Hamilton in France 2017/2018: the last days

Hamilton in France students have now returned to their respective homes in the USA; the program ended on May 20. Although the students’ last days in France were punctuated by end-of-year exams, they were also filled with happiness and love. Students enjoyed going out together in the city; they went to the last places they had planned to visit in their to-do lists.

During their last weeks in Paris, the group enjoyed a series of festive gatherings with the local staff and faculty to celebrate the end of their stay in France. They had couscous and tagines for lunch at a Moroccan restaurant near Reid Hall and then had a final repas gastronomique near the Latin Quarter. Finally, they celebrated the end of the year with a buffet at Hamilton’s offices in Columbia Global Centers.

Last dinner at a gastronomic restaurant in the 6th arrondissement of Paris
Honouring Pr. Roberta (Bonnie) Krueger who directed her last HiF program this year

Ram Franqui (’19) describes his last days with the program: “The experience during the final days with the Hamilton in France group were both extremely satisfying and sad. We shared many typical Parisian nights, making the most out of every last moment, laughter, crepes and kebabs. We were happy to finish classes, but our excitement was tinged with a slightly somber shade as we knew this would be our last au revoir. We all felt the urge to make the most out of all the details that had become normal to us over the course of the last semester or year.

When returning to the US, we will reflect on our time in Paris as one of the most nostalgic.

 

End-of-the-year video by Grace Myers:

 

A weekend in Normandy

Hamilton in France students recently visited the western region of Normandy. They started with a guided visit of Caen’s Second World War museum and learned about the history of the Normandy landing by American and British troops back in 1944 in this strategic region during the war.

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Students posing on the Pointe de Hoc

They visited the Pointe du Hoc, Omaha beach and the American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-mer during the afternoon. The Pointe du Hoc and Omaha beach are famous for the landing of the ‘Rangers’, those American soldiers who assaulted the German soldiers and bunkers occupying the zone. A few bunkers are preserved and open to visitors. Our guide told us about the bloody but courageous landing of the Rangers in the occupied zone.  

The group at Omaha beach memorial

Both of these places have served as ar memorials since the end of the war in tribute to the American soldiers who gave their life to free France and the Western world from tyrannical powers. The guide told us about the moving stories of US soldiers who were mostly quite young, including the deceased brothers who inspired the Spielberg movie “Saving Private Ryan”.

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The Christian and Jewish graves of the American soldiers who fought and died in Normandy

On Saturday evening, the group enjoyed a meal at a  gastronomic restaurant in the fortress city of Saint Malo in Brittany, before heading back to Normandy on the next day.

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Gastronomic restaurant by the sea in Saint Malo

On Sunday, our last day, the group visited  Mont Saint Michel, an eighth-century religious center which became a monastery and pilgrimage site in the twelfth century and has since served as a fortress, a prison, and now as a renowned World Heritage site. Students were astonished by the beauty and magnitude of the mount. A village surrounds the flamboyant gothic-style abbey located at top of the rock, which is itself surrounded by vast sandbanks and becomes an island when the tides are very high.

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Students posing in front of the Mont Saint Michel

The island was originally called Mont-Tombe but became known as Mont-Saint-Michel in the 8th century, when St. Aubert, bishop of Avranches, built an oratory there after having a vision of the archangel St Michael. It rapidly became a pilgrimage  centre, and in 966 a Benedictine abbey was built there.

The island, which was fortified in 1256, resisted sieges during the Hundred Year’s War between England and France (1337–1453) and the French Wars of Religion (1562–98). The monastery declined in the 18th century, and only seven monks were living there when it was dissolved during the French Revolution (1787–99). It became a state prison under Napoleon I (reigned 1804–14/15) and remained a prison until 1863. In 1874 it was classified as a historic monument and restored and became one of the most popular touristic spot in the world with 3 million visitors per year.

Morgane Guillou

You can watch the video of the weekend here:

A weekend trip in Burgundy

Students visited the wine region of Burgundy last weekend, March 17-18, 2018. On the first day, the trip included guided visits of Dijon, the capital city of the region, and the Château du Clos de Vougeot, a Cistercian winery built in the 12th.

The Château is set in the heart of Burgundy’s grand cru Vineyards and is the venue for many festivities celebrating wine. Students also enjoyed a dégustation in a nearby cellar, tasting a selection of the best wines from the region.

