5/13/2008 Jill Colford Schoeniger ’86

Diplomats in Paris

F&M students find Ben Franklin in the City of Lights

Ben Franklin is ubiquitous. Hundred-dollar bills. Investment firms. Nearly any pub in Philadelphia. You see Ben’s mug in ads for every conceivable product and hear everyone from politicians to CEOs to parents still spouting his aphorisms.

So it should have come as no surprise to the students studying in the F&M in Paris Program last fall that they would run into, well, Ben Franklin in Paris. And it was one of the highlights of their semester abroad.

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F&M in Paris Program
F&M in Paris combines the adventure of studying abroad with the comfort of F&M. That’s because a group of up to 15 F&M students study, socialize and travel together, while also living separately in the homes of French families and taking courses at the American University of Paris.

Held in the fall, it is a semester- long, four-credit program designed for sophomores and juniors who have had one or two years of college-level French.

Program Director Kerry Whiteside, the Clair R. McCollough Professor of Government at F&M, designed the program and has led it for the past two fall semesters. In fall 2006 there were six students and in fall 2007 that number jumped to 13. Whiteside serves as the F&M point person in Paris, answering questions, scheduling trips and dinners and teaching classes. Back at F&M he is supported by the Office of International Programs.

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Whiteside, who admits “he fell in love with Paris” while doing doctoral work in France in 1980, believes the program is especially beneficial to sophomores. “If they go to Paris their sophomore year, they have time left to build on the language skills they develop, get ideas for independent studies, do research projects or even study abroad again,” he explains.

The students take four classes, two taught by Whiteside and two taken at the College’s Paris affiliate, American University of Paris (AUP). Whiteside teaches International Studies 273: Cross-Perceptions Europe-USA and Government 372: French Government and Politics.

Students also take a French language course to work on language skills adapted for practical situations or can take a higher-level AUP course on literature or art taught in French. Their final course is chosen from among the many liberal arts courses taught at AUP, which have included French cinema, gender studies and art history.

While the students see each other in class, they enjoy some serious cultural immersion by living with French families, learning the language and experiencing their food and customs. The students all live with families on the Left Bank, within a 20-minute subway ride of where they take classes.

This part of the program is key, believes Whiteside, because it gives the students a European’s perspective on culture, food, transportation and society— a perspective only gained by living in the country.

In encouraging students to immerse themselves in the Parisian culture, Whiteside has a great advantage—his wife, Eva Hochberg, has lived in Paris for 20 years and provides valuable local information.

This immersion is complemented by a weekly group dinner at locations all over Paris and trips to museums and special events arranged by Whiteside. Two excursions are included as part of the program. This past fall the group traveled to the Brittany region of France and to Brussels to tour NATO headquarters.
F&M in Paris Meets Ben Franklin in Paris
Whiteside calls F&M in Paris “a work in progress.” Always adhering to the trademark pieces of the F&M experience—high-quality education, small groups, interactive learning—he tweaks the program based on what has worked and what hasn’t worked previously.

In the fall 2007 semester, he had to change on the fly when it came to his attention that there would be two Ben Franklin exhibitions in Paris opening while the group was there.

“I was planning to study the Holocaust as the fourth part of the International Studies course, Cross-Perspectives, Europe-USA, but I decided to take advantage of this opportunity and rearranged the assignments to study Ben Franklin instead,” he says.

The two exhibitions were “Benjamin Franklin, Homme de science, homme du monde (man of science, man of the world)” at Musée des Arts et Métiers and “Ben Franklin: Un Américain à Paris” at the Musée Carnavalet.

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The American-curated “Benjamin Franklin, Homme de science, homme du monde” was an adaptation of the “Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World” exhibition created by the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary (of which F&M was a partner organization). This exhibition helped to celebrate Ben Franklin’s 300th birthday in 2006 and traveled throughout the United States.

As fate would have it, the curator of the international traveling exhibition was Page Talbott, whose son Adam Gould ’10 is an F&M student. She made special arrangements for the group to attend both exhibitions, giving a personal tour of hers on Dec. 5, 2007.

Talbott noted that the other show was curated by a French curator and that there was a definite difference to how the two shows were presented.

“Their show was fabulous because they had so many artifacts. The flip side was that they had so many artifacts. It was just jam-packed. Their show had 345 objects, and ours had 90,” she explains. “We were charged with creating an exhibition that would be attractive to people of all ages, from small children who knew nothing about Franklin to experts,” she continues. “We wanted our show to be fun, dynamic and interactive, mixing artifacts with hands-on activities, keeping the text to a relative minimum. I would say that our show was lighter.”

Whiteside took advantage of this teaching moment and used these differences as the basis for the group’s final project.

“The project was to compare the two exhibits in light of material that they had read about European and American values. Most important was an essay by historian Daniel Boorstin, ‘An American Style in Historical Monuments,’” he says. “The starting point was this simple fact: The Musée Carnavalet exhibition was French-curated, while the one at the Musée des Arts et Métiers was American-curated.”

The students were struck by the “do not touch” environment of the European exhibition. “All these exhibits are very precious and have been well-preserved, but they are, of course, untouchable at the same time,” writes Ai Luo ’10. “They create a distance that means the visitors can only learn about exhibits from an outsider’s perspective.”

On the other hand, the students found the American exhibit more accessible and lively. “Through its interactive displays, games and informative videos, the Arts de Métiers exhibit allows visitors to not just learn about Franklin, but experience him,” writes Christine Mitchell ‘09. Instead of forbidding ribbons across the chairs, “[this exhibit] welcomes you to take a seat in one of the many Franklinesque chairs that were built specifically for the exhibit.”

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The grandeur of the past was the focus of the European exhibit, and it used a large number of artifacts to back it up. “The intention of the exhibit seemed to be to impress the viewer with the grandeur of the painting and artifacts rather than to simply and directly convey information about Ben Franklin’s life and accomplishments,” writes Jenna Alsayegh ’09.

The students did not think the American exhibit wanted to impress or overwhelm patrons with all of Franklin’s accomplishments. Instead, it showed Franklin as a regular guy who was still relevant. “Benjamin Franklin himself no longer appeared to be a historic hero in the past, but rather a friendly fellow in the present,” writes Luo.

Franklin’s role in the larger scientific, social and intellectual movements was highlighted in the European exhibit, citing his intellectual kinship with Enlightenment figures such Voltaire and Rousseau.

But the American exhibit was more about his inventions and accomplishments, which reflects the American ideals of self-reliance and personal accomplishment.

“The Musée des Arts et Métiers was undoubtedly the one that portrayed Benjamin Franklin as an individual,” writes Vanessa Sarah Vincent ’08. “The very first thing one finds when entering is the virtual simulation of Benjamin Franklin’s first independent travels.”

As Whiteside gears up for the fall 2008 semester, he knows last year’s group enjoyed its chance to study the College’s namesake in Paris. Armed with a flexible curriculum, Whiteside will have his eyes open to see what other educational opportunities might arise and also see whether the ubiquitous Ben resurfaces.
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