Separated by 3,600 miles and six time zones, a Franklin & Marshall professor and a group of students began discussing plans for the fall semester earlier this week, thanks to the wonders of modern technology.
“We are live, broadcasting from Paris,” said Kerry Whiteside, The Clair R. McCollough Professor of Government, as he opened a Skype videoconference on Tuesday afternoon in the Patricia E. Harris Center for Business, Government & Public Policy.
Whiteside conducted the virtual meeting to talk about F&M in Paris, a full-semester, four-credit program that he is offering for the fourth time next fall. Designed for sophomores and juniors, the program fulfills multiple academic requirements while giving students a chance to experience French joie de vivre. Whiteside asked interested students to contact him by Feb. 23.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for students because Paris is a city of infinite depth,” says Whiteside, who is spending the spring semester in the French capital while he is on sabbatical. “Paris is one of the world’s capitals. The first thing I tell students is that you’re not just going to a big city, but one of the top three or four in the world in cultural interest and beauty.”
One goal of F&M in Paris, Whiteside says, is to encourage students to study abroad before their junior year. Students must have completed one year of college-level French and be in good academic standing to be eligible for the trip. “The study abroad experience is transformative,” he said in an interview prior to the videoconference. “I like the idea that a sophomore goes on the program and comes back with two and a half years of college remaining. There’s still plenty of time to use their improved language skills, to apply for travel grants and do independent studies.”
In Paris, students meet in small class sizes similar to a typical seminar at F&M. The students take two courses with Whiteside, both in English: French Government and Politics, and Cross-Perceptions: Europe-USA. They also take two courses taught by French language professors.
Whiteside designed the program with a liberal arts philosophy in mind. In one of his courses, he sends students on research missions throughout Paris—an improvement on the guided-tour model. “I took students on guided tours before, but you have a lot of distractions,” he says. “When they go out on research missions, they’re engaged the whole time. It’s an F&M-quality experience.”
Students live with French families in Paris, eating breakfast each day and dinner four times per week with their hosts. Winston Bowen ’11, who took part in F&M in Paris in the fall of 2008, says the home stay was one of the highlights of his trip. He also tells students not to worry about picking up the French language.
“For me, the language wasn’t overwhelming,” says Bowen, and economics major. “The way the program is structured, you don’t need to be advanced in French. But it’s a good opportunity to test your boundaries, and by the end, you realize you’ve made a lot of progress.”
Whiteside, who likens his experience leading the program to being a College House don, says the semester provides a deep combination of education, culture and memories for students.
“From the students’ perspective, this is a real bonding experience,” Whiteside says. “They share common bonding experiences all the time. They’ll form friendships in ways that will last.”