The USAC program arranged for the French Romantic Arts class to take two field trips of our own. The first was to the little resort town of Aix-les-Bains on the shores of the Lac du Bourget, which is the largest glacial lake in France. It’s famous because the French poet Alphonse de Lamartine wrote his poem “Le Lac (The Lake)” here. So we took a train on a Thursday morning, walked to the lake, and then sat down on a beach and read the poem out loud. We discussed the nature writing of Lamartine and Rousseau while the breeze blew through the trees and across the water.
The second field trip was to the the Musee des Beaux-Arts, and it was part of a major assignment. Each of us had selected a painting that was in the museum to research and give a short presentation in class before the museum trip. Ideally, as part of our research, we would each have visited the museum on our own to look closely at the painting in “real life” rather than on a computer screen. In reality, the only student to do this was me. But this turned out to make the trip with the class so much more fun! It was like a mix between Christmas and a scavenger hunt as the students searched out “their” paintings and were so delighted when they found them.
These two field trips were my favorite days of the whole wonderful month. They exemplified the value of the “study” part of study abroad. Yes, we can read Lamartine’s poem or Rousseau’s meditations on solitude in nature anywhere; yes, we can Google Charlet’s painting Episode in the Campaign of Russia or Janmot’s 18-painting series The Poem of the Soul. But it is not at all the same thing as getting to walk along the same lake shore as Lamartine and look at the same mountainside. There is nothing like standing right next to the canvas where Delacroix stood when he held his paintbrush. The students came to understand this, and more than one remarked that this was the most meaningful class experience they’d ever had.
I’m so grateful I was able to watch these students each open into the joy of learning about art. None of them was particularly interested in either French Romanticism or art and literature in a broader sense. They just wanted to study in France for a summer and this was the only class that wasn’t taught in French. But each one of them did every bit of homework, attended and participated in every single class, and left four weeks later with knowledge and experiences and appreciation beyond what they’d anticipated.
I’m sold. I’m ready to apply to teach my own class for USAC sometime in the not-too-distant future. I will encourage my BSU students even more than I already do to figure out how to take some time to study abroad.
I am so grateful to the people who encouraged me to apply for the FIDA, especially Elizabeth Cook and Tom Hillard, and to the BSU Global Learning Opportunities office, Corrine Henke, Eden Taylor, and Ami Tain, for their financial and moral support.