The new Paris Center being created by the University will provide a number of significant benefits for study-abroad students in Europe, especially (and obviously) those in the Paris program. In addition to providing useful facilities and something of a “home base” for students in the city, the various colloquia, research opportunities, and interactions with French students promise to enhance the experience.
We find reason for concern, however, in the concurrent closing of the Tours program. The University seems to be forsaking breadth of choice in the study-abroad program for a perceived depth of experience. This kind of one-size-fits-all programming implicitly exalts Paris as the apex of the French experience: “If you’re going to France, you simply must stay in Paris,” says the study-abroad program in a faux-French accent.
We disagree. It may behoove students to live in Paris while studying French civilization, but the needs of French language students are quite different, and the wants of students are not all centered on the capital. Language students would likely find a smaller city, with a more patient populace and fewer distractions — like Tours, perhaps — a better ground for testing the limits of their vocabulary and accent. And taking away student choice is never a good thing — for every student who finds the newly-enhanced Paris program doubly rewarding, there’ll be another wishing he could experience a less cosmopolitan expression of French life.
We hope this is simply an aberration, and that the Tours program or one like it will soon return. The University has actively worked to expand the geographical scope of the study-abroad program in recent years, and we would hate to think they’re beginning to take steps backward rather than forward. The enhancement of some programs cannot come at a cost to others if the University hopes to build a world-class study-abroad program.