Christophe Cheroret has traveled to nearly 20 different countries and now enjoys living in rural Kansas even better than his native Paris. Really.
Cheroret, who graduated with a master’s degree in education from Fort Hays State University last December, is the study abroad program coordinator for the university’s Center for Language and Culture.
He took a group of students to Spain earlier this summer and already is planning for a return trip in November. And students say Cheroret is the perfect fit for the position.
“He definitely knows how to travel and plan trips,” said Kyle Storer, an agricultural business major from Paxton, Neb., who has gone on several study abroad trips, including one to Belize with Cheroret at the helm. “Sometimes there are a few kinks, but he comes up with a plan on the go. He thinks well on his feet.”
Thinking on his feet is what brought Cheroret to America for the first time back in 2010 after he heard about a student exchange program from one of his instructors who was teaching American civilization at the University of Caen Lower Normandy.
Cheroret grew up playing ice hockey “but got burned out,” and played club football in college -- “real football, not soccer,” he said with a smile. He said he was looking for a small Midwestern city for his exchange program and located Lincoln, Neb.
Coincidentally, Fort Hays State was on his short list, but he wound up at Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln. And although Lincoln is more than 10 times larger than Hays’ population, it was small compared to the 2.24 million people in Paris.
“I grew up in a big city, but I’m not a big city person,” he said. “I didn’t know much about the Heart of America, and I wanted to find out.”
Following his year at Nebraska Wesleyan, where he walked on to the university’s football team as a 5-foot, 9-inch, 170-pound wide receiver, Cheroret returned to Paris and began working on his master’s degree in business and foreign languages, then took off for Australia as a master’s exchange student at the University of Technology in Sydney.
A friend of his from back home, Camille Meritan, who was a graduate teaching assistant at FHSU, asked Cheroret to come to Fort Hays State as a graduate teaching assistant.
“I love the Midwest,” Cheroret said. “I was looking to get back here. It was perfect.”
Once on the FHSU campus, Cheroret met Dr. Tim Crowley, dean of the graduate school, who was instrumental in starting the Center for Language and Culture two years ago.
Crowley put Cheroret in charge of the center, which was established to help faculty learn and plan courses to be taught abroad. Crowley has not been disappointed.
“He has grown into that role and has helped a lot of faculty,” Crowley said. “He’s taken on a lot of responsibility, and it’s been rewarding to see him grow.”
Cheroret is quick to give credit to a lot of people for the success of the Center for Language and Culture.
“There are so many people -- students, faculty, a lot of people -- who have helped me,” he said. “Dr. Crowley has been so supportive to me, when I was a student and as an employee. He is an outstanding man. This is not a one-person accomplishment.”
Still, Crowley said Cheroret has been a major factor in the center’s success.
“Sometimes it’s the right person in the right place at the right time,” Crowley said, “and that’s the case here. He has helped a lot of faculty.”
Cheroret, who plans to teach French classes at FHSU next semester, has also made an impression on students all across the country.
Katherine Crowley -- no relation to Dean Crowley -- is an FHSU Virtual College student from Middleburg, Fla., who learned about an upcoming study abroad trip to France from her French teacher, who coincidentally is Cheroret’s friend Meritan.
Katherine Crowley, who has never set foot on the FHSU campus, met the Hays contingent in Dallas for the trip to France, which she called an “experience of a lifetime” with Cheroret leading the group.
“He is incredible at what he does,” she said. “It’s an extra bonus that he is from France. Him being from there, we got to see some hidden gems. It was such a unique experience.”
Cheroret said he not only wants his students to experience the culture of another country, but “I want them to have fun, too,” so he sets up activities relevant to the area they are visiting.
Cheroret insists each trip is a learning experience for him.
“I miss home where I grew up in the sense that Paris is the only time I can shine with my true colors,” he said. “Here is not my fish tank. There are different temperatures, different fishes, different -- lots of things. But it helps me expand, too.”
Cheroret is able to visit Paris, and his parents, once a year on one of his trips with his FHSU students.
“I get my Paris fix then,” said Cheroret, who takes his parents along on some of the activities.
An only child, Cheroret anxiously awaits the opportunity to introduce his mom and dad to his new way of life across the Atlantic Ocean.
“This is what I love and where I live now,” he said, “and I want my parents to see that. My first paycheck when I’m full time, flying them here will be the first thing I do.”
Plans are in the works to make Cheroret’s position full time, and Cheroret thinks he has the ideal time for his parents to visit.
“I want them to see Oktoberfest in Hays,” he said with a big smile. “I consider Hays my new home, and Oktoberfest is a big part of Hays.”
Cheroret is convinced his parents will feel the same way he does about the things that make Hays and Fort Hays State special to him -- the people.
“The people here are incredible,” said Cheroret, who wants to continue watching the sun set in Hays. Sunsets in western Kansas are in the top three on his list of favorites along with Hawaii and Australia. “The people in the Midwest are laid back and humble. I love Hays. Hays is home.”