By: Dr. Ben Semple, Director of Gonzaga-in-Paris
Gonzaga-in-Paris is a study abroad program for students who seek a transformative cultural and educational experience while also becoming immersed in French language in order to reach a high level of proficiency and the ability to use French as their everyday medium of communication.
France – the most popular tourist destination in the world and the distillation of centuries of history and culture – has a multitude of potential sites for a study abroad program. However, when Gonzaga founded its program in 1984, the university wisely chose to locate the program in Paris — the center of French political, intellectual, economic, artistic and cultural life – rather than a smaller provincial city. Whether students opt to spend a semester or the entire year in Paris, its opportunities are inexhaustible and range from visits to museums, theaters, and the opera, to taking in a soccer match at the Parc des Princes, going on a day trip to Disneyland Paris, or simply admiring Notre-Dame cathedral as you walk by on your way to class.
There is sometimes a misconception that Gonzaga-in-Paris is a program primarily for French majors. In fact, a semester or a year in Paris is entirely compatible with a range of majors, including International Relations, Political Science, History, Art, Business, Psychology, English, Sociology, Public Relations, and others. Language study enhances all of these majors, not only by providing the resume-building skill of language proficiency, but also by giving students a broader vision of their major discipline when they see its foundational knowledge and methods articulated in another culture. It may also come as a surprise to parents and students that the level of French required to participate in the program is not exceedingly high. Students can be ready for successful immersion with as little as two or three semesters of college French.
The beauty of a full-immersion experience is that every moment, whether inside or outside of the classroom, becomes a valuable learning opportunity, a means both to build language ability and to enter into another culture and learn its values and perspectives. When our students are not in class at the Institut Catholique de Paris (a private French university located in the heart of the Latin Quarter), they participate in a wide range of activities outside of the classroom. They socialize with their new-found friends, travel throughout France, hold part-time jobs, and engage in service; the need to use French language and cross-cultural skills permeates every facet of their daily life.
Gonzaga-in-Paris gives students a global outlook, a capacity for flexibility, and a sense of confidence that comes from knowing you can adapt to new and challenging situations; these are qualities of immeasurable importance to young adults in our rapidly changing world. Given the self-assurance that comes from a successful immersion experience, it is not surprising that after graduation, a significant number of program participants choose to return to France or another French-speaking destination to pursue an advanced degree, conduct an internship, or work on behalf of service organizations. Our immersion program in Paris is the quintessence of Gonzaga’s whole person educational philosophy. I am now in my fifteenth year of involvement with Gonzaga-in-Paris, and I continue to be impressed by the remarkable personal growth students achieve through their participation in this program.