12/09/2014 Peter Durantine

Making Connections Half a World Away

Sixteen first-year students taking an "Americans in Paris" course this semester collaborated with eight sophomore and junior classmates spending the semester in the French capital to add depth and meaning to both groups' learning experiences.

More than 3,700 miles of mostly ocean separated the F&M in Paris students, who are examining European-American relations, from the students taking the Connections Curriculum course in Lancaster, so they collaborated in transatlantic fashion -- email, Google document sharing -- on studies related to the American experience in France, particularly in its capital.

"The way the Connections students engage with Paris from the other side of the Atlantic motivates me to be as thoughtfully critical as they are, and they remind me every time I talk with them of what a wonderful opportunity it is to be here," said sophomore Hannah Mooradian, in an email. "I hope they benefit from this collaboration as much as I have, and I look forward to meeting them during spring semester."

Through questionnaires, blog posts and regular check-ins, Mooradian and her fellow students abroad shared their Parisian adventures with the students at home. In turn, the students at the College offered their observations of campus events, such as the World War I Centenary and the Phillips Museum of Art's recently ended "Building Memory: Architecture and the Great War" exhibit, all related to the studies of those abroad.

"This is a way to connect students to one another," said Assistant Professor of French Carrie Landfried, whose course covers everything from the Founding Fathers to 21st-century humorist and author David Sedaris. "I really like the way they are connecting to upperclass students."

  • During a walk along the Seine, which winds through Paris, F&M students (left to right) Tessla Cerrato, Xiaoyi Zhang, Xiaoyu Wang, Kianna Wirts, Andrea Solis and Ann Hagner stop along Saint Michael's Bridge before visiting the historic Notre Dame Cathedral, completed in 1345 after 182 years of construction. Image Credit: Maria Mitchell
  • A trip to the Normandy coast brought students to the beaches where American and British troops landed during World War II on D-Day in 1944. Here, at what was then called Gold Beach, the students inspect remnants of Mulberry B, one of the man-made harbors the allies used to ferry supplies and vehicles from ships onto the beachhead. Image Credit: Maria Mitchell
  • "After walking up 400-plus steps, I made it to the top of Notre Dame Cathedral," sophomore Kianna Wirts says. The students found the view breathtaking and the gargoyle intimidating. Image Credit: Kianna Wirts
  • Sophomore Meredith Malcolm meets with Professor of History Maria Mitchell in the Café Mollien of the Louvre Museum to prep for a class on World War I. Their table overlooks the Jardin des Tuileries, providing an opportunity to review what they had been studying in class: the history of the violent destruction of the Tuileries palace in 1871 at the hands of the revolutionary Communards. Image Credit: Maria Mitchell
  • On Armistice Day, Nov. 11, F&M students watch French President Hollande in Paris honor the occasion at the Arc de Triomphe. He later inaugurated the "Ring of Memory," a new international memorial at Notre-Dame-de-Lorette in Pas-de-Calais listing the names of almost 600,000 soldiers who died on the battlefields of Flanders and Artois during the First World War. Image Credit: Guillaume de Syon
  • As Assistant Professor of French Carrie Landfried's students listen to a student tour guide explain the "Architecture and the Great War" exhibit at F&M's Phillips Museum of Art, the the students abroad were experiencing some of the history behind the exhibit. Image Credit: Carrie Landfried
  • While Assistant Professor of French Carrie Landfried's students were studying Chartres Cathedral on campus, the students abroad visit the town of Chartres and its renowned 12th century gothic cathedral, famous for extraordinary stained-glass windows and medieval statues. "We were fortunate to enjoy perfect lighting while in the cathedral," Professor of History Maria Mitchell says. Image Credit: Maria Mitchell
  • F&M in Paris students spend three days in October along the Normandy coast. "We began our trip at Mont Saint-Michel, a shrine to Saint Michael and a major site of medieval pilgrimage," Professor of History Maria Mitchell says. "Like many religious institutions, the abbey was a target of the French revolutionaries, who used it to imprison dissident priests. Today its bay is being re-engineered to restore its island origins." Image Credit: Maria Mitchell
  • Assistant Professor of French Carrie Landfried's class collaborate with the students abroad by sharing learning experiences, communicating via email and Google document sharing. Here, students read the results of their second questionnaire for the F&M in Paris students. Image Credit: Melissa Hess
  • For another perspective on "Americans in Paris," Assistant Professor of French Carrie Landfried's class views the 1951 acclaimed film "An American in Paris." Image Credit: Courtesy of Jerry Murbach
  • The students visit the Montparnasse area of Paris and are greeted by this view of the "City of Light" from atop a skyscraper. Image Credit: Kianna Wirts
  • Eduardo Alsina, one of Assistant Professor of French Carrie Landfried's class preceptors, collaborates with other students about what to share with the students abroad. "We built up a relationship with the F&M students in Paris," Alsina says. Image Credit: Melissa Hess
  • While students at home watch the 53-year-old film version of "An American in Paris," the students abroad attend the Paris opening of a new stage production based on the film. Image Credit: Theatre du Chatelet
  • Professor of History Maria Mitchell's class visits the Pantheon, the so-called French "temple of the nation," in conjunction with their study of the French Resistance during World War II. They went to see the memorialization of Jean Moulin, a high-profile resistance fighter, in the crypt. Image Credit: Maria Mitchell
  • French cuisine isn't as far as France. At the Joseph International Center on campus, first year students Heather Greenebaum, left, and Lexi Donahue help prepare crêpes for the class for Professor Landfried's crêpes and film night. Image Credit: Carrie Landfried

