Texas Tech University

Making A French Connection

Doug Hensley

August 29, 2023

A new Study Abroad history class provided Texas Tech students with a memorable educational experience in and around Paris.

Erin-Marie Legacey and Ben Poole wanted to give Texas Tech University students a taste of France, so they put together a new Study Abroad experience that would allow them to learn about the country in ways meant to be educational, memorable and fun.

“We are both French historians,” said Legacey, an associate professor. “I am a historian of the French Revolution and the period afterward, and Ben is a historian of food, so we wanted to figure out how to combine both of our interests.”

Students in front of Eifel Tower

The enticing result: History, Food and Culture in Paris. The summer-session class, offered through the Department of History, began online with students completing reading and coursework ahead of an approximate two-week stay in Paris, where they dedicated mornings to traditional classroom instruction before afternoon journeys to the sites discussed in class. Students also journaled each day about what they had seen and what it meant to them.

“It was a really cool class, the way it was put together,” said Gabriel Valles, a junior history major from Lubbock. “You would study something like the French Revolution and then go out where things associated with the revolution took place. When you go see it, that makes it more real.”

Katy Boyd, a senior political science major from San Angelo, agreed the class was equal parts educational and enjoyable.

“My favorite part was to be able to study French history and then experience it firsthand,” she said. “I would recommend the Paris Study Abroad program to other students as it has been one of the most memorable experiences from my time at Texas Tech. I wish I could do it again.”

Legacey and Poole, who are married, have long hoped to put together a class that would allow them to share their love and appreciation for France with young people eager to soak in the country's rich and vibrant history.

Students in cave

“Both of us have lived in Paris a couple of different times in our lives and spent a considerable amount of time there together,” said Poole, senior lecturer and graduate teaching coordinator. “Since we came to Texas Tech, we have talked about the idea of doing a Study Abroad program in Paris and sharing that experience with students.”

The two worked with Study Abroad officials to craft the opportunity. From there, it was a matter of offering a dynamic educational experience that would allow students to investigate French history, culture and yes, even food in a uniquely structured manner.

“Paris is often seen as a capital of cuisine and gastronomy, especially in Europe,” Poole said. “It was also a great place to incorporate some hands-on activity.”

The class drew a dozen students who learned how to make baguettes and croissants at a French bakery. They attended a museum exhibition about the history of cuisine in Paris. They visited a cheesemonger, where they learned about different types of cheese and how they are made. They also made trips to the Paris Opera House, the French Catacombs, the tomb of Napoleon, the Arc de Triomphe and, of course, the Eiffel Tower.

“Because I teach the history of France and have sometimes taught the history of Paris, my idea was to teach about France in the morning and then take them to the places we talked about,” Legacey said. “They pulled all of these excursions together into an interactive map assignment of the Parisian sites. Instead of a research paper, they all contributed to the map with each site linked to an article by a student.”

Students around a table

For Valles, the class made exactly the kind of lasting impression he was hoping for.

“Study Abroad definitely offers a perspective you cannot get in West Texas,” he said. “We went to a different country, much different from here and much older, and we got to meet people from all over the world. It was amazing. We would go to these little places that were like holes in the wall, but they were full of the nicest people you could ever meet.”

The group's time in Paris ended with a trip to a traditional market, where they picked up food and had a potluck banquet to celebrate the experience.

“We were in Paris for only about two weeks, but the actual course ran the full summer term,” Poole said. “We had them complete a lot of the reading and writing assignments beforehand, typical online course content. That allowed us to maximize our time in France, doing these fun excursions.”

The class size was also manageable in terms of everyone being able to get around Paris and allowed students to build camaraderie.

“I thought it was the perfect size,” Valles said. “It was big enough where you could reach out to someone if you needed to, but not so big that you had an abundance of people. We had planned things and set hours for certain events, but you also could explore on your own, and so you could get together with a couple of other students and walk around.”

Legacey and Poole are already thinking about offering the class again, although next year would be complicated since Paris is hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics.

“This exceeded our expectations in every way,” Legacey said. “We can't wait to do it again. It is sort of to be determined at the moment, but we'd definitely like to do it again in the near future.”

The majority of the students in the class had not previously been out of the country, so Study Abroad literally opened a new world for them.

“I feel like I made the right decision going over there,” Valles said. “I would definitely recommend Study Abroad to people. It was an unforgettable experience.”