An Incomparable, Magical City

Posted by Centre News in Academics, French, News, Study Abroad 06 Oct 2016

bike trip across the Rhine (1992)Unlike Athena, Centre-in-Strasbourg did not spring full-blown from the brow of Zeus—though the brows of Professors Karin Ciholas and Ken Keffer were certainly involved. Since 1949, Strasbourg has been a symbol of reconciliation between historic enemies France and Germany; before Centre-in-Strasbourg began in 1991, Ciholas had to reconcile the members of the sometimes contentious site-selection committee, convince then-President Michael F. Adams—who was admirably relentless in promoting study abroad—of its location, and then recruit students skittish about spending a whole semester away from Mother Centre. (Among other enticements, she passed out crepes in front of the library.) Though the program has grown into a stunningly successful 25-year-old, its birthing was no walk in the park.

Roxana Largen ’94 and Kyle Reardon ’93 recently recalled with sustained delight faculty director Keffer’s resilience and creativity in dealing with opening-year challenges. There being no classroom, Keffer ran the entire program out of his small living room. Soon after students arrived, one landlord expelled four of them, alleging they were a “sect.” Later, another summarily ordered seven students out of their apartment, saying he’d decided against renting to any “American liberal arts students.” And during an overnight bike trip into the Schwarzwald across the Rhine, a freezing snowstorm greeted the intrepid pioneers.

During the program’s second year, faculty director Eric Mount sat in on University of Strasbourg classes taught by the internationally famous “God Is Dead” French theologian Gabriel Vahanian—and then recruited him as a Centre adjunct Strasbourg faculty member. The Strasbourg friends Mount and others made soon enough became part of an elaborate web of international connections still enjoyed by many Centre faculty and students. In 2012, for example, a French family David Vitale ’07 met while studying in Strasbourg spent the Christmas holidays in Louisville at Vitale’s family home. When Professor Lori Hartmann-Mahmud led students to Cameroon in 2009, 2011, and 2015, her primary contact and guide was an African government official she’d first met while directing the Strasbourg program.

Not only French and German professors, but faculty from now nine other disciplines have spent a year or more directing Strasbourg—even unlikely types like myself who teach American literature: once Faulkner and Henry James have been dipped in a French marinade, they take on rich new flavors. The same for the Centre students and faculty lucky enough in the past 25 years to have lived and studied in that incomparable, magical city.

by Milton Reigelman
October 6, 2016

Article featured in the fall 2016 edition of Centrepiece magazine.

Milton Reigelman, Director of International Programs, directed the Strasbourg program in 1996-97 and fall 2004 and was co-director of the London program three times.

PHOTO: An overnight bike trip across the Rhine in spring 1992 was just one of the adventures of the first year of the Strasbourg program: (from left) Karen Mahoney Gravel ’93, Joan Sutherland Atkins ’94, Ken Keffer, Keith Amberman ’94, Roxana Largen ’94, and Bonnie Brame Edwards ’94.