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Afterwards, the group enjoyed a night in a charming hotel in Beaune, along with a nice restaurant. 

They visited the Hospices de Beaune on Sunday morning. A hospital founded in the late Middle Ages, the Hospices Hôtel-Dieu of Beaune is one of France’s most prestigious historical monuments. Its architecture is flamboyant gothic with polychrome roofs of vibrant color. The Hospices are also famous for their 60 acres of vineyards producing prestigious wine, sold at auction on the third Sunday in November.

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For our final destination, students visited the Abbey of Fontenay, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1981. Built in 1118 by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, it is the oldest preserved Cistercian abbey in the world. After the French revolution, which led to the departure of the monks, the abbey was converted to a paper factory which preserved all the buildings of the Romanesque period. Since 1820, the Abbey of Fontenay has been the private property of the same family, which continues to preserve this exceptional site opening to public visit all year round.

Students had the privilege to be practically the only visitors at the abbey that day, and they marveled at the snow, which perfectly suited the peaceful landscape.

 

Video of the trip here:

 

 

“Learning to talk, learning to walk in Paris” by Ram Franqui (Hamilton ’19)

Day 2 in Paris, I decide to grab a quick bite to eat at a Vietnamese place in the 2nd arrondissement. I finally make it through the line and ask the Vietnamese man for a sandwich and a “nem au canard, s’il vous plaît.” In a thick accent making his question unintelligible, he responds, “Rechauffé?” Although I can’t make out what he says, I clearly see all the solemn French people behind me waiting for me to speak. I answer “non” very seriously to not seem ignorant. I come to realize what he asked as I walk down the street munching on a frozen nem. I would have loved my food warm…

Thankfully, I’ve made progress since my first days here in Paris, but these situations define me nonetheless. These instances stand as small hurdles that I overcame, indicating my integration into daily life. Now I speak to that same Vietnamese man at least once a week, sometimes eating lunch with him, and I always leave with my food warm. As time has passed, my ability to comprehend, to communicate, and to build relationships has progressed as well. From my experience, much of this refinement happens over a glass with my host parents or a cup of coffee with some French students who found me and my attempts at acting like a native endearing and entertaining.

Academically, this semester I am taking three courses at the Institut d’Études Politiques, mainly just called by its short hand Sciences Po, to satisfy requirements for my major in world politics; this opportunity is allotted only to yearlong students of the Hamilton in France program. The courses offered at Sciences Po include subjects ranging from the abstract such as “Theories of International Relations” which is a large lecture class with an associated TA session, to the very specific and concrete such as “Dynamics of the Global Economy: Macroeconomic Management to Structural Reforms.” I am enrolled in both and can say that the student body pulls from every continent and affords students an opportunity to interact with a diverse population of individuals unified by a common interest in politics with a uniquely French perspective. As a native Spanish speaker, I found the opportunity to speak the language I spoke back home in Miami with students from places like Colombia and Puerto Rico invaluable. It provided a much-appreciated sense of home. I can’t say, though, that I find the weekly 8AM TA session thrilling, but the red-eyed French graduate student with coffee stains on his scarf leading the session doesn’t either – we empathize with one another.

The IEP also provides multiple opportunities to participate in extracurricular conferences, clubs, and sports ranging from discussions on bioethics to boxing classes in the 6th arrondissement. These types of events, sprinkled in with the HiF excursions to other gorgeous areas of France like Marseille and Burgundy as well as the pervasive beauty and activity of Paris itself have made my time abroad extremely exciting and like nothing else I have ever experienced. Paris brings the old world together with the new world in a way I have never seen, mixing modernity with antiquity, producing all around beauty. Even if you want to do nothing all day but sit at a café, a perfectly French cultural activity, nothing feels like something and you will find yourself happily content. I am 6 months into my 9 month stay, and I can say with certainty that I made the right decision staying here for the year.

Ram Franqui

A weekend with the sun in the South of France

For their first trip after the winter holidays, students visited four iconic cities in Provence, in the South of France. They started with the Palais des Papes in the city of Avignon, which was ranked by UNESCO as a world heritage site. During the 14th century, the administrative center of the Catholic Church was in Avignon, displaced from Rome, until it moved back to the Vatican in 1370. This impressive fortress-like structure still contains some murals and provides beautiful views from the high terraces.

