F&M Stories

My Student Experience: 'Night at the Museum' Could Never Compare

From a very early age, I knew I would be studying abroad someday. When you're 10 years old in Rhode Island at a French-immersion school, the “where” doesn't matter as much as the “when.” I wanted to see firsthand all the Francophone culture that influenced my upbringing.

It’s not a shock that I became a double major in French and history. The only annoying part is when people ask me, "What are you going to do with that?" Franklin & Marshall's community lets me sparkle and expand on whatever my nocturnal documentary binging didn't cover. I never dreamed that a course on French luxury would lead me to a semester abroad that I can only describe as a hallucination. Professor Cindy Yetter-Vassot is one of three gems in the Department of French. We have had so many conversations about my time abroad, and on whatever came up.

This is what I did in Paris in fall 2023 to elicit that hallucination.

I, as the determined young intern, wake up to the sound of French police sirens in the distance with pigeons flapping around my window. The opposite of a morning person, I stumble around to get dressed in a functional, but casual way. Because I’m a little groggy, it didn't register for the millionth time that I get to walk to the Arc de Triomphe to take the metro. Or the fact that my internship is in the same building complex as the Louvre (the cafeteria is WHERE?). Thursdays I get to live it up going to the Bastille area for class, swapping crazy stories with my peers about their week.

Eventually, I'm at work, doing little tasks in tunnels underneath the Jardin des Tuileries like some "Ratatouille" fever dream. I didn't imagine I would be getting stuck under a glass dress today. Luckily, the 40-kilogram work of art did NOT tip over on the mannequin; if so, everyone would have needed an aspirin. Usually, I fight the French Windows computer to format the condition reports, never remembering where that one symbol is on the AZERTY keyboard.

No matter what, I treasure the little coffee breaks where I chat with coworkers. And I pinch myself occasionally when a really cool dress gets placed on a mannequin. Never in a million years would I have thought an internship through the IFE (Institute for Field Education) program would be literally the subject of her wildest dreams---"I get to work at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs working on an Iris van Herpen exhibit? You're kidding."

Instead of "Ruth," I got used to being called "Rût '' because “h” doesn’t exist here, and seeing the Eiffel Tower on the walk home to the metro never got old. By the time the chaotic tech week is over, I met said fashion designer, who very kindly gave a stammering fan (me) her autograph.

My huge research paper became less daunting, possibly due to the fact I got through the whole experience without breaking anything, or gravely insulting anyone. I met amazing people in the department, who probably made me sound much more French than before I arrived in Paris. They are the ones who have let me grow, mature, and know eventually when to stop talking.

Going through the finished product on opening night with my colleagues, seeing it all come to life without Tyvek commercial wrap on the floor was crazy. When we came out, the credits on the wall said all our names, including "avec la collaboration de Ruth Axford." I may have happily cried walking home along the Champs Elysées, amazed at everything I accomplished in only four months.

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