Volume 4, Number 2; September 2012
French Language and Culture Study Abroad: Reims, France, 2012
Written and developed by Carole Edwards and her students
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
This summer twenty-eight Texas Tech University (TTU) students took the less-traveled study abroad road to Reims, France. They took a leap of faith to contextualize all that they had learned on campus. Immersion is probably the most active learning experience one will ever take, albeit intimidating. In their own words, they chose to describe different aspects of the French language and culture study.
Dr. Smith joined Professor Edwards and her students for a cooking class in France.
Students in Professor Edwards' study abroad program enjoy the bread they made in their cooking class.
At the pond in artist Claude Monet's garden in Giverny, France.
Poppies bloom in Monet's garden in Giverny, France.
The Crown of Light in Reims, France.
The Venus de Milo in the Louvre in Paris. (All photos courtesy of Marsha June Day Smith.)
Danica King (business major) on stereotypes
Our culture helps to define our perceptions and stereotypes. It is no secret that in the United States the French are often thought to be a society of stuck-up and unfriendly individuals. My first exposure to French culture was Disney's picturesque village depicted in Beauty and the Beast. Clearly, all French people wear berets and carry baguettes, right? When I arrived in France fifteen years later, I had hoped to stay in a similar village full of beret-wearing, baguette-carrying French natives. Yet I found my preconceived notions to be only partially correct and little more than misconceptions. The French are set in their ways and true to their culture. But by studying abroad I have learned three main things about them. Showing an effort to speak French and understand their customs goes a long way. The French do carry baguettes everywhere, but in their defense, baguettes are the most delicious bread. And finally, if you want to catch sight of a Frenchman in a beret, you are more likely to find them in the military.
Zach Monreal (political science major) on language learning
Going abroad to France, I felt fairly confident in my French speaking abilities, and I was skeptical of the amount of progress I would be able to achieve in only one month. However, the Texas Tech University program in Reims has proved me completely wrong. Being fully immersed in a place where there is relatively little English and a strong culture, I was forced to speak and use French language skills accurately and in a more practical way than in the classroom. Without the safety net of being able to switch to English, I have learned how to express myself and speak more clearly than ever before. At the same time, being surrounded by spoken French constantly, it is surprising to me how many more words and colloquial phrases I learned, seemingly unconsciously. Having the opportunity to implement everything that I have learned in the classroom in a real-life setting has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I will always remember my time in Reims and my first genuine conversation entirely in French.
Karlissa Black (French major) on French cuisine
One of the most alluring things about studying in France is, of course, French cuisine. Chefs come from all over the word to study French cooking, and so I was eagerly looking forward to sampling as much authentic French cuisine as possible. The food was certainly not a disappointment, although I discovered that the world has a slightly skewed idea of what French cooking really is. Though I was in France for four weeks, I didn't eat a single frog's leg or snail, and many dishes that I considered to be "French" before arriving turned out to be the culinary equivalents of the beret stereotype. French cuisine, especially in the smaller town where we stayed, was more about the freshness and quality of the ingredients, and the care with which the food was prepared. We had opportunities to meet farmers who sell fresh vegetables to restaurants in town and participate in a cooking class that showed us how difficult it is to prepare fine food. Summarizing, the French food was one of the most memorable things about the trip, though it wasn't what I had anticipated.
Caroline Weir (French and political science major) on communication
Before arriving in Reims I was extremely anxious about communicating with French people. This anxiety began to subside when we visited our host university and met French students. Our new friends patiently answered our questions, assisted us with our French, and encouraged us. Each compliment and gentle correction left me thirsty for improvement and more knowledge and enhanced my adoration for the French. They hold themselves and others to a high standard when speaking French because they value the French language for its power and beauty. When I am corrected, I consider it an encouragement because the French want everyone to hear and understand the beauty of the French language. Living in Reims for four weeks has dramatically improved my ability to comprehend French and my confidence in my ability to speak French.
