Remembrance of Things Past
Alumni recall the Junior Year in France, now 50 years old
It was the year of Sputnik, West Side Story, the Civil Rights Act and the '57 Chevy. It was also the year in which Hamilton College began a bold new program in cross-cultural learning: the Junior Year in France. The plan was straightforward, the logistics anything but. A group of students, from a variety of disciplines but sharing a working knowledge of French, would travel to France — primarily Paris — for an academic year to immerse themselves in one of the world's most vibrant cultures, to live with host families, to learn about the world and — presumably not as an afterthought — to study at some of Europe's most prestigious institutions, in French.
The program's first director, Professor of French Marcel Moraud, defined the task: "Our program is to offer a challenging intellectual experience. Students living in a new intellectual, social and political atmosphere can acquire international understandings and appreciations and broaden their cultural backgrounds. They can satisfy the curiosity and interest of youth, and lose insularity and provincialism."
A half-century later, Hamilton juniors and students from other schools who enroll in the Hamilton program are still doing much the same thing in much the same way. When the Alumni Review asked former participants in the Junior Year in France program to offer their memories of the program and the March Cinquantenaire that commemorated it, the responses were as varied as the experiences themselves. But there was a clear common theme: gratitude for a thrilling, life-altering experience.
For a French Professor, being with students in Paris is the ultimate teaching experience in the most superbly appointed multimedia classroom imaginable. Every event—whether guiding a group through the Bibliothèque Nationale, tasting wine in a cave in Burgundy, or accompanying a bewildered student to the doctor's office—is a moment not only to hone the finer points of French style, but also to observe French attitudes toward education, the family, the body, politics, art, film, music and, of course, the table. I have become spoiled: I can't imagine teaching without Paris. It is truly a privilege to help students achieve the proficiency they need to study abroad, to witness their transformation in Paris, and to teach our fluent, bright seniors after they return to the Hill.
—Bonnie Krueger, Burgess Professor of French
A.G. Lafley '69: I returned with a different perspective on the world
In 1964, I was a kid from a small town in New Hampshire who had just graduated from Fenwick, a large, all-boys Dominican school in Chicago. My dad had me headed to the Ivy League: Cornell or Dart-mouth. Fenwick had me headed to Boston College or Georgetown. I chose Hamilton, and arrived at College Hill Road with the aspirations of becoming a teacher and basketball coach.
Hamilton helped me learn how to think, to write, to speak and, most importantly, how to learn — the cornerstones of leadership. This foundation prepared me for one of the greatest learning experiences of my life: a year in Paris (my junior year) to study history and politics at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques and art, cinema and drama at the Sorbonne.
Nearly every Friday night, I'd catch a ride from a truck driver from Les Halles, the historic flower, fruit and vegetable market known as "the stomach of Paris." On Sunday nights, I'd hitchhike back to Paris. That's how I learned about France and the French.
It was a year packed with emotions and experiences:
- The sights and smells of Paris at all hours of the day and night, a city steeped in centuries of history and art from Comédie Française to musical legends such as Edith Piaf, Maurice Chevalier and even Jimi Hendrix the year I was there.
- The senseless assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, which left me concerned for my home country.
- The drama and excitement of the révolution de mai '68, when students and workers took over the Sorbonne and the streets of Paris — an uprising that eventually led to the collapse of the de Gaulle government.
I returned to Hamilton for my senior year with a different perspective on the world and, importantly, a beginning sense of the person I had the potential to become. I left Hamilton in 1969 far better prepared than I appreciated for the twists and turns that took me to a Ph.D. program at the University of Virginia, to an airbase in Japan during the Vietnam War, to Harvard Business School and eventually to Procter & Gamble.
At every unexpected turn, I've been challenged to learn and to lead — two skills I began to develop at Hamilton.
(from Hamilton's Admission Viewbook, 2007)
Christina Tobin Krol '99: We were on a journey of a lifetime
It was like living a dream. Looking back, I wish I had ten years abroad as a student. My junior year in Paris was the most rewarding and challenging year of my life. It was the icing on the cake of my Hamilton experience.
