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."
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."