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The group posing in front of Avignon’s Palais des Papes

The next morning, the group headed to the Pont du Gard, a Roman aqueduct that was built in the first century AD by the Romans to transport water from Uzès to Nîmes. It is the highest of the standing Roman aqueducts.

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A guide allowed students to walk through the highest level, through the tunnel that conveyed the water.

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In the afternoon, they visited the town of Arles, which is also well known for its Roman arena and theatre.

 

Students posing in the Roman Arena and listening to the guide telling us about the story of Roman theatres

The third and last destination was the city of Marseille on the French Riviera. The city is the second biggest in France after Paris, and it is famous for its historic harbour and the Quartier du Panier. The ‘Mistral’ wind blew over Marseille but the sun was shining all day.

 

Students enjoying the seaside and Ram Franqui (Hamilton ’19) tries the ‘Bouillabaisse’ soup, a typical dish in the region.

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Taking a walk in the ‘Quartier du Panier’ and its street art collection on walls

 

Watch the video of the weekend here: 

 

An Alsatian weekend

Hamilton in France students had a weekend excursion to Alsace in November. Located in Eastern France, and close to the German border, the Alsatian region offered students the richness of its history and the pleasures of its gastronomy.

Strasbourg

Our first stop was in Strasbourg, where we spent two days. We walked through the city with a guide who told us everything about the beautiful cathedral and the history of the city. The architecture is one of the finest high examples of Gothic architecture and one of the tallest churches in the world. The city has shifted from being in German territory to French several times over the centuries. Students enjoyed the holiday decorations and the markets. The city is usually thronged with visitors during winter as its Christmas market is world famous, but the market was still being set up and it was not too crowded.

Strasbourg cathédrale

The group had diner at the restaurant “Au Dauphin” located just in front of the cathedral. They tasted a typical regional dish, “choucroute” made of charcuterie, sausages, potatoes and sauerkraut (brined cabbage), and it is gluten free! Tasty vegetarian dishes were also served, like the “tarte flambée” with cream, onions and vegetables.

Riquewihr vin

We departed on the next day to explore the “Alsace wine route” and discovered the beautiful city of Colmar. On our way, we saw the European Parliament, unfortunately closed on Sunday. While in Colmar, students visited the Unterlinden museum with majestic paintings of the Renaissance. They also had lunch in the cozy restaurant “La Brasserie des Tanneurs” where they all tried the traditional “tarte flambée”, which is another typical dish in the region. It is similar to a pizza, but it is flatter and made of cream, onions and “lardons” (small bacon bits).

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We headed to Riquewihr in the afternoon, where students visited a wine maker at the “Zimmer” wine cellars, and three types of wines. The city is on a hill close to the Vosges mountains, and it was brightly decorated with holiday ornaments. Students strolled through the city and took a lot of pictures.

Riquewihr

Testimony of Fred Guo (Williams ’19):November 18, Hamilton in France brought us to Alsace and it was my very first time. I really enjoyed the trip as I have been looking forward to going to Alsace since arriving in Europe.”

“It was really nice to visit Strasbourg since I have also been taking a class on the EU parliament and to visit Strasbourg meant I would be closer to one of the seats of European democracy! Apart from that of course, Strasbourg was very charming. We have had the great fortune of at least seeing the decorations for the Christmas markets. The streets were filled with decorations, stuffed animals and lights that were ready to be lit up. We also had some pretty good food at an Alsatian restaurant that is just next to the main Cathedral of Strasbourg. It was magnificent! The structure was tall and red and definitely reminded me a little bit about Game of Thrones when I was there.”

“If you are ever in Strasbourg, you cannot miss it! (literally, because it is also very tall!). We then visited Colmar, and the whole experience was also very charming. Before even arriving in France, I read articles online recommending tourists to visit certain towns and cities in France apart from Paris, and Colmar was definitely on that list”.

“Even though it was winter, the colors of the architecture and the Alsatian atmosphere was palpable and enjoyable! Be sure to visit it too for Christmas if you ever find yourself in France! As a student from Tulsa, Oklahoma representing Williams College, it was definitely an eye-opening experience and one that I am very grateful for especially with the spirit of Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up! Vive la France.”

After filling their heads with happy memories, the group returned to Paris by train that evening.

Watch the video of their trip: