If you ask Breanna Felldin ’16 what compelled her to enroll in a challenging, interdisciplinary class that concluded with a trip to the capital of France, the short answer is this: “Who doesn’t want to go to Paris?” The more nuanced explanation is that Felldin has been studying French for six years and, from day one, she imagined herself in the City of Light (and testing out her accent). A biological sciences and psychology major from Afton, N.Y., she was among 17 students and one recent alumna who participated in a trip led by Professor of English Julie Olin-Ammentorp, Associate Professor of Sociology Farha Ternikar, and Associate Professor of French James Dahlinger, S.J.
It was an intellectual as well as a personal journey for the students. Over the course of 10 days, they made the stops you would expect of visitors to Paris, including the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower. But they also ventured off of that well-worn path, taking in the Basilica of Sacre Coeur, the Museum of the Middle Ages, and the Arab Institute. Beyond Paris, some of the students visited Lourdes, where the Blessed Virgin Mary is said to have appeared, and Chartres, home to one of Europe’s most beautiful gothic cathedrals. They did this while having to think on their feet when doing things such as negotiating directions and ordering food – in French.
“All of the students on this trip were by nature receptive, empathetic, excited and appreciative of the differences and similarities that exist between French and American cultures,” said Father Dahlinger, who spent three years in Paris as a theology student. “They began to build their own relationship with Paris, and with France.”
The undergraduates had taken either Literary Paris with Olin-Ammentorp, in which they read works of fiction and nonfiction closely associated with the city, including Edith Wharton’s A Son at the Front, Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon, or Diversity in the City with Ternikar, a course focused on exploring the religious and cultural forces shaping Paris today and in which they read works including Racism in France: The Civilizing Mission of Whiteness by Tony Jugé. Both of the classes emphasized something that has always been a critical component of a Jesuit education – a fuller and richer understanding of the global society in which we live.
“For many of the students, this was their first trip outside the U.S. and, for some of them, their first trip outside the Northeastern U.S.,” said Olin-Ammentorp. “They saw and experienced lots of things that are very different, everything from architecture to urban design to cooking, and this contributes to their understanding of the wider world.”
In short, the students came to understand Paris not just as a romantic utopia, but as a dynamic, diverse and complex city that, likes others, is being changed by globalization. That was a lesson Ranea Scott ’14, a sociology major from Georgetown, Guyana, took to heart. The trip complemented what she and her peers learned in class by allowing them to immerse themselves in a culture about which they had read so much, and challenged them to establish their own theses about what they saw.
“The most significant lesson that I learned is to be culturally accepting,” Scott said. “Although we talk about respect and acceptance, it is completely different to actually witness and dwell in a culture whose customs and traditions are not necessarily aligned with what your own. As hard as it may be initially, it is a blessing.”
For Brandon Sisson ’14, an English and theatre arts major from Schenectady, NY., the biggest lesson was learning about the mindset of an American in Paris.
“Though we weren't there nearly as long as Hemingway or (F. Scott) Fitzgerald, we got to get a little taste of what it means to be transplanted into a different culture and still think critically about your surroundings,” he said. “It’s sort of like looking at a puzzle upside down. The rules don't change, and neither does the picture, but how you put it together seems so foreign.”
The trip helped the students to see things with fresh eyes. During a trip to the Luxembourg Gardens, Allison Dolzonek ’16, an environmental studies major from Harvest, Ala., noted that “everything was neatly trimmed and manicured” rather than in “its natural state” – very different from her idea of an American park or garden.
“After seeing the Luxembourg Gardens, I'm interested in this idea of ‘taming nature,’ and how that benefits not only nature, but the people who live around it,” she said.
For her part, Felldin recalled that, for the duration of her time in France, she was in “sponge mode, soaking up the Parisian glory.”
“I know that at Le Moyne there is diversity everywhere, but going to Paris allowed me to truly appreciate that diversity and long to travel to other culturally diverse locations,” she said. “Not only do I want to see the world, but I want to see it through numerous perspectives.”