by Liz Rothaus Bertrand

The dollar is up and your tax refund is almost here… sounds like the perfect time to plan a trip abroad.

If you join us in the South of France this summer, you’ll have the chance to meet Maureen (Mo) Stough and her mother, Faye Sim. In June, the two will be exploring Montpellier and its postcard-perfect environs (think cool blue Mediterranean sea, purple lavender fields and the lush green vineyards that dominate this region).

Both are longtime residents of the Charlotte metro area and eager to return to France, having visited Paris and Nice together in 2012. Mo, a Senior Project Manager at Blythe Development (and mother to twin teenage boys!) has been in the construction business for 20 years. But she doesn’t just build bridges for a living — she does it in her spare time too.

She’s part of a local group of volunteers developing a new Sister City partnership between Matthews, NC and the small seaside city of Sainte-Maxime, located on the French Riviera. Mo plans to visit Sainte-Maxime this summer and hopes to reconnect with members of the French delegation who are coming to Matthews in mid-April to officially kick off the partnership between the two cities.

We chatted with Mo about her upcoming trip and her passion for all things French. Here’s what she had to say…

mo pic

[Mo Stough (right) and her mom Faye Sim are heading to France this summer. (No wonder they’re smiling!)]

What interests you in the French trip organized by The Language Academy of the Carolinas?

I love the south of France – right now it is my favorite part and I would like to see more of it. I also like the idea of French classes in the morning – I am trying to improve my language skills. It seems like the itinerary has a lot of fun day trips, but also allows for plenty of free time, which I like. And quite frankly, it is a very reasonable price.

How did you hear about the trip?

Through The Language Academy emails – I’m on the regular mailing list.

Have you ever been to Montpellier or the South of France?

Not to Montpellier, but I’ve been to Nice and the surrounding areas, including Château de Berne vineyard. We went to Avignon on my first exchange trip – 30 years ago!

Cafe Culture: a typical scene in Montpellier

[Cafe Culture: a typical street scene in Montpellier]

How about to other regions of France?

We spent 3 days in Paris – loved it, but I like Nice better! We also did a day trip to the Loire Valley where an acquaintance has family, right outside Tours. Very interesting area – they have homes carved into the side of the hills – caves, really, but I can’t remember the French term…..

How did you get interested in French language and culture?

Started taking French in high school – 4 years there, minored in it in college. Had a fantastic French teacher at Charlotte Catholic, Madame Nicole Rothe, and did the exchange-student program when I was 15. Have loved it ever since. My French friend and I have stayed in touch all these years. It’s a beautiful language – love hearing people speak it and being able to understand (most of!) what they say.


[A vine’s view of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the renowned wine-making village–one of the destinations on The Language Academy’s itinerary this summer.]

What are you most excited about seeing and doing in France?

Wine! I love French wine, and the south of France is home to rosé, which I love. I would like to visit some vineyards/wineries. I enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of sitting in a café with a bottle of rosé and having nowhere else to be!  I love the Mediterranean and enjoy spending time at the beach. And of course the architecture – I love the old Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals that are in every French town – we just don’t have that here in the States since we are only 200 years old, compared to 800-year-old buildings over there.

Can you tell us more about your participation with the Sister Cities program in Matthews?

The group is pretty new – they tried to get it started a few years ago but it sort of fizzled. This attempt started about 18 months ago, and it has really picked up steam. I saw an article in the paper last July and started getting involved. Since my main interest is speaking the language, I volunteered to organize and lead the Conversation Group. There is another lady who used to teach French and is fluent and she leads it with me. We meet first Monday of the month (usually). The conversation group has grown from 5 people at the first meeting back in November to 17 people at last month’s meeting.

The French delegation from Sainte-Maxime will be in town in April for the official ceremony at town hall, signing the papers, etc. There is a cook-out at Squirrel Lake Park on Sunday April 12 – everyone is welcomed – and the Town Hall event is Monday April 13.


Anything else you’d like to share?

Some day when my boys get out of college in 8 years, I really want to sell wine, possibly in France, or at least [be] involved with French wines. I already have a French friend in Nice, and I am hoping to start some relationships with the folks in Sainte-Maxime, and some day hope to travel between the States and France regularly for work. And so in the meantime, I’m going to work on my conversation skills!

If you’re like Mo and want to improve your French speaking skills, The Language Academy has many programs to help you meet your goals. There’s still time to join us on our France trip but hurry: deposits are due April 15! We also offer weeknight and weekend classes in 3 convenient locations throughout Charlotte as well as new online conversation sessions. For details, contact us at or 704.548.0048
For more information on the Matthews / Sainte-Maxime Sister City Project, check out the group’s excellent Facebook page.