The future of Simpson College’s first study abroad program in a French-speaking country now lies in the hands of campus’ faculty when they vote at the next full faculty meeting on Dec. 2.
If it is approved, the program begin in French Polynesia in spring of 2010.
The program is the creation of Sharon Wilkinson, associate professor of French.
“When I was hired three years ago, it was hoped that I would help to create a semester abroad program for French students,” Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson said she decided on proposing the semester abroad program in French Polynesia after her own personal experiences with the country and its people.
“I had attempted to get a Fulbright Scholarship to carry out a research and teaching project there,” Wilkinson said. “Even though I didn’t get funded for the Fulbright, the process introduced me to people at the University of French Polynesia.”
Wilkinson said the semester abroad program would not only benefit the students of Simpson, but those who are attending school within French Polynesia.
“Geographically, French Polynesia is isolated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, so the university does not have a lot of contact with other colleges and universities outside the French system,” Wilkinson said. “They are hungry for opportunities to collaborate internationally.”
“The University of French Polynesia is planning to design a core of courses just for Simpson students, including French as a foreign language, taught at beginning, intermediate and advanced levels, and Tahitian language and culture,” Wilkinson said. “The Simpson faculty leader will also offer an elective course in his or her specialty area.”
According to Wilkinson, Simpson students will be able to take two or three regular courses at the university. Students at the beginning level in French can take courses in the English, sciences or math departments if they already have a background in those areas.
Intermediate and advanced French students will be able to choose from a wide variety of courses taught in French.
French 101 is the only prerequisite for the course, and the semeseter abroad is open to all students, not just French majors.
“We hope that this program will attract not only French majors and minors, but also students from all majors who may be interested in learning about a very different area of the world,” Wilkinson said.
Senior Laura Anderson is excited about the possible option for students to study in French Polynesia.
“The students who attend will really get a sense of a different way of life,” Anderson said. “The people and the way of life there is nothing less than fascinating.”
Senior Sarah Engel, studied abroad in French Polynesia over May Term last year and enjoyed her experiences on the island.
“I think it’s amazing,” Engel said. “It’s a completely different culture than we’re used to.
Engel said while abroad, they lived with host families and attended classes, as well as explored the country.
“We had class every morning, and a couple of us did basic learning French,” Engel said. “We did a lot of touring and had a weekend vacation.”
According to Wilkinson, the program just has to be approved by Simpson’s faculty before it can be offered.
“So far, I have heard nothing to suggest that it won’t be approved,” Wilkinson said.
According to Wilkinson, studying abroad in French Polynesia offers some aspects that studying in France cannot.
“I believe we have an incredible opportunity in Tahiti that would be difficult to replicate in France,” Wilkinson said. “The University of French Polynesia is willing to accommodate Simpson students from a variety of majors and levels of language proficiency. They have plans to integrate us into their campus in ways that would probably not happen at a European university. Plus, we have the chance to experience a fascinating blend of European and non-Western cultures that I think will be very enriching.”
Wilkinson also said that the reasons why Simpson students want to visit France need to be looked at as well.
“If it’s because France is known quantity, then it may just be a matter of learning more about what Tahiti has to offer,” Wilkinson said. “The chance to live on a tropical island in the South Pacific for four months is not something that is likely to happen outside of study abroad.”
If the program is not approved, Wilkinson said she will not give up in her quest to have this opportunity made to students.
“If the proposal were to be voted down, the planning committee would certainly seek to find out why and make the changes needed for it to be approved in a second round,” Wilkinson said. “The University of French Polynesia is offering us such a great opportunity that it would not make sense to give up at this point.”
The program will be offered in even numbered spring semesters starting in 2010 if approved. The first time offered, the program will only take accept a handful of students.
“The first time, we’re hoping to take a group of 8 to 12 students from a variety of majors,” Wilkinson said. “Housing is tight at the University of French Polynesia, but they are planning to build an international student dorm that should be ready in 2012, which will hopefully allow us to expand the program in the future.”