Juan de Loera (architecture major) on social life and cultural aspects
During my study abroad I got to really connect with various aspects of French social life. At the beginning of the program a welcome party was organized for the French and American students to meet each other. At the event we got to mingle and talk to different people that go to school in Reims. The people were very nice, friendly, outgoing, and as excited as I was to meet them. I subsequently made several new friends that I hung out with through my stay, thereby giving me the opportunity to learn about everyday life in Reims. Indeed, it seemed like every other day I was invited to go out to dinner, lunch, or drinks at night, and these events meant that we would be talking and eating for two or more hours at a time. Going out with my first circle in Reims allowed me to make additional friends. And I think I made some friends that I will stay in touch with for the rest of my life. Overall, the people I met were very welcoming and willing to share their culture. Through them I got to practice my French and learned a great deal from them culturally.
Shelby Thibodeaux (environment and the humanities major) on transportation
In Europe, the amount of public transportation far exceeds its accessibility in the United States. In Reims alone, arriving at your destination is easier by tram or bus than by car. Most native Reims students only use their cars to travel outside the city on weekends. Besides trams and buses, trains are very simple to use. One day I decided that I wanted to take a day trip to Epernay, so I reviewed the schedules online and went to the train station fifteen minutes before my train. I wound up spending seven hours in Epernay through a round-trip ticket that cost less than €10. Relying heavily on public transportation, however, is not without disadvantages. You have to be on time to everything, or you will be left behind. In contrast, in the United States most people have a car available. After my visit to Epernay, I decided to join a group in a day trip to Luxembourg. We relied on the tram to get us to the train station, but the infrequent tram did not get us to the train station in time. Nevertheless, we found an option through a train to Lorraine and a bus to Luxembourg—all taking only thirty minutes longer than it would have to been on the direct train. One other disadvantage of public transportation, of course, can be equipment breakdowns. For example, on our way back to Reims from Luxembourg our train broke down, and we experienced a standstill for an hour and a half. Fortunately, we were just going to Reims, but the train was continuing southwest about ninety miles to Paris, where the other passengers were likely to have missed their connections because of the breakdown. Speaking about the City of Lights, the Paris subway system is so easy to use. I remember telling my friend that if I lived there I would not know what to do with a car. The subway gets you everywhere you need to go, with abundant subway stations within easy walking distance.
Rickey Hodinh (biomedical engineering major, University of Texas at Austin) on gratitude to Professor Edwards
It has been such a pleasure being in Reims with you and the students of Texas Tech University. I have enjoyed myself so much, especially because I had the privilege of being in your class. Recommending this remarkable program would be an understatement. From eating eight French delicacies in one sitting at dinner to riding a bike at 6 a.m. around a castle, my experiences with French culture have been truly life changing. I've made some amazing friends thanks to this program and have learned so much throughout the course, especially from your humorous, yet insightful, tangents. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for creating such a stellar study abroad program. Who knew Texas Tech had such amazing professors?!
One of the most challenging aspects of language learning is to have students remain within the classroom while the professor tries to have each and every one of them envision what France is really like and how the French really act in their home country. Some of the most shared comments during the summer study abroad program were: "you were right!" or "you told us about that!" when I warned students about cultural moments they would experience. Immersion not only allows students to improve their language skills, but it also allows them to experience first hand the culture woven into the most basic aspects of daily life. As a native of Reims, I got to share and rediscover my own culture in an endless series of episodes during which young faces showed a variety of expressions, from laughter to shock to occasional amazement. Study abroad is, in a way, a lengthy fieldtrip during which students learn about themselves, their own culture, and that of their host. As students open up to different experiences, they get one step closer to becoming world-class citizens.
About the Author
Carole Edwards is associate professor in the Department of Classic and Modern Languages and Literatures in the College of Arts & Sciences.
Professor Edwards has begun talking with students about the French Language and Culture Study Abroad Program in Reims during the summer of 2013. If you are not already convinced of the glories of this program, we offer testimonies below from two independent observers: Diane Wood, TTU professor of French, and Marsha June Day Smith, Lubbock artist and art historian.
