Students travel abroad to absorb French culture firsthand

Departmental Lifestyles

While college students everywhere are considering their spring break travel options, eighteen Western students have been working on theirs all semester. Western’s HON 396 class, Nineteenth Century Paris – La Belle Époque, will travel to Paris March 8-11 to study French social and cultural developments of the time period and how they relate to modern French society.

ParisMissouri Western student Alyssa Smith is looking forward to the trip, in hopes it will help her to understand better French culture. Smith is no stranger to the study away program.

“Last year, I had the opportunity to participate in the Summer Study program in Angers, France,” said Smith, whose previous trip lasted three weeks and allowed her to take a class at a

French university. “This trip is a great opportunity for me because it fits in well with my interests,” said Smith, a marketing and French double major, who hopes her travels will prepare her for a career in international business.

“It’s a great experience to learn about another culture, and in doing so, learn even more about your own culture,” Smith said. “I am most looking forward to getting the opportunity to try

French cuisine, seeing all of the famous sites and just experiencing the French lifestyle.”

While sightseeing and the prospect of spending spring break in Paris sounds like the ideal vacation, students will be applying what they see to what they’ve previously learned in class.

“The theme of the course is the end of the 19th century in Paris,” said Susan Hennessey, associate professor of French and instructor for the course. “We will be looking at developments in French society at that time and how they relate to French identity.”

Over the course of the weeklong trip, students will be visiting sites they have been studying in class. Some of these sites include the Eiffel Tower, which was built in the 19th century and Notre Dame Cathedral, which was built centuries before but was immortalized in the writing of Victor Hugo in the 1800s. Students will also visit the famed Moulin Rouge, as cabaret greatly evolved in the late 19th century.

Another interesting site on the itinerary is French department stores. The department store is a French concept, with Paris being home to the first department stores. These department stores serve as a model for retail stores throughout the world.

“I am especially excited to get to visit the neighborhood of Montmartre,” said Smith. ”It’s a neighborhood with a lot of character, and from the Sacre Coeur, you can sit on the steps and look out across Paris.”

Study away provides students with the ultimate hands-on learning experience, allowing students to become a part of what they’ve studied in class.

“Seeing all of these places will really allow us to see first-hand all that we have learned about in class, so that they become more real,” Smith said. “It’s one thing to read and learn about places, but it’s another thing entirely to actually be able to experience them.”

While the focus of the trip is French culture, Hennessey feels students will come away with more than a better understanding of France.

“Students will gain a better understanding of how people live and also come to the realization that some of the ideas we have about other countries are based on stereotypes,” Hennessey said.

English professor Karen Fulton, who is director of the study away program, also feels study away gives students more than expected.

“It provides them with a whole different view of the world,” Fulton said. “They no longer see things through just the American eyesight.”

Fulton, who was appointed director in 2005 and has participated in study away trips of her own, has seen the importance of study away and its impact on learning firsthand.

“What I think happens is that as opposed to a page or an instructor talking about something, you suddenly have a real context to put whatever you’ve been studying into,” Fulton said.

“You can actually see the place. You’re actually able to visit and sit down. There’s a connection with the past that is just unreal, that you’re not going to get any place else.”

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