Passport to Colby

Passport to Colby

When students start Colby with a semester abroad, they arrive on Mayflower Hill with a different perspective

By Ruth Jacobs | Photos by Christopher Grant


During a break from this orientation session, groups of students walked around the city in the rain to explore and get lunch. Some ordered baguette sandwiches from an open-air sidewalk shop. Others went straight to buy their cell phones. One student, eager to start writing in a journal, searched in various stores for the right blank book. As she and her new friends walked into store after store, they made sure to say “Bonjour.”

Photo by Ruth Jacobs
Austin Scholl ’10 checks out a historic Dijon building.
Austin Scholl ’10 checks out a historic Dijon building.

While students have the option to study in Dijon, France, or Salamanca, Spain, they can also choose not to attend a program and still start at Colby in January. Few choose this option, though, for two primary reasons. Students who successfully complete one of these programs earn a full semester’s credit, keeping them on track to graduate with their class. They also make Colby friends, so they can start on campus with a core group.

While in Europe, students take a regular course load that includes intensive language classes. In France, they take Contemporary France, which Professor Weiss teaches, French History and Civilization, and Art, which in 2006 included walking tours of the city to study local architecture. Weiss’s class is held at the dining-room table in the Colby apartment, housed in a 1697 building constructed as a home for a wealthy family. On the first day of class students discussed stereotypes Americans have about French people. Why? They brainstorm. France didn’t support the U.S. in the Iraq war. Americans might see the French as snobby, arrogant, or super-intellectual. Others see the French as elegant and cultured. The conversation turns to how politics and popular culture affect perceptions, from the war in Iraq to the infiltration of American culture in Europe—and anti-Americanism. They discuss examples of Americanization in Dijon: American music and television, the use of English words, and McDonald’s, which sits in the center of the city, surrounded by traditional French cafés.

In Dijon, the learning is constant, from language skills to cultural understanding. For Beth Ponsot ’10, it meant going from being focused on an English major and a career in journalism to exploring new disciplines. “France completely changed my views on so many things,” she said. “Seeing how different the political world looks from an international perspective was fascinating.” Contemporary France class made her want to study sociology (she now is a government/French double major). “It made me realize that you can study things that are different. It doesn’t have to be what your best subject was in high school.”

The Colby programs also include weekend excursions. Last year the Dijon group traveled to the French Alps, the Loire Valley, and Paris, among other places. Beyond broadening students’ knowledge of France, these trips also gave them the chance to develop friendships.

Making friends, it turns out, is foremost on students’ minds. In Dijon, that happened naturally and quickly. Just four days into the trip they were posting photos of each other on Facebook. Pictures of them at the bus stop. At Flannery’s, an Irish pub. In front of Place de la Libération, a landmark building with fountains in the courtyard.

“We were all terribly, terribly close by the end. When we got to campus that January, that continued, and we’re all very, very good friends.”
—Alex Haskell ’10

On the first day at the university, following a placement exam for their intensive French language course, a group of four took the bus to go to Monoprix, Dijon’s downtown version of a big-box store, complete with clothing, housewares, a lunch counter, groceries—and school supplies. So many things proved challenging, like how to ride the bus, which bus line to take, and even which notebooks to buy. “I should have just taken stuff from the U.S.,” one student said in frustration as she picked up one notebook after another. Ultimately they settled on graph paper notebooks (which French students use), and that task, which they felt would have been so easy at home, was finally complete. At least they had each other. And months after leaving, they still do. These four students, like the vast majority from Dijon and Salamanca, requested their “European” Colby friends as roommates for the spring semester.

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