As John Lewallen waited to hear which colleges accepted him, he knew that rejections come in small envelopes, and acceptances in big, fat ones. So when he first spotted the mail from Colby, he knew he was in.
“I was really excited to get a big envelope,” he said.
Chelsea Nahill ’10 (left) and Aimee Sheppard ’10 on the first day of college at L’Université de Bourgogne.
Dijon Photo Gallery
Students who study abroad sometimes find that adjusting to a foreign life is easier than returning to the one they left behind.
What came next surprised him. Yes, it was an acceptance to Colby’s Class of 2010. But the letter offered him a place on Mayflower Hill as of January, not August. For the first semester he could choose to attend a study-abroad program in Dijon, France.
To this atypical acceptance, Lewallen had an atypical response. “It sounded really neat to me,” he said last August, while sitting on a bench during one of his first days of college—at L’Université de Bourgogne.
As the semester progressed, Lewallen found he’d made the right choice. In fact, he was sad to leave France, he said from back home in Portland, Oregon, where his French host sister was about to visit this summer. “I really loved the independence of the whole trip, and the Colby program made it feel like I was independent but at the same time I was not by myself, I was with a group,” he said. “It was perfect for me.”
Most visitors would understand the appeal. This city of 150,000, less than two hours from Paris via high-speed train, has the attractions of a city while maintaining the qualities of a small town. The capital of Burgundy, Dijon is known primarily for mustard and wine. But the city offers so much more, including people who will spark conversations with foreigners in the farmers’ market (designed by Gustave Eiffel) that sells everything from peches de vigne (peaches that grow only in vineyards) to locally made Brie and Camembert. A walk through Dijon, even on a drizzly day in August when the gray sky blends with the beige stone buildings to create an almost colorless landscape, is certain to yield at least one manicured park and a bakery selling fluffy miniature quiches Lorraine.
New construction is mainly on the outskirts of Dijon, and the city center (“centre ville”) is marked by centuries-old buildings, pedestrian-only streets, and the gothic Notre Dame church dating back to the 13th century, complete with gargoyles. Dijon does not lack a modern flair, however, and would not disappoint shoppers seeking chic boutiques and open-air plazas for outdoor dining.
“I really loved the independence of the whole trip, and the Colby program made it feel like I was independent but at the same time I was not by myself, I was with a group. It was perfect for me.”
—John Lewallen ’10
Dijon may have been perfect for Lewallen, but not for everyone accepted into the program—at least at first. About half drop Colby as an option after they get those letters. Others decide (or their parents convince them) that it’s worth sacrificing a “normal” freshman experience to go to Colby, which for many is their first choice and/or their best option. Almost all, once they get to Europe, make the best of it, and upon reflection months later say they’d do it again. “Those who make the leap ... at the end of the programs feel as though it was a good decision and it was worthwhile,” said Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Parker Beverage. “Having said all of that, of course there is still that inevitable, ‘Ugh, jeez, I’ve been admitted for midyear, I don’t know whether I want to do that, it’s not what I was expecting, it’s not the way I want to start college.’”