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For 17 Lafayette students studying in France, their three-week course examining the novels of America’s most renowned expatriate writers provided dramatic cultural insights that reached far beyond the books.

They attended daily classes taught by David Johnson, associate provost, and Bryan Washington, associate professor of English, as part of the course A Moveable Feast: American Writers in Paris.

“We got into some really heated discussions about what Paris did for these writers and how the city served as their muse,” says Kiira Benzing ’07 (Ridgewood, N.J.), a double major in French and performance studies. “A lot of us found that as well. In the three weeks we were there, we found our own Paris.”

The students immersed themselves in French culture, examined different cultural forces that shape Parisian and American lifestyles, and visited parts of Paris that many American travelers overlook. They also toured world-famous sites such as the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, and Château de Versailles.

The Paris environment and discussions of the works of Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, James Baldwin, and F. Scott Fitzgerald provided an eye-opening experience for the group.

“We looked at the differences between the American and French cultures and, even though people had mentioned it to me, that was something I wasn’t really aware of,” says American Studies major Cadance Hinkle ’07 (Summit, N.J.). “They have an incredibly different culture than we have here. I don’t know if one is better than the other, but the experience definitely shed a lot of light on the differences and similarities between French and American sentiments.”

The course allowed students to gain a deeper understanding of France’s dominant cultural themes and to see Paris from a unique perspective.

“Being able to re-read the great material our professors gave us and then connect it to the places we were seeing made the experience so much richer,” explains Benzing. “All of a sudden, the chapters came to life on the pages. These are very detailed writers so you get a feel for what they experienced, but it’s not the same until you see it before your own eyes or walk the same streets they did. I felt a much stronger connection to the places and the writers. Re-walking Hemingway’s steps down the paths in the Luxemborg Gardens, I felt as though he was almost walking with me.”

Hinkle agrees that walking through the parks, museums, streets, and 1920s apartments of the authors helped the students visualize the experiences described in the novels.

“I actually had read all but one of the books we discussed previously, and it was definitely interesting to be able to see the streets these authors were talking about,” she says. “Paris has changed a lot since those books were written, so it was sometimes hard to imagine what those places were actually like. In some ways, it helped me understand the books in terms of the type of people who lived there and the essence of those neighborhoods.”

Benzing is adding to her experience this semester through another study abroad program in France.

“Having looked at the two different cultures and then transplanting myself and using my French language knowledge in this very different culture has made me a little more worldly,” she says. “I feel like I can engage more in the intellectual community in France because I understand some of the most prominent writers of my culture. People in a lot of other cultures read these writers, and now I can explain my own opinion and where I am coming from.”

The trip also helped the group appreciate their connection with the Lafayette community.

“I made some good friends while in Paris and went out with a couple of girls I knew and some that I didn’t know very well,” Hinkle says. “On trips like this, you develop a bond with people whom you might not have spent any time with before. I think those can be lasting friendships because you spend so much time together and will always have that experience together.”

Hinkle graduated from Summit High School in 2003.

Benzing received the Gilbert Prize for outstanding English achievement at the 2005 Honors Convocation. She participated in the performance of Sekou Sundiata’s The 51st (Dream) State, part of The America Project. She also played Alice in College Theater’s You Can’t Take it with You and Anya in The Cherry Orchard and has participated in other productions in various capacities. She is a graduate of Ridgewood High School.

Categorized in: Academic News