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Ford Center for the Fine Arts

Eric Kirchmann '91

Durham, North Carolina

Major: Chemistry

Now an M.D. and an assistant professor at Duke University, Eric's latest career endeavor is perhaps unexpected—a travel guide for visiting France.

When Eric Kirchmann '91 visited Knox for his first campus tour, he was being heavily recruited by schools with top-tier athletic programs and massive student bodies. Kirchmann, however, says that he was more interested in seeing a chemistry lab than a weight room. “In the end, education came first. That and the personal connections at Knox are what sold me,” Kirchmann said. 

Kirchmann says that he knew almost immediately that Knox was the right college for him. He was excited about the possibility of playing both football and basketball while still remaining focused on his studies. 

Kirchmann would go on to major in chemistry. For his honors project, he remembers working alongside Clara A. Abbott Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Larry Welch to look at the chemical separation of penicillin in milk, which he says had implications in the veterinary field. “Doing that work really set me in the right direction in the medical field.” 

After graduation, Kirchmann went to medical school where he became interested in psychiatry. That decision led to a career in the field that started in 1999. He began teaching in the Clinical Skills Foundations course at the Duke University School of Medicine in 2002. The course focuses on communication skills, physical exams, and bedside manners.

“I really think the desire to work with and help people came from my background at Knox,” Kirchmann said.

Now an M.D. and an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, his latest career endeavor is perhaps unexpecteda travel guide for visiting France.

The idea for the book came during a vacation. Forty years after meeting his wife, Courtney Kirchmann '91, in junior high school, the pair fulfilled their dream of visiting Paris. Though many of the main tourist sites were on the agenda, he says they focused more on the “hidden gems” of the country during their travels. The trip inspired Kirchmann to compile his experiences and write Your English is Better Than My French: Adventures in France and Hacks for a Great Vacation, which explores the joys of travel and celebrates the people they met along the way.

We didn’t understand French culture the first time we visited. We found ourselves doing things culturally wrong,” Kirchmann said. “As an American, you don’t know about a lot of social norms until you get there. You don't, for example, handle the merchandise in a store or self-reveal when you first meet. You don't touch food at an open market. We walked away from our first trip wanting to understand France more completely. That’s what this book aims to do–hopefully, it gives first-time visitors a better idea of how to travel in the country.”

Though he considered trying to find a publisher, Kirchmann ultimately decided to self-publish the travel narrative to retain as much creative control as possible. He felt like this would be a moment to fully engage with the writing process, learning the ins and outs of everything involved with taking his writing from concept to print.

My goal was not to sell a ton of copies but instead to self-actualize and help others learn from our mistakes,” Kirchmann said.

Kirchmann says that the decision to pursue the written word was a new challenge, but not completely unprecedented. During his time at Knox, he says he took a fiction writing course to explore his literary interests, and now felt like the right time to put those skills to the test.

Since releasing the travel guide in early 2023, Kirchmann says the response has been beyond what he expected. Though his career in medicine will be the focus moving forward, he expects to tackle another writing project in the future and continue developing his literary craft. 

You can follow Kirchmann’s travels and future writing projects on Instagram @erickirchmann 

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Printed on Sunday, June 16, 2024