My husband and I had planned a vacation in France during May and June 2012, visiting World War I sites. After learning from Professor Carole Edwards that 2012 is the 600th anniversary of the birth of Joan of Arc, we changed our itinerary to attend the Reims's Joan of Arc Festival and to participate in the initial activities of the TTU French language and culture study abroad program. We were able to see the students' positive reactions as they experienced French food for the first time, attend the friendly reception arranged by officials of the Université de Reims and the students of English, and take advantage of the specially arranged tours of cultural sites. During our two-day visit with the students we accompanied them to the following events:
Although I had visited the city several decades ago, I did not fully appreciate how much Reims has to offer TTU students. The major eras of French cultural history are omnipresent in the city. The imposing Roman arch and the large collection of Roman artifacts in its museums bear witness to Reims's importance in Roman times. King Clovis, France's first Christian monarch was baptized here, thereby giving rise to the tradition of crowning the kings of France in Reims. Joan of Arc fought her way to Reims for Charles VII's coronation, displaying heroism that is commemorated by an annual Joan of Arc Festival. TTU students personally met a costumed "Joan" during the festival. They were able to trace the development of French architecture through the Romanesque, Gothic, Classical, and Art Nouveau buildings of Reims. They could also visit the Map Room of Eisenhower's headquarters, where the Germans capitulated, ending World War II.
Professor Edwards's careful planning set the stage for a very successful experience for our students. It is often very difficult for visitors to interact with the inhabitants of a foreign country. Professor Edwards took advantage of social media and arranged for our students to meet French university students via Facebook prior to their departure from Lubbock. TTU students were thereby able to make new friends quickly, which aided their improving abilities to communicate in French.
It's often difficult to predict how a student will react to a foreign situation. The feedback from participants was varied and universally positive. One student's comments emphasize the excellent cuisine of the region. (My husband concurs and believes Reims's croissants are the best in France.) Students describe how they traveled by train, some for the first time. Others even traveled to nearby countries. Another student reflected on her prior stereotypes about France and the French (berets and baguettes)—now replaced by a broader outlook.
Most important from my perspective is the fact that the students believe uniformly that their capacity to use spoken and written French improved significantly. These Red Raiders are likely to continue learning, both formally in classes and informally through the TTU French Club, movies, and more travel. As a result of their trip to France, they will discover their lives are richer and their outlooks are wider. They may even learn to make croissants!
Like Dr. Wood, I too was privileged to have the opportunity to be with Professor Edwards and her students for several days in Reims during May and June of 2012. The beginning of the semester coincided (not accidentally but planned by Professor Edwards) with the Joan of Arc Festival, June 2-3, which included medieval minstrels dressed in costume, games, and even an appearance by Joan of Arc herself (or a very good facsimile) riding a horse into the festivities area around the Reims Cathedral (Notre-Dame de Reims).
As a former art and art history student, I was absolutely stunned by the amount of beautiful architecture from various periods in Reims. Literally, walking through Reims, one can walk through time; the history of France from the Roman era through the ages of the crowning of all French kings at Notre-Dame de Reims to the Art Deco period to World War II and beyond. As well, one can view stunning works of art, like the magnificent Marc Chagall windows in the Reims Cathedral along with the other beautiful stained glass in both the cathedral and the Saint-Rémi Basilica (now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Within the Basilica is the most impressive "Crown of Light," an exquisite, enormous, gold fixture in the shape of an elaborate crown hanging from the ceiling. It contains ninety-six candles, which rim the peaks of the crown, and it is constructed so that a rope can be attached. From the floor, the rope can be lit, and fire travels upward to light all ninety-six candles in succession. This wondrous spectacle occurs only once a year on St. Rémi's birthday, which explains why there are ninety-six candles. Saint Rémi lived to be ninety-six years old. Also impressive are the Art Deco features of the Andrew Carnegie Library (built by the American foundation after World War I), and the Basilica's astounding and exquisite wall-sized medieval tapestries, which depict the life of Saint Rémi (437-533) and the history of Reims. Additionally, as one walks through the town, one can view beautiful frescoes on the outer walls of buildings depicting the history of Reims and other cultural features of the region, including the process of making champagne. Reims is in the heart of the Champagne-Ardennes region of France.
