June 29th, 2010

Researching Lived Experience in Paris, France

         By Julien C. Mirivel, PhD

                                                       

                                           Paris 4 

                                           Group picture: Nyvelyn Shaw, Katy Rowden,

                      Amanda Wells, Julien Mirivel, Alex Long, Tracy Guilbeau,

                         Ashley Byrd, Andrew Pyle, Jill Gray, and Nathan Jeffers.

        

         The Indian thinker Jiddu Krishanmurti once wrote: “Our thinking is the outcome of our own very limited experience.” One way to strengthen a person’s thinking, and to cultivate in them a new lens through which to appreciate their world, is to create new experiences for them. In May, with the support of the Office of International Services, I did just that for 10 UALR students by bringing them into my home culture; we spent a full week in Paris, France together. The course, offered by the Department of Speech Communication, was titled “Researching Lived Experience.” Prior to departure, we spent five 2-hour sessions preparing for the trip and deepened our understanding of phenomenology. Upon their return, students wrote a report on what they experienced abroad and presented their findings in a public presentation. Teaching this course was a wonderful experience. Let me describe a few highlights.
         
Most of my teaching has taken place in the classroom; with a marker, a chalkboard, and a smile. Even though I interact frequently with students, I still have very limited contact with them on a daily basis. I assume this is true of most faculty members on this campus. On Friday May 14th, I found myself at the Little Rock Airport facing 10 students, some of whom had never flown before. Most did not speak French at all. No books, no notes; just human relationships to cultivate in a neutral environment. On the plane, I spent one hour and a half discovering Ashley, her dreams and goals, and her birthday; it turns out, we share many similarities. Then, it’s several hours to wait in Chicago. We’re finally on our transatlantic plane. By the time we reach Paris, we’ve already been together as a group for 15 hours. This is the equivalent of 5 weeks of classes on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule. To be honest, interacting with students on a daily, consistent, basis, learning about the details in their lives, and being responsible for them, was the highlight of my study abroad.
         During the trip, we dived into the city. Upon arrival, we immediately discovered the Latin Quarter, where the historic university of Paris, La Sorbonne, lies. One learning moment took place when we arrived at the “Jardin du Luxembourg.” As students gazed upon the site, they asked: “Is there a concert? What are these people waiting for?”

 

France 2         Paris 6

        

                  I was surprised that they could not understand the view: people were relaxing, spending time with family members, reading the newspaper, and living in the moment. Yes, very French indeed! We sat down together, looking a little awkward, eager to move on to our next view. This moment thus captures the important pedagogical difference between understanding and realizing. As Millman (2000) put it, “Understanding is the one-dimensional comprehension of the intellect […] Realization is three-dimensional — a simultaneous comprehension of head, heart, and instinct. It comes only from direct experience” (p. 15).
        
In a week, we experienced Notre Dame, La Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, le Chateaux de Versailles, Le Louvre, as well as the Eiffel Tower and les Champs-Elisées. Most importantly, we learned from each other during our morning class at the local cafes and created stronger ties during our long lunches and dinners. At first, students were often in a hurry to leave the table. On our last night, we ate from 8:00 pm until 12:30 pm. Today, most students miss the meaningful conversations that emerged at the dinner table.  

France 1         France 3

              During the week, students learned more about how deeply culture influences our ways of thinking, talking, and behaving. They also discovered much about themselves. Some experienced homesickness, others viewed their own culture in a new lens. As one student put it at one breakfast meeting: “I’m not shocked about French culture; it’s my culture that shocks me.” They also built memorable friendships, created memories for a lifetime, and often laughed together late into the night.  In short, when learning builds on living real experiences, students can simply grow as persons. 

 

                                          France 5

 

Andrew Pyle,
Graduate Student, M.A. Applied Communication Studies
 
         The opportunity to spend a week in Paris studying culture and the ways that people communicate with one another was life-changing.  Over the course of seven days I learned valuable insights about my classmates, my culture, and myself.  We had the chance to see beautiful architecture and artistic masterpieces; each day seemed better than the last.  I learned the value of slowing down to appreciate life as I experience it, rather than hurrying from one deadline to the next.
        
The most memorable moments of the experience occurred during our meals together.  We took time to talk with one another, to enjoy delicious food that was often new and unusual, and to appreciate the value of sitting, listening, and understanding.  The city of Paris is beautiful, day and night; French culture is fascinating and different from my own; and I would not trade the experiences that I was fortunate enough to be part of even if you paid me.  Everyone should take time to study in a different culture and have their eyes opened to the spectacular differences that define us.

LaDawn Moore,
Undergraduate Student, Department of Speech Communication
Learning to live is learning to let go.” - Sogyal Rinpoche
               
When you travel abroad, you pack along with a toothbrush, many assumptions and expectations about the places that you will visit and the people you will meet. I learned on my trip to Paris, France, that most of my assumptions were wrong and I had to let go of the stereotype that the French are collectively a rude bunch. My experience taught me that the French can actually be downright warm and friendly to foreigners.
        
 I was walking down the dusty street, my feet tired and ankles swollen, from the recent long plane ride, when I first smelled the sweetness of the baskets of strawberries. They were all lined up in a tidy display outside a small grocery. I chose my basket and went into the tiny store with its narrow aisles and looked for somewhere to pay for my delectable discovery. I spotted only one man crouched down, organizing shelves, wearing an apron. He saw me and smiled. I returned the smile and said “bonjour” and he said, “No-No”. I was confused. He then took the time to tell me, with his very broken English, why “bonjour” was wrong and how “bonsoir” was the right greeting. We went back and forth, trying to communicate and laughing as he made me repeat “bonsoir” until I had it right. As I left the store with my juicy, sweet strawberries, I realized I had made a friend. A friend for that moment only, and I learned to let go of the assumptions I had arrived with.
LaDawn Moore
Paris, France 2010

 

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 29th, 2010 at 7:35 am and is filed under France, Summer, Travel. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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