On July 9, Air France flight No. 009 landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport with 19 anxious Humanities II students from Geneseo onboard. I remember thinking to myself when I first arrived in the charming city of Paris that the experience would be an adventure. That most certainly proved to be the case.
What first comes to mind about Paris are the fine cheese and baguettes, the sparkling Eiffel Tower, a variety of the world's best wines and the scenic boat rides down the Seine. There is no doubt that all of this is thrilling, but for this small group of students, discovering how to live in a foreign country proved to be the most interesting experience of all.
We were lucky enough to be in Paris for French Bastille Day on July 14 - a national holiday similar to the American Independence Day. We visited the Eiffel Tower that evening for a fantastic fireworks show and afterwards wandered through the streets of Paris together. A few weeks later, many of us visited the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, located near the famous Arc de Triomphe, to watch bikers in the Tour de France finish their 23-day bike tour through various countries.
Still, some of the best parts of the trip happened when we ventured out unaccompanied. I located the Centre de Danse du Marais on my own and began studying ballet there under the direction of an elderly French teacher named Huguette Massin. By analyzing body language and some other common social cues, we were able to overcome the language barrier - no one but me spoke English - and communicate successfully with one another. After my first session, three of the women from class asked me to coffee.
Later if I was quietly reading on the first floor of the hostel where we stayed, I would often find myself in a conversation with students from Canada, listening to German house music at 2 a.m. or sharing travel stories with Spanish backpackers - definitely not your typical experiences.
The trips with our tour guide, Pierre-Jean, coupled with the guidance offered from our own professors facilitated an enlightening and educational trip. Reading about World War I and World War II doesn't hit home like it does when you're standing in the reconstructed Belgian town of Ypres.
A visit to the American cemetery proved to be a humbling experience as well. Nothing brings the horrors of war to life more than seeing firsthand the thousands of identical graves in straight rows, many marking unidentified bodies. We tried to imagine the men who stormed Omaha Beach in Normandy, the men who sacrificed their lives so we could stand there that day. That in and of itself was a memorial at its finest.
Paris truly had something for everyone. Between the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum and the crazy art exhibits and architecture at the modern Centre Pompidou, I think anyone would be able to find something of interest.
In the month that we were there, we traveled to the French cities of Paris, Normandy and Versailles as well as cities in Belgium, England and Spain. I promise that anyone willing to give the program a try would learn a great deal both about oneself and about humanity which, after all, is the ultimate goal of a humanities class.