As a (European) history major, I knew that it was essential to live in Europe, speak the language and fully immerse myself in the culture. As any Parisian would tell you, there's no better place to do this than Paris, in the heart of it all. Each day was an adventure, from living with a host family to exploring classes, theater, museums and neighborhoods. Also, I could decide on a Thursday night if I wanted to spend the weekend in Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Austria, etc., and all were just hours away, waiting to be discovered. I was essentially living an unending history lesson.
Much of my learning experience abroad centered on the French culture, and this was a lesson that my classmates and I eagerly embraced. Our group excursions, led by the indefatigable and exceptional Martine Guyot-Bender, were consistently entertaining and educational. And importantly, we always found a way to get more bread, wine and cheese! From the wineries to the Loire Valley, Normandy, Biarritz and beyond, we were on a journey of a lifetime.
I gained a greater appreciation of the world beyond Hamilton and the United States by living in Paris. In leaving the comforts of home and my native culture behind, I was forced to re-examine the United States from a different perspective, and this was a critical lesson. While there and while traveling, all of my conversations were eye-opening in regard to neighboring countries, their politics, cultures, religions and economies. These experiences enriched the educational foundation built at Hamilton.
Now Paris is like an old friend who is always there for me with an open door, and with plenty more to discover. I also gained lifelong friends and a family during my year abroad. And as I'm sure all HCJYF alums would agree, we learned a lot from the French and we try to incorporate the experience into our daily lives even now. When life gets crazy, it's important to enjoy fine wine, a long meal with friends and family, and to engage in stimulating discussion. Each day is a gift we should celebrate.
On a separate note, I have to express how grateful I am for the anniversary weekend in Paris, March 16-17. We celebrated, reconnected with old friends and met new ones, and it was done in true Hamilton fashion. It was a spectacular weekend. From the cocktail party at Reid Hall, to seeing old professors, touring Paris with our classmates again, and the highlight — dinner at the famous Ladurée — we were spoiled yet again.
Keith Daniel '69: A snootful of tear gas and life-changing choices
"Eiffel Tower's brown (Eiffel Tower's brown),
The Arc de Triomphe's gray (Arc de Triomphe's gray),
I went for a walk
On the Champs Elysées"
— sung to the tune of "California Dreamin'"
As our bus motored through northern Spain during that interim week between Biarritz and Paris, I strummed my ubiquitous guitar and we all sang the witty lyrics that (as I recall) Carl Waldman and Alan Lafley had appended to the Mamas and Papas hit. After six weeks in the sunny resort town near the Spanish border, we would be visiting Burgos, Toledo and Madrid before settling in Paris for the academic year. And what a year it would be.
I had signed onto the Junior Year in France program on a lark, having abruptly left the comfortable world of math and science midway through my sophomore year on the Hill, not knowing what I wanted to major in, much less what to do with my life. For me, conservative kid from a Nixon family, maybe heading off to Europe for a year wasn't a bad idea. We all quickly fell in love with our director, Franklin Hamlin, whose daughter was part of our group that year. I still remember his laconic stories, recited from the front of the bus or in the dining room at Reid Hall in Paris: "Vous savez, quand j'étais à Bowdoin ..." Frank guided us with kid gloves, and we responded by not getting into too much trouble (well, except for the time the bus was delayed because several students had been "detained" by Spanish police).
One of the reasons so many students wanted to go on the Hamilton program, and a reason that turned out to be fortuitous for me, was the freedom to take courses almost anywhere in Paris. I was able to study harmony at the prestigious Schola Cantorum, where Satie and d'Indy had been trained, and that allowed me finally to make the bold decision to major in music, in retrospect the most important decision of my life.
In April we heard, with the fresh perspective of foreigners, of King's assassination and Johnson's decision to "abdicate." Before we knew it, all of Paris had erupted in flames and protest. My roommate Langdon Brown and I went out one evening, ostensibly in support of our "brothers," the French students, but really just for a lark; we got ourselves a good snootful of tear gas.
