October 10, 2012 by Christina Hamlett
A Conversation With Alisa Rosseter
Every time my husband and I travel abroad, it’s a certainty that at some point he’ll turn to me and say, “Wouldn’t it be great to live here?” Although we both possess in-demand skills that are adaptable to just about any metropolitan region, relocating to a foreign country – much less starting a business in one – is harder than you think. I was, thus, intrigued to share the following story of how Alisa Rosseter and her husband Bruce Anderson decided to pack up their belongings – and dogs – and move to rural France to start Raison d’Art, a summer art camp for teens.
Q: Let’s start out with some background on what you and Bruce were doing before you decided to pursue your dream.
A: In 2000 we opened an art studio for kids ages 5-17, teaching the fundamentals of drawing and painting. At that time, we said to each other, “In 10 years let’s move to France”. We both loved the country and love change and adventure. It was a goal we put on paper, and each year we’d visit a different region of France, looking for the perfect place. In 2007 we visited the Aveyron department (part of the Midi-Pyrenees region) and fell in love with it.
Q: What was the inspiration to launch Raison d’Art?
A: Well…we knew we had to work and what we knew best was working with kids. After living in the area for a year we realized that we needed to show people this amazing place, especially youth. The light, the landscape, the villages – all of it was like a painting! And with all that, Raison d’Art was born. It really feels like a natural evolution of what we were doing before.
Q: Were/are there any other programs like it and, if so, what did you feel would distinguish your new venture?
A: There are a couple places in France, but they are either 100% in the studio, working on a portfolio or it’s just an activity of a large summer camp (“colonies des vacances” as it’s called in France) and the language spoken is French. We wanted it to be 1/2 painting/drawing and 1/2 seeing the villages, doing some activities and unplugging from the modern world. We also only take 12 students per session. We are not a huge camp that takes 300 + kids. We’re further unique in that we all live together in a 200 year old stone farmhouse!
Q: It’s one thing to pack up and move to a new country. Starting a new business on foreign soil, however, has its own set of challenges. Tell us a little about the actual process, obstacles you hadn’t anticipated, surprises that delighted you, and how long it took from thinking of the idea to officially opening your doors (including packing up the house and the dogs!).
A: It would take me forever to explain everything! All I can say is talk to the consulate of the country you want to move to and they will help, but also you’ll need a good immigration attorney, because it’s important to do things properly and legally. All of this needs to be done in the country you live in; don’t come to France in hopes you can do things here, it doesn’t work that way! The amount of paperwork is incredible. Everything needs to be read, re-read, stamped, stamped again, approved, re-approved…be patient. Not all businesses are approved. Remember that we Americans are not part of the EU and can’t just move to France and open a business; it has to be approved by the French consulate. It took us about two years from the initial idea to opening the doors.
Q: What do you know now that you wish you had known then?
A: I would have to say nothing. We have made some mistakes and the learning curve a bit steep in the beginning, but all the bumps in the road and obstacles have just been part of the adventure.
Q: The 200 year old farmhouse and the surrounding property looks glorious! How did you discover it?
A: We actually found it through our realtor; it was their house!
Q: Tell us about your demographic and what excites you about this age group.
A: We live in a very rural area of southwest France, just one hour northeast of Toulouse. It’s rich in history and the countryside is amazing. We love the age group 12-17 because they are open, excited, fun to be around and willing to be adventurous. Most kids come alone, without a friend and go home with many new friends.
Q: What kind of instruction do you offer?
A: Kids spent 1/2 day painting or drawing, either at the house, at a village, or in a field of sunflowers. Bruce is there to guide and instruct and help with techniques.
Q: How do you go about advertising?
A: We work with two organizations (Camp Experts and Tips on Trips and Camps), who help parents find the right camp for their child. We also participate in camp fairs in the U.S. and in Europe. We also have a very large client base from our business in Los Angeles and word of mouth is how we get most kids from Los Angeles. Most of our kids are from the United States, but we have had teens from England, Spain, Greece, Switzerland, Turkey, Columbia and France. The teens from France come to us because we speak English in the house and it’s a great way for the kids to speak English all the time.
Raison d’Art was truly an unforgettable experience. From the simple things like watching the sunset go down while sitting on hay balls to going rock climbing on cliffs that overlook the valleys of France to drinking the most amazing apple juice in the world, this camp changed my life. The new culture and lifestyle I experienced in France are everlasting in my memories. I met some of the most amazing and creative people I have ever met, I learned some French, and gained an experience of a lifetime all in this camp. I never wanted to leave, so I am going back next year! —— Kira, Summer 2011
After the second time going to Raison d’Art, I still can’t think of a better way to spend a piece of my summer. I would have never experienced France in such a fun way if it weren’t for this camp. being able to see France with people my age was so great. From painting in a medieval village to ropes courses in the trees, Raison d’Art covers it all. This camp is probably one of the best happenings in my life. —— Rafe, Summer 2010 & 2011
Raison d’Art was a wonderful experience, I got to meet new kids from different countries, learn about the French culture, and most of all become an independent individual. We got to visit museums, go rock climbing, zip lining, and kayaking but, the most fun was getting to hang out together after the busy day. —— Maggie, Summer 2011
France was one of the best experiences of my life. Drawing and painting was only the beginning of the schedule. We would wake up to our daily dose of beautiful countryside and have our choice of activities lined up like kayaking, rock climbing, or just hanging out! I met some really great friends and I’m planning on having just as much fun next year! —— Millie, Summer 2011
Q: You’ve also expanded to offer culinary retreats for adults. Sounds yummy! Tell us how it works.
A: We have two professional chefs from Los Angeles that we work with. The retreat is seven days and clients have five hands-on cooking classes with the chef. We also visit open markets, museums, villages, goat cheese farms and do wine tasting. The chefs focus on traditional southwest French cooking (duck, sausage, lamb). We only offer a couple of adult retreats a year and for us they’re more about having fun and sharing our love of the region than anything else. The truth is a group of teenagers is much easier to manage than a group of adults!
Q: What do you enjoy the most about what you’re doing and how has it changed the way you look at the world?
A: Our experience affirms that to live your dream you don’t have to make tons of money. We love showing people this amazing part of France. Most Americans would never visit this remote area because it’s not a big destination for them. But once they do, they fall in love just like us. Living here has made us slow down and realize that living a simple life is for us, it’s not for everyone, though.
To learn more, readers are invited to visit www.raisondartfrance.com.