Students and researchers of all disciplines imagine the sights, sounds, and smells of Paris. We all know them even if we have never been to this most visited city in the world: mopeds whizzing by at the speed of sound, scarves adorning each neck as if they were the national accessory, not one baguette making it safely out of the bakery without the tip being bitten off, and variations of mold that you could never have imagined edible at the cheese stands.
Now imagine the University of Chicago Center in Paris: a state-of-the art center where research can be conducted while staying in contact with fellow students and professors, a teaching center where undergraduates can complete a part of their studies, a sponsor of graduate student workshops that follow in the U of C tradition of interdisciplinary conversation, a venue of important conferences (such as that of the Modern Historical Society) and meetings of great minds (such as in the upcoming mini-conference organized by the Graduate Student Workshop), and a support structure that facilitates contact with the U of C back in Chicago.
As undergraduate and graduate students take part in the inauguration of this new University of Chicago Center in Paris, we would like to share with the public how the "Center" has benefited our studies and research and enriched our stay here in Paris.
The undergraduate programs offered by the College at the Paris Center include a yearlong study abroad program and five civilization programs which touch upon various divisions of the College.
Quarter-long programs are taught either by U of C faculty or faculty from various French universities. In addition to completing coursework from the respective curriculums, students also take French classes, the most advanced working with Sylive Garnier, the academic director and linguist at the Center, and participate in small-group conversation sessions that take place at various attractions in Paris.
In the yearlong undergraduate program students are registered at various French universities, with which the U of C has exchange agreements and work with Garnier in intensive French language classes.
Garnier's name is nearly synonymous with the yearlong program and the language program that she has developed in Paris. Currently in her 15th year of coordinating the program, she is a persistent advocate for students' ambitions and always concerned about their well being and personal development in Paris.
Although on average 15 students take part in the Paris yearlong program and next year's number promises to be even larger, this year there are only 6. Since all are studying at prestigious institutions in France, they have had top-notch, committed professors.
"I have also had an invaluable experience meeting some of the top biologists in the field, with whom I will continue to stay in touch as I pursue my studies and my career," said second-year Damien Ekiert, who has been doing laboratory research in biology at Jussieu Paris VI.
Likewise, at Sciences Po, France's prestigious political science institute, second-years Andrew Stalbaum and Diana Tatarchuk have had professors ranging from former finance ministers to presidential candidates, CFOs, and international scholars.
In addition to courses at their respective universities, yearlong students are offered a photography class taught by professor and photographer Christian Raby. Thanks to the course, students explore photography in arguably the most artistic city in the world and come away with memorable snapshots of Paris. As a tradition of the yearlong program, exhibitions of students' work are held annually in Paris and photos are then sent to Chicago to be displayed in Harper Hall.
Graduate student life at the Center can best be witnessed in the Graduate Student Workshop. Twice a month, advanced Ph.D. students from various disciplines across the humanities meet to share and discuss their research in this lively, convivial forum.
"I am sure that I speak for many in stating that the friendly and yet critical groups which gather in the workshops have been essential for the incubation and development of my dissertation. Continuing these scholarly exchanges with peers, invited professors, and Parisian intellectuals while abroad is invaluable," said Steve Sawyer, a Ph.D. student in history.
From time to time, outside specialists from both American and French institutions in Paris are invited to present research relative to the graduate students' interests. Most recently, Stéphane Gerson (assistant professor at NYU) was invited to present a paper entitled, "The French State and the Difficult Cult of Local Memories in the Nineteenth Century."
The culminating event of the Graduate Student Workshop's first year, and an event truly representative of the Center's ambition to nurture relationships between the University of Chicago and distinguished European scholars, is the first annual mini-conference entitled "Forms of Empire."
"Earlier in the year members [of the workshop] decided collectively on a theme of interest linking all of our work, eventually settling on the question of empire. On June 3 we will have the good fortune of discussing this topic with four leading scholars of the French academic community. In this way, the Paris workshop is not only a continuation of the strong workshop tradition in Chicago, but a great chance to benefit as much as possible from a year of research abroad," said Ben Nickels, a history Ph.D. student.
For both undergraduate and graduate students, the Paris Center reflects the U of C's commitment to preparing students for international opportunities which increasingly affect all careers, as demonstrated by the diversity of current Paris Center students.
With the inauguration of the Paris Center, the U of C's journey in Europe is just beginning. And with plans to expand teaching opportunities, graduate fellowships and the undergraduate programs, the Center will undoubtedly become a hub of intellectual exchange in the Parisian academic community, recognized for its cultural sensitivity, philosophical diversity, and its commitment to excellence.
Tatarchuk is a second-year in the undergraduate yearlong program and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. De Bruin, a graduate student at the Center, can be contacted at email@example.com.