By Dan Day, Office of Communications, February 2021
The long-running 207 F and Princeton-in-France program is reinventing itself for the summer, offering undergraduates an opportunity to improve their language skills and learn the culture of the country in a remote, virtual experience.
Although students taking part in the program will not literally be traveling to Aix-en-Provence, they will figuratively do so in a series of discussions and presentations June 7 through July 2, interacting with French citizens, including students, business, and civic officials as well as local families.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, the Princeton-in-France program was canceled for 2020, a decision that Christine Sagnier, senior lecturer in the Department of French and Italian, said was heartbreaking for her and co-program leader Murielle Perrier, a lecturer in French and Italian and associate director of the French Language Program.
While the 28 students who signed up for the program were disappointed, Sagnier and Perrier were determined to bring it back in a new form this year.
“We really wanted to take this challenge as an opportunity to innovate,” Sagnier said. “We are working with our partners in Aix to reimagine a rich educational experience in which the students will develop their language skills and explore French culture at national and regional levels.”
“We want our students to be shaped and have a cultural understanding of what’s going on there, and to reflect on their own culture as well,” Perrier said.
The program will be run through the Zoom and Canvas platforms. It will offer the students project-based learning modules, one of which will engage them in a virtual apprentice French journalism program. Students will learn how to do background research and interview in French, then speak with French officials and write a journalistic report suitable for publication.
Another module on French for business will provide an introduction to and intercultural training on doing business in France. Students will prepare a bilingual guide to doing business in France, a tool that will be useful for some of the students who, after the four-week program ends, will stay on to participate remotely in Princeton in France internships with companies in Aix-en-Provence.
A staple of the usual in-person program is attending the various festivals that proliferate in France over the summer. But because of COVID restrictions, most festivals are canceled or at best postponed. Rather than attending them, the students will speak with French sources about the cultural, economic, and other impacts brought on by pandemic restrictions.
The program aims to develop and instill critical thinking in the students. Project-based learning, which is the core of the program, allows students to work individually and collectively, to create a “community of practice,” but also to develop valuable “beyond-the-classroom” skills: organization, self-management, problem-solving, teamwork, negotiation, and cultural competency.
By the end of the four weeks, “they’ll feel good about the language,” Perrier said. “They’ll understand the culture and more about their own culture. By taking the class, they will have more competence and confidence and will be able to move forward with their academic and professional endeavors in the future.”
The program is a 200-level offering, typically taken by first-year students and sophomores.
Sagnier and Perrier acknowledge that planning to resume in-person instruction in 2022 is uncertain, but they hope to be able to return to Aix with students. If so, the program will have 200- and 300-level options, so that students who took part in the virtual experience this year will have a chance for a deeper experience in the country next year.
“I feel sad for our students (who cannot go to France), but we have to fight,” Sagnier said. “We are not going to be defeated by this pandemic.”
The deadline to register for the program (FRE 207F) is Friday, Feb. 15.