As we all sat in a Reid Hall room taking a final exam, my Biarritz roommate and now lifelong friend, Howard Kessler, rose from his seat and said, in halting French, "I can't sit here and take a mundane exam while history is happening outside." To this day, I wish I'd had had the courage to join him in protest. Despite rumors that the "communists" had taken over our ship, we returned pretty much on schedule on the SS France. When I docked, my family told me that my cousin, a Green Beret, had been killed in Vietnam. What strange times, and what a year to be studying in France.
I look back now with fondness, remembering our vineyard visit in Bordeaux, where many of us sampled a bit too much of the product; remembering my Paris family, who hated everyone but the Parisians but who were so welcoming of us; remembering my weekly concerts by the ORTF Orchestra, which cost me something like six francs, and which ultimately made me decide to be a music teacher; remembering singing along at the tops of our lungs to the Beatles' "Your Mother Should Know" in the gardens of the Medici Palace in Florence during spring break; remembering the wonderful teachers who taught me and the kind man who directed the program. I will forever be indebted to the life-changing experience that was my Junior Year in France, 1967-68.
Mark B. Whitehill '76: Une année scolaire pas comme les autres
An incredible year punctuated by incredible events. My roommate in Biarritz and for much of my time in Paris has become a lifelong friend (Owen Griesemer from Wittenberg University). In Biarritz we put on Eugène Ionescu's absurdist drama, La Cantatrice chauve, for our host families, pre-recording the dialogue to add to the play's surreal nature. I and Florida beauty Marilyn Skinner were "married" in a Basque ceremony in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port; for our "honeymoon" we hitchhiked from Biarritz across southern France to the principality of Andorra. We would get lifts only when I hid in the bushes and emerged after the driver had already stopped upon seeing Marilyn!
In Paris, Owen and I had to switch families midstream owing to difficulties with the apartment covenants. We were then separated; I moved from the 9eme to the 11eme arrondissement, right next to the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise (where amid all the French notables, American pop icon Jim Morrison is interred). My second family of Mme de Lannurien was a single-parent household with two daughters, a young adult and a teenager, who often made fun of my French but who turned to me for sympathy regarding their failed romances.
I received expert language instruction from Mme Peyrollaz of the Institut Britannique and was tutored by Jean-Didier Sicault during my time at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques. He helped me negotiate the rigors of "Sciences Po" and assisted in the selection of my thesis on Le Sahara occidental. I recall that a year-long course at Sciences Po on Afrique du Nord was graded solely on the basis of a 15-minute oral exam by Jean Lacouture, among France's most renowned journalists. Talk about intimidating!
While in Paris I purchased a Fiat 128 hors taxes, which took me and friends on many wonderful adventures — to the D-Day beaches at Normandy, to Mont-Saint-Michel, to Nice for Mardi Gras, to Sweden on winter break, to Morocco during spring break, to Berlin, and, in the summer, to the Shah's Iran — overland through Eastern Europe and Turkey (where I found a puppy, christened "Turk," that with great difficulty I was able send home to my family in New York). Turk attended Hamilton with me for my senior year.
Finally, I will always remember the year abroad for the compassionate stewardship of Director Marcel Moraud, who made Reid Hall a second home for all program participants. Hamilton, je vous remercie!
Jack Markowitz '69: Could life have been any better for a budding novelist?
With all its faults, the one sterling feature that Hamilton offered me was the school's deservedly acclaimed study-abroad program. Spending my junior year in France was all I could think about from the time I enrolled until I was actually climbing aboard the SS France, steaming for Le Havre. As a French major I was offered the opportunity to study at the Sorbonne after a six-week summer sojourn in Biarritz. And as a budding writer, the thought of cruising Paris for a year and visiting the haunts of the Quarante Immortels was champagne to my imagination. At the time, I was very sympathetic with the philosophical and literary writings of André Malraux, André Gide, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. I couldn't wait to visit the fabled cafés and bistros that they made famous — the Deux Magots and the Café de Flore.
