Spring Summer 07

The Core


Living Legacy

Doc of Ages

Tour de Force


Editor's Note

Vox Populi

Ocean's Informants

Transcripts: Leaping from the 18th Century to the 21st

Secret History

Big Shoulders, Helping Hand

C'est Si Bon Bon

Oxford and Upward

Go Ask Alumni

Tour De Force

The University of Chicago Center in Paris puts the College's oldest study abroad program in a new academic neighbourhood. By Mary Ruth Yoe. Photographs by Dan Dry

Philippe Desan, the Howard L. Willett professor in Romance languages & literatures, and 2006– 2007 academic director of the University of Chicago Center in Paris, sits in his first-floor office, its windowed walls looking out on the rue Thomas Mann. Across the narrow street—which didn't exist a decade ago—is the new campus of the Université Denis Diderot Paris VII. Built in and around the old Grand Moulins flour mills, "Paris VII" will open its doors this fall to 20,000 French students—and 75 Chicago undergrads.

It's all according to plan. "We knew that they would move here," Desan says, as part of a 13th arrondissement renaissance that began with the 1996 opening of the Bibliothèque nationale de France a few minutes to the north. The result is a "pôle universitaire," a Left Bank neighborhood anchored by libraries and universities that offers a perfect launching pad for the center's two missions: raising the University's visibility in Europe and providing Chicago undergrads with the chance to study in one of the world's great cities.

The oldest and largest of the College's studyabroad programs, the Paris program took a giant step forward with the September 2003 opening of the rue Thomas Mann facility. This year 18 students enrolled in the Paris Academic Year, which includes courses taught in French at local universities, while 158 opted for quarter-long programs: civilization sequences (in English or in French) in fall quarter; in economics and the social sciences or in international studies during winter quarter; and spring sequences in humanities, French civilization, or mathematics. Students enrolled in quarter programs all take French; language coordinator Sylvie Garnier runs 11 levels of classes, from beginning to advanced. Garnier also arranges for each student to meet for conversation with a French university student. "When they stay here for ten weeks," she explains, "they can't meet French people" easily on their own. There's also an eight-week language program each summer; 16 undergrads enroll.

"The cultural experience is the key," Desan emphasizes. "Being at the University of Chicago for 25 years, I've seen time after time students spend time abroad and come back with their perspective changed—broadened. They don't have the single view of anything anymore." The center's staff, headed by Administrative Director Sébastien Greppo, work hard to turn students into real Parisians. "With the yearlong students," Greppo says, "we insist that they live in apartments in Paris. We want them to pay their electric bills, things like that."

Excursions and programs also introduce students to French culture. "We have a wonderful program on how to speak about wine, how to taste cheese," says Desan. "If you are in France, you have to know—cheese is very important." An excursion to the opera is usually preceded by study of the French libretto.

This year's quarter-program students were divided between two housing sites, but this spring the College hopes to sign a long-term agreement with the French educational agency that operates one of those sites, the Cité Internationale Universitaire, Paris's international student campus. The goal is to reserve 75 dorm rooms in the Cité complex, a park-like setting with its own post office, cinema, and café. The newly renovated rooms will match Chicago's Max Palevsky standards, with individual bathrooms and Internet access, and the Chicago students will be spread across three buildings: "We don't want to have a ghetto," Desan says. "We want them mixed in with other students."

Another step toward giving College students at the Paris Center the experience of being university students in France will come this fall. In an agreement with Paris VII, seven French students will come to Chicago each year while all of the Paris Center's students will receive a French student ID, essentially making them French students. The ID provides discounts on public transportation and movies and, more to the point, says Desan, "It will give them free access to the Paris VII library— which will be a great, American type of library, where you can walk between the bookshelves. They'll be able to use the cafeteria and all of the other services of the university. They can mingle with the French students."

And if ten weeks isn't enough to turn Chicagoans into Parisians, they can always come back. "Each year," says Greppo, "we have several students who come for a quarter and decide to stay on."




Tour de Force


Language lab

Centered on a courtyard, the three buildings meld classrooms, offi ces, language labs, library, and conference space.




“Culture is key,” says director Desan (above).