From France
to Florence

Classroom courses translated
to real-life experiences for
Oxford students during trips to
France, Italy, and Greece.

Oxford students recently traveled to Europe as part of experiential learning classes. Oxford students recently traveled to Europe as part of experiential learning classes.

Two groups of Oxford College students experienced concepts from their classrooms when they traveled recently to several European cities.

One student group traveled with Matthew Moyle, associate professor of French, to ask how the presence of places in literary texts corresponds with reality. Erin Tarver and Joshua Mousie accompanied a group of their philosophy students to historic sites in Athens, Rome, and Florence. They critically examined the question, “Is there such a thing as ‘Western Civilization,’ and if so, how did it come about?”

As part of Oxford’s commitment to global learning, students can choose from several short-term, faculty-led study abroad or study away courses a year. Global Learning at Oxford engages students with international education and global cultures.  Students this year also traveled to Cuba and Spain.

Making a French Connection

Moyle traveled to France with 12 students from his Topics in French course titled “Topographies.” Inspired by words from Patrick Modiano’s 2014 Nobel Lecture—in which the laureate explains how walking down a city street exposes the life stories of thousands upon thousands of people who walked there before—students carefully read and discussed a selection of French literary texts.

They examined how each writer is particularly attentive to the multiple layers of places in works including André Breton’s Nadja, Aragon’s Paysan de Paris, Modiano’s Dora Bruder, and J.M.G. Le Clézio’s Étoile Errante. Out of the classroom, the group encountered the places themselves during their eight-day trip to Paris and the Mediterranean coast.

Students explored the squares, hills, and beaches of Nice, seeing what filled the imagination of children in Le Clézio’s short stories. They visited the village of Saint-Martin-Vésubie and heard for themselves the water trickling through the streets that so charmed Esther in Le Clézio’s Étoile Errante.

“My whole life, I had never thought that the sight and sounds of a river could calm my spirit,” admits rising junior Sean Eagan of Covington, Ga. “Yet as I sat alone on the bank, I felt a perfect peace,” says Eagan, echoing the feelings of the character in Saint-Martin.

Moving to Paris for the second half of the trip, students witnessed the contrast between one of the few remaining glass-covered shopping arcades in Paris and the tree-lined paths of the Parc des Buttes Chaumont. Aragon describes the arcades as “human aquariums hiding modern myths” in the first part of Le Paysan de Paris and recounts walking through the immense park in the second part.

The group walked down the Boulevard Ornano in Paris, a place which launched Modiano’s inquiry into Dora Bruder’s life, and they paused nearby to discuss how the city’s decision to name a space after Bruder might have honored Modiano just as much.

For rising sophomore Vivian Huang of Princeton, N.J., “it was difficult for me to understand how people passed through these places before seeing the context of the places.”

Students also visited the celebrated Cannes Film Festival, walked along the Seine, and watched fireworks in front of the Eiffel Tower. The group enjoyed tagines in a small Moroccan restaurant and tried escargot in a busy brasserie. Students were proud of what they were able to do with their impressive French language skills. The trip “fostered a newfound confidence in my language-learning capabilities,” Eagan recalls.

Molly McGehee, associate professor of American studies and English, accompanied the group. She brought a wealth of experience from her own time studying in France, as well as insights from her research into how writers imagine Atlanta.

“Seeing the works come to life through our adventures was an unparalleled experience that I will never forget,” says rising sophomore Iman Ali of Chattanooga, Tenn., as she summed up the trip. “This course was one of my favorite experiences at Oxford so far!”

Is there really a
‘Western Civilization?'

It’s not every day a group of college students engage in a philosophy class discussion on the site of Aristotle’s Lyceum. Erin Tarver, associate professor of philosophy, and Joshua Mousie, assistant professor of philosophy, recently gathered with 14 Oxford students in an Athens park about the size of two football fields. Aristotle used to teach his students there more than 2,300 years ago.

Oxford continuee and Emory alumna Rhiannon Hubert, assistant dean for campus life and director of Student Involvement and Leadership, joined Tarver and Mousie on the trip. The Oxford group visited some of the most significant historic sites in Athens, Rome, and Florence during their summer trip. They critically examined the question, “Is there such a thing as ‘Western Civilization,’ and if so, how did it come about?”

The travel course supplements the first two classes of Oxford’s history of philosophy sequence, “Ancient Greek and Medieval Philosophy” and “Renaissance and Modern Philosophy.”

Students considered how the reception of Platonic and Aristotelian thought in various historical periods contributed to the development of the idea of the modern “West”—and how that idea has been used politically to obscure differences, or to consolidate power.

They observed this development through course readings, through the built spaces of Ancient Greece, Rome, and the Italian Renaissance—and in the ongoing negotiation of the relationship between contemporary Greece and the European Union, Tarver explains.

“Travel to historic sites makes the material of the course come alive for students in ways that just reading about it doesn’t,” Tarver says. “It helps us to see that the questions and problems these authors were wrestling with came from real people with real communities that are not too far from ours today.”

"I can now read ancient texts with new intentions to resolve moral and political problems we face in our contemporary world."
— Felipe de Almeida, rising junior

For rising junior William Zheng of Savannah, Ga., this course marked the first time he’d traveled internationally without his family.

“I can state without hesitation that it blew every single expectation that I had about Europe, about our notions of modernity, and about history,” he says.

For this year’s trip, the professors added a joint class session on Plato’s Apology and contemporary Greek and American democracies with students at the Philosophical School of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. Oxford students dialogued with their Greek peers while seated around a long, banquet-style table.

Last year, Oxford students met with Georgios Steiris, who specializes in Renaissance philosophers’ writings on classical Greek thought. This year, Steiris arranged for the group to participate in a joint seminar discussion with his class and view a special collection of ancient artifacts and a lab for preserving archeological objects.

Rising junior Nick Scarlett of Bridgton, Maine, embraced exploring the different cultures of the Greeks and the Romans firsthand. He describes eating the best Italian food, seeing the most important historical landmarks of the ancient world, and witnessing the most beautiful art forms of antiquity.

“This trip was unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life,” Scarlett adds. “It not only changed the way I think about Western culture, but it also enabled me to see the Western culture from a whole new perspective.”

For more information about Global Learning at Oxford, contact Jill Adams, director of Experiential Learning.

"Through my two weeks in these countries, I understood more than I could have possibly learned from a whole semester sitting in a classroom."

— Keaton Silver, rising sophomore