The 1995 Brown in Paris cohort was one of the first — the program had only been established two years prior. Photo provided by Brown in Paris.

Date April 26, 2024
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Brown in Paris marks 30 years of innovative, immersive study abroad

Since 1993, more than 1,000 students have traded the familiarity of College Hill for the bustle of Paris in an unforgettable semester of language and cultural immersion.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — When Brown Class of 1999 alumna Anna Timone participated in the Brown in Paris program in Spring 1998, she didn’t have a mobile phone, let alone Google Maps to help her navigate the city.

Instead, she carried an address book and map at all times, deciphering the districts of Paris, known as arrondissements, and finding herself along the way.

Since Brown in Paris’s inception in 1993, more than 1,000 Brown students have done the same. Though the program has adapted to the world’s changing technological and social landscape over the past 30 years, it has remained constant in its vision: to fully immerse Brown students in French language and culture.

“The value of global education and study abroad at Brown is unquestionable,” said Associate Provost for Global Engagement Asabe Poloma. “It’s really part and parcel of what makes Brown’s academic mission and commitment to inclusive excellence that much more resonant — that we’re thinking about the world globally, and the world at Brown as well.”

To celebrate the program’s three-decade milestone, the Office of Global Engagement hosted several events over the course of the past year, including faculty talks and a crossover event between Brown in Paris and the Brown in Paris Alumni Club. A “30 for 30” video series, which features interviews with program alumni, offered a new video each week of the 2023-24 academic year, leading up to a culminating event on Thursday, April 25, at Brown’s historic Rochambeau House.

The cornerstone of the night was a panel discussion featuring Timone and four other past and current students who studied in Paris between 1998 and 2022. The five program alumni reminisced about their time in France, discussed how the experience helped inform their futures, and longed for the fresh French pastry on offer at every corner.

A study abroad experience unlike most

Brown in Paris operates differently than many collegiate study abroad programs.

There’s a strict language requirement: any student applying to the program must have completed a minimum of six semesters of college-level French. And once Brown students make their way to Paris, they don’t head to a satellite school where courses are conducted in English or otherwise tailored to foreign students. Rather, they’re directly enrolled in a French university — either the Sorbonne Université Faculté des Lettres or Paris VIII — taking classes in French where they are surrounded by native French speakers.

“The educational philosophy is completely different,” said Brown in Paris Director Erin Reeser. “And what we're proposing that they do with their semester is really step outside their comfort zone and push themselves to grow by thrusting themselves into a completely new environment.” 

Crucially, the program is open to students of any discipline. In fact, Reeser said, there are surprisingly few French and Francophone studies concentrators in the program — most are double concentrators, or they end up adding a French concentration after returning home. And while they’re away — much like when they’re at Brown — students have the freedom to pursue any course of study and are encouraged to be the architects of their own education.

“ That’s the beauty of doing this program in college: You have a lot of your regular growing-up moments, but you just happen to have them in French … I left thinking, ‘If I could do all of this in French, I got this in English!’ ”

Ivy Scott Brown Class of 2021.5 alumna

It’s one of the keystones of Brown in Paris and something former program director and Senior Lecturer Emerita in French Studies Annie Wiart is most proud of.

“We give students the opportunity to study exactly what they want to study,” said Wiart, who organized her first Brown in Paris semester in 1995-96 and was instrumental in helping to shape the program into what it is today.

Wiart recalled a chemistry concentrator who, while in France, wanted to study art history. Wiart was able to place her in a course on art restoration and conservation. Instructed by a faculty member who normally taught in the STEM field, the student got to put her scientific knowledge to use through a completely different lens.

More recently, in 2023, Brown junior Alex Tomkinson studied music in France — but back on College Hill, he concentrates in biology.

“That is really what makes the program extremely rich,” Reeser said. “It’s this mixing of different personalities amongst the students, but they all have that common interest in French language and culture.”

Independence and impact through immersion

Students aren’t just there to study: they’re learning who they are, and who they could be, in a completely different cultural context. By doing so, program organizers say students illustrate their willingness to accept a challenge.

The program offers a substantial amount of autonomy for students, who are responsible for nearly every aspect of their everyday lives, from grocery shopping to going to the bank.

page from a scrapbook
Students in the program documented their semester abroad through scrapbooks and photo albums. Photo provided by Brown in Paris.
“I think that’s quite surprising for most students coming from an American university atmosphere, who are used to the campus being kind of a liminal space between home and parental supervision and then adulthood afterwards,” Reeser said. “And this experience really thrust them into adulthood, because they’re required to do an incredible number of things on their own.”

Speaking to the packed room in Rochambeau House, alumna Ivy Scott, who studied in France in 2019, said it was one of the best things about the program.

“I learned how capable I am,” Scott said. “That’s the beauty of doing this program in college: You have a lot of your regular growing-up moments, but you just happen to have them in French … I left thinking, ‘If I could do all of this in French, I got this in English!’”

Tomkinson and Brown senior Tierra Peguero echoed that sentiment, agreeing that their confidence increased after conquering logistical challenges that at first seemed intimidating, like going to the doctor’s office or navigating daily life during la grêve — labor strikes that have a long history in France’s civil and political spheres.

The impact of the program on each student continues to last far beyond their semester in France.

Peguero shared an experience from the cinema while she was in Paris in 2022, where she sat next to a family with several children. During intermission, the kids were begging for candy, but the adults needed to use the restroom; so Peguero offered to take them to the concession stand. Her kind gesture turned into lively conversation, and Peguero later found herself in the family’s kitchen, where they taught her how to make galette, a round pastry. She and the family are still in touch, and they plan on visiting California, where Peguero will be working after she graduates in May.

For Timone, the alumna who visited Paris in 1998, the impact was direct. After graduating, she spent a few unfulfilling years job-hopping in the finance and production industries. It wasn’t until a volunteer opportunity that she realized she loved working with teenagers — so she went back to school for the proper certifications and became a high school French teacher, which she’s been doing for 19 years.

“A few years into [teaching] — inspired by how much I grew as a person when I was able to study abroad — I started organizing travel for students,” Timone said.