Centre Abroad: My Strasbourg

Posted by Centre News in Academics, English, News, Study Abroad 05 Oct 2016

Madison Stuart outside Notre Dame in Paris, FranceMy experience of Strasbourg, much like the city of Strasbourg itself, was significantly, beautifully liminal. One of the first lessons our class learned about the city nestled on the border between France and Germany was how its culture has flitted back and forth throughout history, forming a conglomerate middle ground. In much the same way, studying abroad in Strasbourg was for me a perpetual flux between the local and the global, the personal and the collective, the moving and the grounded.

At first, what I remember most clearly are the simpler, smaller things—gray-blue mornings spent rushing across cobblestone streets to make it to politics class, the lump of partially cooked spaghetti my roommates and I shared for our first apartment dinner, the rustling glow of the Christmas markets. Tiny triumphs, like the first time I really nailed my order at a restaurant, or an afternoon before final exams spent talking about love at first sight with our French professor, Astrid, over hot chocolate and Christmas cookies.

There were also big things. Taking the metro from the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower, then running across the street and taking in a first breathless nighttime glimpse of the sparkling tower—only a month before the Paris attacks of November 2015. The sharp midnight knocks on the sleeper train returning to Strasbourg from Venice signaling that we were to be rerouted through Wels, Austria, as just that morning Germany had closed its borders due to the refugee crisis. Eerie echoes, like the lone church bell cradling an Amsterdam morning spent walking through the Anne Frank house; the film footage projected onto the walls at Natzweiler-Struthof of Hitler entering the Strasbourg Cathedral, crossing the same steps where a few weeks earlier my lost iPhone had been picked up by an old couple and mailed safely back to me from Darmstadt, Germany.

And during this time I am in a liminal space myself. Three months of exploration—geographic, cultural, academic—solidified for me the beauty and spark that lies in the middle ground, in the coming together of distinct places within and without myself. Through this continuous back and forth, Strasbourg instilled in me the desire to remain always moving, changing, experiencing. Yet at the same time I remained remarkably rooted by the people around me and by the process of learning, whether watching a case unfold from the grand chamber of the European Court of Human Rights or joining hands to “pass energy” with a group protesting construction on the Charles River Bridge in Prague. My memories of Strasbourg zoom in and out fluidly from the living room of my apartment at 1b rue de Bouxwiller, to the blue-walled classroom overlooking Place Kléber, then up and out the canals of the city, tracing the spine of the continent and swooping back down again to rest in the white spaces between words in my paperback Proust. And in all the commotion I am struck by growth above all else; filled with gratitude for the ultimate liminal space of learning—a bridge between past and future, evolution and stability, home and abroad.

by Madison Stuart ’17
October 5, 2016

Article featured in the fall 2016 edition of Centrepiece magazine.

Madison Stuart ’17 is an English major and Centrepiece intern who spent the fall of 2015 in Strasbourg.