In an email exchange from Paris, Professor of History Maria Mitchell, who this semester is leading the F&M in Paris program and teaching the history and international relations course "European-American Relations" while in country, said such a collaborative effort works well on several levels.

"Between my class and Professor Landfried's class, we treat many similar topics. Whether they are American or not, all my students attend an American college, so they have experienced life as representatives of America in Paris," Mitchell said. "My students have benefited a great deal intellectually, and they appreciate that there are other F&M students following their adventures closely."   

The semester started with Landfried assigning two of her students to each of Mitchell's students. The eight groups of three have since been exchanging assignments and feedback via a shared Google drive. The first-year students developed a questionnaire for the upperclassmen about their initial experiences, hopes and expectations for life in Paris. In early December, near the semester's end, Mitchell's students evaluated their experiences in another questionnaire, which Landfried's class reviewed.

"We built up a communication with the F&M students in Paris," said Eduardo Alsina, a junior majoring in neuroscience and a preceptor in Landfried's class. "I think what is phenomenal is just the way the communication was structured."

Reviews by Landfried's students of Assistant Professor of Art History Kostis Kourelis' "Architecture and the Great War" exhibit were among the class assignments exchanged. The exhibit had featured architects who fought and then returned to Europe after World War I to help with the reconstruction effort.

Mitchell's students, meanwhile, reported on their excursions to French locales where the presence of Americans is indelible, such as novelist Ernest Hemingway's old haunt, Harry's Bar, in Paris, and the landing sites on the Normandy coast where American troops came ashore on D-Day, June 6, 1944, during World War II.  

For all of the students and faculty, the highlight of the semester was viewing "An American in Paris," inspired by composer George Gershwin's 1928 jazz-influenced symphonic poem. The students at home watched and reviewed the 1951 film version, while the students abroad attended a stage production at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. The show arrives on Broadway in March.

One of Landfried's first-year students, Elif Basci, said she enjoyed exchanging knowledge and insights.

"It gives you a different perspective, especially since they're F&M students and we can relate to them. It's a connection to the subject," Basci said. "When it all comes together, it makes sense and is very fulfilling."

From the enthusiasm expressed by the students, it's difficult to determine which class benefitted the most from the collaboration.

Said Mitchell of her students: "They didn't realize that as students from an American college in Paris they would be the subject of a class. They were inspired."

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