When Ben Hoyle ’15 and I met, I remember offhandedly guessing that he was probably from somewhere typical – a suburb of Boston, perhaps. Nothing about his demeanor betrayed a hint of foreignness, but after getting dinner a few times his international background became apparent. Though Ben was amidst a brutal tech week rehearsal schedule for an upcoming play he’s acting in, we found a bit of time to catch up on life – more specifically, life in America.
You grew up abroad, but when I first heard that I was surprised because you don’t have an accent, and you don’t appear particularly foreign –
That’s good to hear!
You’ve assimilated well, I guess.
I went to international schools for most of my life, and in most cases where I was, that meant British schools. But I have American parents so I was always speaking American English at home … when I moved back to France I didn’t speak French, but I went to a French school because there were no international schools. So that was a b**** for three years.
Did people think you were the weird, silent kid?
I was very much the weird kid. I would sort of walk around by myself and I didn’t play soccer either, which in France, was a social problem.
So you were born in Paris then you moved to … ?
Yokohama, Japan, then to Norway, then to Grenoble [in southern France], then back to Paris.
Do you ever wish you had adopted an accent from one of these places?
[Laughs.] So that I could appear more foreign?
I feel like the ladies find that fairly dashing.
[Laughs.] I could probably fake an accent if I really wanted to, if I really needed to that much. But I hope it wouldn’t come to that.
Do you want to do the rest of the interview in a French accent for me?
I’m not trying to woo you or anything, so I’ll hold back.
Fair enough. Back when we met, I heard a story about how you and your friends partied at your friend’s house in Paris – which also happened to be the American embassy. How’d that go again?
We didn’t go there often, but the one time that a party was planned at the American ambassador’s house, we were looking forward to it for like a month. But then a few weeks before, [my friend] was like, “Hey, turns out Hillary Clinton is staying the night. Looks like we have to cancel the party.” And we were like, “Come on man, that really sucks!” And they were like, “Okay, okay,” and they got Hillary to leave.
I mean, that’s what he told us. She might have left on her own accord … but still, it was a good party.
Not many kids can say they’ve had to plan a party around Hillary Clinton’s schedule.
I think we broke some things, so we didn’t have any more parties there.
Around the time I heard that story, in the fall, you told me that you weren’t doing anything – you actually had no extra-curriculars. What was that like?
Freshman year I did a lot of stuff. Mostly just theater, but that takes up a lot of time. And I decided my first semester sophomore year, I was just going to take time off, not do s*** and explore new things. I mean, I guess I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t explore new things. I went to first club meetings for a few things and decided that I just really didn’t want to do them. So my first semester there was just not much going on. And that was fun at the beginning, but then your schoolwork fills up all your extra time and that’s not too fun. So I’m doing another play now, and I’m enjoying it much more after being away.
What do you think of actually living in America now?
It’s cool; it’s not as surprising as I thought it would be. I came to the States twice a year for the summer and winter my whole life, and it was always very exciting, but now that I’m here it’s less exciting. Like, Taco Bell and stuff…
Wait, is it not exciting to live here in Williamstown?
[Laughs.] Surprise, surprise.
Whenever I’ve traveled in Europe or Asia the experience has been great, but at a point I start to miss certain things about America – like stores being reliably open and things like that. Is there anything about being in the States that makes you miss France?
It’s the little things. I mean, it’s mostly cultural things. Just the way people are and the way people act. Sometimes I like to be in a place where people aren’t wearing sweatpants.
Are sweatpants not a thing in Parisian high schools?
I mean honestly if [people wear them] it’s because they’re trying to be American. It’s a very American thing to do. I mean, my high school was kind of American but just walking around it was very different. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s just sort of a cultural thing that’s hard to pinpoint. But I do sort of miss that.
The lack of sweatpants is what you miss about France?
[Laughs.] If you want to put it that way. I also miss the bread. I love French bread. And now I haven’t been home since summer, so I’m having a little more homesickness that usual.
So I hear you’re going to be a math major, but interestingly enough you’re also really into art on the side.
Yeah, this is always a good tour guide fact: I came into Williams and I was like, “Oh I like math, I’m just going to do math.” But thanks to those wonderful divisional requirements that the College makes us do, I took “Drawing I” to fulfill a Div. I [requirement] and really liked it, and then I took printmaking last semester. And now I’m in architecture, which is a lot of fun. More math-y … as math-y as art can get.
Are you trying to reconcile your interest in art with your math side, or is it more a separate curiosity?
I like taking classes and pursuing interests that I can think about all the time. Like in the sense that I don’t need to be sitting in front of a paper and working on it. But I can always have math and art in my head, and I like working on things that way.
I feel like you’re sort of the model tour guide: You’re American but with an international bent, interested in two vastly different subjects, etc.
Guiding is good. I’ve had a few students come up to me and say, “Oh you were my tour guide!” And that’s kind of cool, a little bit of an ego boost. I mean [the tours] do get a little tedious, but I think it’s a good life skill to be able to fake enthusiasm.
[Laughs.] Fake enthusiasm for the school or just for being there, giving a tour?
Honestly, I don’t care that much if the people are going to come, but I still want to do a good job. I’m not always that excited about Williams or about certain things; our 4-1-4 academic calendar isn’t always thrilling, but yeah it’s good, I enjoy it.
Maybe that’s the actor side of you.
[Laughs.] Maybe so, maybe so. One time I was meeting with an alum because he was French, and so we were talking – he was class of ’54. Turns out he was in a production of The Importance Of Being Earnest, and had the same role that I did, and he did it on the same stage. So we like had the same part on the same stage 50 years apart, and he came on one of my tours. That was pretty cool.