French and Francophone Studies in Paris

5 January 2023

A Discussion with Faculty Director Scott Carpenter

The Louvre glass pyramid
Scott Carpenter headshot

What inspired you to plan French and Francophone Studies in Paris? What did you hope to accomplish?

I want students to experience a world capital — in all its complexities, contradictions, joys, and frustrations. (Well, we try to limit the number of frustrations.) Paris is the most vibrant city in Europe, and is home to a veritable melting pot of cultures. I want students to discover that richness in their own, personalized way. 

 What makes this program different from other study abroad programs?

First of all, it’s in French! Students who don’t have at least French 204 cannot participate. It’s also one of the few programs that practice deep cultural immersion: each student will leave with a French host family throughout the program. Also, this is the only Carleton program that has an option internship component during the summer: qualifying students can spend the summer in Paris interning with Doctors without Borders, the Orsay museum, a biology lab, or many other places.

What does a typical day look like on your program?

There are few “typical” days, but students will have courses at least four days a week. All but the director’s course are taught by local profs who are experts in their field. Every week we have an excursion or two — going to the opera, a jazz club, a theater, or into the bowels of the catacombs, or elsewhere. And we spend a week in Provence, learning about the differences between Paris and the provinces.

What does the housing situation look like, and what are the benefits of this living arrangement to students?

As I mentioned, all students live in host families. These may be in houses in the near suburbs or in apartments in the heart of Paris. Often this is the most important connection students have during their stay, and they learn loads of French from their family. Students often stay in touch with their host family for years and years!

What are you most looking forward to?

I love taking advantage of whatever cultural events are currently underway. And I specialize in the “unreproducible experience” — that is, experiences that students couldn’t possibly get by traveling alone or with a tourist group. Whether that’s rowing in the Bois de Vincennes or meeting an author or discovering the underground routes in Paris, it’s always an adventure.

What advice would you give to students to encourage them to study abroad during their Carleton career? What benefits do you see to the experience in general?

Study abroad is exciting — but it’s also a an exercise in humility. It’s good for us to experience what so much of the rest of the world lives every day: life when we are an outsider, when we don’t master the local language, when we don’t know all the rules. These are life-changing experiences.

Scott Carpenter is a Professor of French. He has been at Carleton since 1990.

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