Following the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday, Nov. 13, stadiums and public and private buildings across the United States have displayed the French flag in support. It’s particularly appropriate that the six white columns on the front of Old Centre are being lit this week with the blue, white, and red of the French tricolor.
Of the roughly 300 Centre College students who study abroad each year, more study in France than in any other country: 66 in 2015, and more than that in some earlier years. As well, a class excursion to Paris was part of the Centre-in-London program for many years, and recently almost all students studying in London or at our programs at the University of Glasgow and the University of Reading travel to the City of Light for at least a few days on their own. Faculty from religion, anthropology and even chemistry have also offered CentreTerm courses in France during our three-week January term.
The strong relationship between Centre and France goes back many years.
Before Centre began its own semester programs abroad in 1990, Emeritus Professor of French Charles Vahlkamp regularly led groups of students to France during what was then a six-week winter term. And in the pre-1990 years, the late Robert Weaver, professor of music, always began his “Art and Music in Europe” course in Paris.
When Centre was deciding where to locate its second semester program (the first was in London), Karin Ciholas, a professor of French and German and then the associate dean, suggested Strasbourg, where she had lived as a young woman. Its location as the capital of Alsace on the eastern edge of France and across the Rhine from Germany turned out to be the perfect compromise between those on the selection committee who favored Germany and those who favored France.
Over the past 25 years it has been as popular with the faculty as it has with students. Since Ken Keffer, the H. W. Stodghill, Jr. and Adele H. Stodghill Professor of French and German, directed the first relatively small Centre-in-Strasbourg program in 1991, 16 different Centre professors have led it, including not only women and men from the French and German programs but faculty from all three academic divisions.
Centre students in Strasbourg live either in apartments near the center of the island city or in French or German homestays. They take courses in politics (Strasbourg is home to many institutions of the European Union), medieval and Renaissance art and architecture (the Centre classroom looks out on Strasbourg’s Gothic cathedral), French and the specialties of the director at the time.
Strasbourg’s location at the center of Europe makes it easy for students to travel to many countries on long weekends, and a trip to Paris has always been part of the Strasbourg program. This fall the trip occurred in September; no Centre students were in or anywhere near Paris during the attacks. And although Strasbourg is 300 miles from Paris, its city officials are meeting this week to discuss safety and security issues. The current director, Associate Professor of German and Humanities Ian Wilson, who is this year in Strasbourg with his wife and two children, is keeping in close touch with the Centre students and their parents during these anxious days in France.
When the students now living and studying in Strasbourg see the photograph of Old Centre lit up in the tricolor, they will know that the close relationship between Centre and France endures.
Vive la France!
by Professor of English and Director of International Programs Milton Reigelman
November 17, 2015