Ask the Expert

What’s the value of an intercultural experience?

In his memoir as a young writer in Paris in the 1920s, Ernest Hemingway writes lovingly of that time as a “moveable feast.” He explains that throughout his life, no matter how widely he traveled or how much time had passed, the memory of that early intercultural adventure was always with him, a touchstone reminding him of what life could be.

This memory for Hemingway defined for him forever what constitutes a meaningful life. But what, exactly, did Paris teach him?

Like every student who travels and studies in another culture, the young Hemingway learned to see (and hear and taste and feel) the world from a different perspective. The inevitable comparison and contrast of where he was from (in Hemingway’s case: a stable, conformist, middle-class Chicago suburb) to where he was then (Jazz Age Paris where history and tradition collided with the avant- garde) awakened both his senses and his creative spirit.

By breaking out of the static familiarity of “home” and expanding his circle of experience with a wider, more complex world, Hemingway came to know himself—and the world—in deeper and richer ways than ever before. The Paris experience for Hemingway meant learning to be awake, learning to be alive, his whole body being alert to the pleasures and possibilities of the world around him.

Jefferson Hendricks ’75 is a Professor of English and Film Studies. For the past twelve years he has co-taught with Bruce Allen ’75 of the Art and Visual Culture Department a Paris Module on Americans in Paris: The Quest for the Good Life. This coming August he will co-teach with Dr. David Havird of the English Department a course in the Centenary in Paris immersion program entitled Writing Paris/Writing Home.

Read from publication.

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