Major Choices

The Depa

Photo: Katherine Kinnear

rtment of French and Italian offers a liberal arts major designed to give students a thorough grounding in the language, literature, and culture of one or more of the subjects it teaches, seen as independent disciplines or in combination with other languages and cognate subjects. Its courses provide practical instruction in the French and Italian languages and an introduction to the history and development of those languages; the literatures and cultures of France and Italy in all periods, from medieval to contemporary; and literature in French written in other parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Students are also encouraged to complement their courses in French and/or Italian with related and varied courses in other literatures, in art history, history, political science, sociology, comparative literature, or other humanities subjects. Graduates in French and Italian go on to a wide variety of careers. Some undertake graduate study in literature or other disciplines; others enter the world of business or are recruited into management training programs. Our graduates have also won admission to the most prestigious medical and law schools in the country. Whether you are planning a career in the humanities, education, journalism, government, science, or business, the study of a foreign language, literature, and culture offers a useful and challenging option in your university education.

What Students Say

What is French and Italian?
What can you learn from it?
What is it like being a French and Italian major?
What are common misconceptions about French and Italian majors?
What kind of internships and international experiences have majors had?
How will French and Italian majors save the world?
Why would anyone want to date a French and Italian major?

What is French and Italian?

French and Italian is the study of anything and everything you want it to be (provided of course, that you are studying something related to French or Italian, however remote that relation might be). The major does have some structure in that you are required to cover the major historical divisions of your area of study—i.e. courses in the Medieval, Renaissance, Romantic, and Modern periods of France or Italy respectively—but beyond that you are allowed to explore your own interests. Students have studied everything from classical literature and art to the history of slow food and the development of modern cinema and European economics. It is truly a major for exploring and discovering what you love with help from devoted professors who are experts in their fields.
One frequent question asked of majors is whether they study language or culture. Even in lower-level courses, the answer is "both." From the first 101 course through upper level literature classes, professors combine guidance in the written and spoken language as well as cultural matters. The holistic approach of the Department to the study of French and Italian benefits students. The end result is that majors are well prepared to visit both countries with a strong grip on both the language and culture.

What can you learn from it?

What can't you learn?  Really though, being a French and Italian major gives you an understanding of and appreciation for a culture different from your own. To truly understand any culture, economy, work of art, or major piece of literature, one must first understand the perspective of the artist, writer, scientist, etc. By studying French and Italian, you are able to learn what authors really mean when they use certain words, descriptions, or turns of phrase. It is as if you are seeing the world through a new pair of eyes, a pair of eyes that has experienced a new life and can see things from many different points of view. You will examine everything with multiple perspectives, drawing connections and exploring new ideas that you might not have had before looking at them with your French and/or Italian point-of-view.

What is it like being a French and Italian major?

Being a French and Italian major is splendid in terms of independent work and departmental support. The French and Italian professors want to help you succeed. They are truly interested in your ideas and push you to exceed your own expectations.
For independent work, pick your adviser based on who you think can help you in areas where you are less comfortable; he/she is the one who can give you the most aid and challenge your ideas (in a good way). Don't be afraid to ask questions or ask for help. You can only get better by seeking the advice of those who have been in your position and can steer you in a direction that will bring the best results.

What are common misconceptions about French and Italian majors?

The question most often asked when you tell people you majored in French and Italian is "What are you going to do with that?"
The response is, "Whatever you want."
Don't think that you have to have a "useful" major when graduating from Princeton. Study something you enjoy! The Department of French and Italian teaches you to think critically, just like every major at Princeton. You will have skills that people don't have when you leave college, whether you study French and Italian or economics. So study something that makes you truly excited and that you can love for some time. It's worth it.
Don't assume that, as an FIT major, you'll be limited to jobs that require language skills or an interest in Baudelaire. In the rat race for i-banking and consulting jobs, FIT can actually give you an edge. Your major is different, coming out of a department of 13 students, not 250. You'll actually stand out. You see your professors every day, increasing pressure to perform well and meet deadlines, which you can emphasize in an interview. These working relationships will help you get stellar letters of recommendation should you choose a (more fun) route than banking, and majors have historically had great success applying for Fulbright scholarships and other post-graduation opportunities besides jobs in NYC. FIT expands, and does not limit, your chances for a lifelong pursuit of passion and happiness.

What kind of internships and international experiences have majors had?

This is an impossible question—impossible in that French and Italian majors have some of the most amazing (and diverse) internship and international experiences of any students at Princeton.
Studying abroad is a fantastic option and opportunity when you are an FIT major. People will spend a semester or year abroad and come back with a significantly better knowledge and mastery of the language and a better appreciation for their field of study. There are also the courses that FIT offers over the summer in quiet university towns in both France and Italy which are simply amazing. You will learn to speak the language better in these two courses than you could possibly imagine. Being in small towns where English is not spoken forces you to come out of your shell and embrace the language and culture in a way that would be unachievable were you to study in a larger city where more people speak English and you can get by with simple knowledge of the home language. The department also offers wonderful opportunities to travel within the courses offered at Princeton. One course on the history of slow food provided a trip to Italy over intersession to enjoy the various types of food of Lombardy and the Piedmont regions. The trip was unforgettable and something all involved will reminisce about for years to come.
Internships vary from working in Paris with investment banks, fashion designers, magazines and art museums to internships in the US with any industry you can imagine. Students have gotten grants to study wine production in Northern Italy, rap music in France, and political relations in Milan. If you are interested in a particular field of study, have a good adviser, and can write a decent proposal, the department and the university will help you to fund your study abroad. It's wonderful and definitely something to take advantage of.

How will French and Italian majors save the world?

Save the world?  Our talents are not those of molecular biologists curing cancer or those of pharmaceutical companies finding new chemical compounds that will be the next everlasting fount of youth. We are students of culture with interests that are wide reaching and completely different from one another.
We will save the world by bringing better farming systems and more economical ecosystems to independent US farmers. We will save the world by creating films that educate as well as entertain. We will save the world by teaching students to love and appreciate the views of others. We will save the world by being ourselves—diverse, interesting, and critical thinkers.
Sound a bit ridiculous?? Yes.  But it's true.

Why would anyone want to date a French and Italian major?

Is this a real question? Please. We speak the two languages of love and wear the most fashionable clothing to be had, whilst sipping the best wines of the world and sharing long, luxurious meals. Who doesn't want the FIT life?