Press release: GRCC students see France through culinary, art, architecture perspectives



Leah Nixon

Director of Communications




June 20, 2013 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — They were surrounded by French gothic architecture, famous art masterpieces and escargot, but everywhere they looked, Grand Rapids Community College students saw connections to their areas of study back home.

Seven GRCC students recently returned from a 10-day trip to France, part of Hillery Haney’s French Culture and Civilization course offered in the first of the two summer sessions. Institutions and landmarks from the north to the west of France became extensions of GRCC classrooms as students learned about French culture through art, history and language.

For art history student Hannah Geelhoed, the trip was all about the cathedrals, and the breath-taking impact of them that first brought tears to her eyes. Notre Dame de Paris is marking its 850th anniversary. While it’s well-known, Hannah said she still wasn’t prepared for its impact in person.

“You walk in and you get instant chills,” she said.

She said her favorite cathedral was Sainte-Chapelle, even though it shows some signs of wear. The damage is an important reminder of just how old the structure is, she said.

Hannah Tawney, who plans to major in architecture, said the gardens of France have inspired her to take a closer look at landscape architecture. Gardens in France have many ties to architecture, with “hallways” to lead you through them and “rooms” with different features.

Catherine Huizinga, who graduated from GRCC in May with an associate in arts, said she was disappointed, at first, that she didn’t get to spend a lot of time studying the art for which France is famous. But after talking to Haney, she realized that she had actually seen a great deal of art: It surrounded her in the gardens, stained glass, architecture and even in the storefronts and in the meals served at restaurants.

“The food was beautiful, and then there was an art in sitting down and really enjoying it,” she said.

An artistic highlight for her was the medieval-era Chartres Cathedral: “It was cool to learn about it in my history class and then get to really see it.”

For Kara Faasen, who is studying French and culinary arts, the trip was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see masterpieces in French cuisine. For the French, cuisine is part of history, from Catherine de Medici’s introduction of Italian techniques to the modern Meilleurs Ouvriers de France, a title given to chefs and other craftsmen based on a grueling competition.

“Everyone wants to cook like the French because the taste is so pure and delicious,” she said, adding that fellow traveler Kelly Bevez was the only member of the GRCC contingent brave enough to try escargot.

Kelly Bevez said the French seemed eager to help the group of Michigan tourists and provided timely advice on routes and sites to see.

“My goal on this trip was to speak the language and speak with the French people as much as possible,” she said.

Megan Bouwkamp said the group learned to enjoy aspects of the French culture, especially the value people place on leisure time. The French don’t rush through their restaurant meals because they’re a time for good food and good conversation. The GRCC students adapted quickly — and were astonished and how much they enjoyed a dinner that stretched to four hours.

Many of the students said the trip gave them confidence in their abilities to navigate a different country — something that they planned to do again.

Haney, an instructor in the Language & Thought department, worked with GRCC’s Department of Experiential Learning and Study Away teams to plan the unique experience.

The trip is just the latest opportunity offered through GRCC’s Study Away program. Students in the Fashion and Interiors course can travel to New York, where they visit furniture, textile and accessory showrooms, a design studio and a museum, and complete a comparative merchandising analysis based on detailed observations. Students in GRCC’s Nursing program have the chance to spend nine days working with people in Costa Rica. The Irish Foreign Studies program also provides students with unique travel opportunities each year.

“Grand Rapids Community College is committed to providing a range of learning opportunities for students,” said Michael Schavey, associate director of GRCC’s Department of Experiential Learning. “Our faculty have a range of expertise, allowing the college to provide experiences like studying French culture while in France or learning about the many facets of fashion and design in New Your City. These experiences prepare students to be global citizens while earning a degree at GRCC and really bring learning to life.”

Considering a Study Away experience? Click here to get started:

Grand Rapids Community College, established in 1914, offers opportunities for more than 30,000 students annually in degree courses, certification and training programs, workshops and personal enrichment classes. GRCC holds classes on the downtown Grand Rapids campus as well as several locations throughout Kent and Ottawa counties.