from a variety of backgrounds about the difficulties they faced in getting rid of all the things that had accumulated in their homes, and the creative ways they found to turn a sometimes dreary task into one that can actually be joyful. Our blog will also be a great platform for the e-book we are currently planning.

There are so many benefits to blogging: it’s a wonderfully flexible form that offers all kinds of unexpected benefits. I started my blog Writing from the Heart, Reading for the Road with the idea of drawing attention to the classes I teach. But as it’s developed, I’ve discovered so many other ways to use it. For example, I wrote a piece about President Obama shortly after his inauguration that I really liked, and it almost got published as an op-ed in a national newspaper, but then that didn’t happen. I knew the piece was of the moment and needed to be published right away or not at all, so I was pretty disappointed when it didn’t get picked up. Then I realized, “Hey, I don’t need a newspaper to publish this, I can do it myself on my blog.” That was a wonderfully empowering feeling.

How does blogging help your book and article writing?

Writing is writing. It’s all the same craft, though different forms do make different demands and offer different opportunities. I don’t think of blogging as helping me with my other writing any differently than any other writing does. That’s an interesting question, though. I’ll have to think a bit more about that!

6496710935_26243225eb CUNY students on the Champ de Mars

You also wrote NAFSA: Association of International Educators’ best-selling booklet, What Parents Need to Know! Before, During and After Education Abroad. What are some of the key things parents in this situation should know?

Of course they should be sure that the program is sponsored by a reliable and responsible school or organization. But after that, I think the most important thing for parents to know when they send their kids away to study abroad is that probably the most valuable thing their children can learn from the experience is how to be more independent. So it’s an important time for parents to step back and let their kids really be on their own. It’s hard for students to feel truly removed from home and family when electronic communication is so ubiquitous, and sometimes this can get in the way of their developing their problem-solving skills, one of the biggest benefits of study abroad. So, although it’s a bit unnatural, I think it’s important to some degree to pretend that 24/7 access doesn’t exist and allow students to truly immerse themselves in another world for a time. They’ll come back full of stories, and that’s the time when they need their parents’ attention.

6496713413_99ea29f336 Students enjoying a champagne welcome to Essoyes

You are co-director of the Essoyes School. For those who aren’t familiar, could you briefly describe the Essoyes School?

The Essoyes School is not a building or an institution, but a teaching enterprise that my husband and I created together. He is an artist, a sculptor mainly. More than 30 years ago we fell in love with this wonderful little village in Champagne, Essoyes (pronounced ESS-wah), which was home to the Renoir family. We picked grapes there for the vendange, we were welcomed into the family of vignerons who hired us, and through the years we were drawn back again and again almost instinctively. It always just felt like home. Eventually we bought a house there with the idea of offering writing and art workshops in the village. Essoyes is a perfect place to do such a thing, because it is a place that is both peaceful and inspiring.

Can you tell us about the Writing from the Heart workshop/retreats that you teach through the Essoyes School?

Twice a year, once in the spring, and once in the fall, I offer a one-week writing workshop called Writing from the Heart, which invites participants to “find the time, the courage, and the inspiration to write about whatever is most important to you…” The participants stay in a wonderful family-run hotel where they are welcomed with warm accueil. There is an excellent restaurant, with a magnificent view of the village and the surrounding vineyards. It’s really pretty wonderful!

I like to use the word “retreat” because unlike many writing workshops, this one is not competitive in any way, nor does it require participants to come with a body of work, or even any work at all. We spend our time together exploring new topics and new territory in a very safe, supportive, and nurturing environment. Some of my students come with specific projects they want to work on: others have no idea what they want to write and are a little bit nervous about the whole idea. What they all have in common is a strong desire to write, to explore new emotional, intellectual, or artistic territory. Most of them have a certain amount of fear about of taking this step. But they also have the courage to face down that fear, and to give themselves permission to follow their dreams.

6496715619_7b590c8ce6 Writing from the Heart students with M. et Mme. Chenut, owner/hosts at Hotel des Canotiers, Essoyes


Thank you Janet for taking the time to speak to us at My French Life™. Thank you for sharing your writing and teaching expertise. To find out more about Janet, you can see the websites and

About the Contributor

Judy MacMahon

Experience FRANCE beyond the CLICHÉ with MyFrenchLife is for Curious Savvy Francophiles wherever you are. Meet Francophiles in France, online, and/or wherever you live. You’re very welcome to join us - Judy MacMahon -

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  1. Julie Chamand Dec 22, 2011 at 12:17 AM - Reply

    Well I hope my mother is not going to stop sending me money if she comes across this article! But I definitely know that you’re right about independance and stepping back.
    It’s nice to read this because it really encourages to write. I don’t know about you guys but more often than not, I have an urge to write when I’m already in bed! How inconvenient is that…

  2. Hannah Charbit Dec 23, 2011 at 8:55 AM - Reply

    Hahaha Julie! 😉 Yes it often happens to me as well. Janet, what you say is great and very inspiring. Helping people to write about what is a priority to them or something really important is such an admirable job. According to me, it is one of the best way to analyse our own personality and to let go of tentions we may have…

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