Professor Edwards arranged (in advance) walking tours for the students to view and study many sites in Reims, not with local tour guides, but rather with professors of art and history.
Besides the wonders of Reims, the study abroad site is only a short train ride away from Paris, where Professor Edwards's students could compare Notre-Dame de Reims and Notre-Dame de Paris, their myriad statues and gargoyles (430 at Notre-Dame de Reims alone), their rose windows, and their facades. And of course, once in Paris, TTU students had endless opportunities to visit dozens of art museums and to view some of the greatest works of all time. After all, only in Paris, only in the Louvre can one view the "three graces": the Winged Victory, the Venus de Milo, and the Mona Lisa . . . talk about "Wow!" moments! In fact (by chance or by my renowned lack of sense of direction), I got lost in the Louvre and was shocked to find I had wound up in an enormous medieval mote from a famous castle, completely intact! It was a rather disconcerting moment, but quite magical at the same time. I have visited the Louvre many times, but had never seen this, and I'm not aware of any other museum in the world where one can see a wonder of this kind.
Also, only in Paris, can one see the captivating, awe-inspiring, eight enormous water lily murals, which range in size, the smallest being approximately 19 feet wide, most of them being approximately either 27 or 41 feet wide, all approximately 9.5 feet high. They were created over a period of a number of years by Claude Monet (1840-1926) and completed shortly before his death. They are installed in the Musée de l'Orangerie, a space designed by Monet himself specifically to display these great works, his final masterpiece; and here we find more magical moments… The museum consists of two large oval-shaped galleries, each with four curved murals (oval so that the viewer has the illusion of being surrounded by and floating in an enormous peaceful water lily pond), and it has a glass ceiling (so that the effects of light at different times of day magically change the appearance of the paintings). This was Monet's intention, as it mimics how the light, at different times of day, changed the appearance of the pond he was painting. Here, we can step into Monet's shoes, see the light changes he saw, feel the peaceful, dreamlike effect this environment had on him, which he captured in these murals and this setting. While sitting in one of the oval galleries surrounded by the Nymphéas, I overheard a young woman say to her friend: "I could sit here all day and do nothing but just look at this one painting." If one can tear oneself away, from here it is possible to hop on a bus or train to Giverny, in Normandy, only twenty minutes from Paris and see Monet's home and walk through his enormous and beautiful gardens adjacent to the famous water lily pond (complete with green footbridges and croaking frogs). Here one can see and more fully understand the inspirational setting that led to the creation of so many of Monet's masterpieces. The small village of Giverny in itself is a little treasure, and includes an Impressionist museum just down the street from Monet's home.
Just the ride from Paris's Charles de Gaulle Airport to Reims alone is full of historic sights and monuments. Then, suddenly—like a vision—an enormous green field appears filled with bright red poppies, an image one sees in so many nineteenth-century French paintings.
I came away from it all with my mind so full of beautiful, amazing images and inspirations that I didn't know where to start trying to capture them in my own art. I can only imagine the thrill Professor Edwards's students must have felt experiencing this visual feast for the very first time.
In conclusion, when I related these experiences to a longtime family friend, an anthropologist and artist, she remarked how much she wished that she could have enjoyed such a delightful experience as an undergraduate and with an engaged professor to guide such adventures. She opined about Professor Edwards's mentoring excellence by quoting her mother, a similarly committed educator (Mrs. Mary Cook Berryman 1913-2006): "Oh yes, the Gift, [Professor Edwards clearly has it], 'to open up their hearts and minds and pour in the skills and knowledge that can warm the rest of their lives.'"
Vive la France! Vive Professor Edwards! Vive Study Abroad!
—Marsha June Day Smith