I was placed with a middle-class French family in a luxurious three-bedroom apartment that was located at 14, avenue Denfert-Rochereau in the mostly upper-class 14th arrondissement of Paris. I was within walking distance of the school's base of operations at 4, rue de Chevreuse, the boulevard St. Germain, the Latin Quarter and the Jardin du Luxembourg. In other words, I was in heaven. I lived with the woman who owned the apartment, whose name was Madame Marie-Louise Renaud, and another student who studied photography. His name was Jean-François Malamud, and we became good friends.
Fortunately for me, Madame was an excellent cook who pre-pared the evening meals for all of us. And she made sure that every meal was accompanied by an excellent table wine served with fresh delicious bread and a generous serving of at least one of France's best cheeses. Madame also enjoyed the company of her boarders and the dinner conversation, even though my French was more than a little rough around the edges.
Though my mangling of the language sometimes made her wince, Madame was sufficiently conversant with English to understand what I was trying to say if I had to abandon French and revert to my mother tongue. And Jean François was also able to serve as a translator in a pinch. So we all managed to get along very well together, each of us more or less keeping to our own rooms and routines until the evening dinner, which invariably turned out to be a two-hour affair. Dinner was never to be hurried or rushed, no matter what pressing engagement awaited or how much my studies were neglected as a result of these evening soirées.
As luck would have it, the year 1968 in France turned out to be a year of strife and revolution, just as it was back home in the United States and all over the world. Set against the backdrop of the unpopular war in Vietnam, the French students were in revolt against the de Gaulle government's policies with regard to the super-selective and ultra-elitist higher education system, which discriminated against the less intellectually gifted and the economically disadvantaged. Général de Gaulle responded with an iron fist, which caused the usually indifferent French middle class to side empathetically and politically, if not ideologically, with the radical students, who were also joined in the massive street demonstrations by most of France's organized labor unions. There were pitched street battles all summer long from May through September 1968.
No matter. Classes were still in session no matter how many barricades had to be traversed or how much residual tear gas hung in the air. I was attending classes at the Sorbonne, the Institut d'Etudes Politiques, the Ecole des Langues Orientales and the Institute de Phonétique as well as Hamilton's own required classes. Traveling to and from classes was like trying to traverse an obstacle course, except that the tear gas was real, and so were the police batons. I mean, seriously, could life have been any better for a budding novelist, poet, screenwriter? Could I have asked for a better backdrop to feed my nascent writer fantasies? I think not!
Martha Rundles '99: Fantastic people with an incredible connection
I recently returned from the Hamilton College Junior Year in France Program's Cinquantenaire, where five decades of alumni reunited in Paris for a weekend to celebrate our shared study-abroad experience. It was wonderful to come together with my old classmates in Paris — site of what we all describe as "the best year" of our lives.
For a stretch of four glorious days, my former classmates and I reflected upon the richness of our '97-'98 year abroad — reminiscing about fantastic excursions to remote destinations in France; lunching and dining with friends all over Paris; sharing cultural oddities from respective experiences with our families; grabbing a chocolat chaud before grammar class; visiting the great museums of Paris under the tutelage of our art history professor; and talking and laughing endlessly in Reid Hall. One of the main reasons that I chose Hamilton was because of the College's France program — and the actual experience did not disappoint.
One of the most rewarding parts of the reunion was meeting the alumni from other years. Even though the historical backdrop of our respective years ranged dramatically — from the Civil Rights Movement to the Monica Lewinsky scandal — amazingly, we all told virtually the same story about living in France, experiencing Biarritz, studying at Reid Hall and walking the streets of Paris for one perfect year.
Not only did my classmates and I leave the reunion recharged with the memories of our year abroad, but we met a new group of fantastic people with whom we share an incredible connection.
Thank you, Hamilton!
Alan H. Bath '51: A pioneering year at the Sorbonne
For the record, in 1949-50 three of us — Bob Richter, Jack Orem and I — created our own highly unofficial Junior Year in France. Bob took the lead. We petitioned the Hamilton faculty to accept credits from the University of Paris, were surprised by agreement and equally surprised to be accepted into the foreign students' program at the Sorbonne. We attended, completed the course and returned to Hamilton for our senior year, graduating with our Class of 1951.
I lost track of Jack shortly thereafter, but for Bob and for me that year marked the start of a lifelong fascination with France.