When you spend two weeks in Paris with French professor Pascal Rollet, you spend two weeks immersed in the very best of Parisian life and culture.
And if that means eating sea whelk, even when sea whelk seems like something humans shouldn’t eat? So be it.
Prof. Rollet has one rule at the Chez Paul restaurant on Rue de Charonne in Paris: “Don’t eat what you eat at home. That’s cheating,” he tells the table of eight Carthage students. “You want to experience new things.”
So bring on the whelk, the foie gras, the rabbit rosemary rillettes and fricassée of veal kidney. And then, when the menus close, bring on the rest that Paris has to offer.
“I show them the best of Paris life,” Prof. Rollet says of his course J-Term in Paris: A Capital Experience. Students spend 16 days studying French history, architecture, museums, and art. They also learn to carefully observe and imitate appropriate public behavior in a foreign country. Prof. Rollet directs them to the details: What the French say when entering and leaving a shop. How they order at a cafe. How they walk on the sidewalks (brisk and business-like), or behave on the Métro (low voices, no eye contact). Students who don’t speak French learn key phrases by the end of the course; students who have studied the language hone their skills.
From the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral to the depths of the catacombs, they are immersed in Paris’ finest — step by step, stop by stop, sea whelk by sea whelk.
‘How do you even eat whelk?’
That’s what Madeline Hoover ’17 wants to know as she confronts her choice of entrée at Chez Paul. Prof. Rollet grabs a small fork, expertly pulls the whelk from its spiral shell, removes the whelk’s dark-brown cuticle, and pops it into his mouth.
Later, Maddie admits that while ordering the sea whelk was grand, eating it wasn’t likely to make her Top 5 Parisian moments. That list is reserved for things like climbing the Eiffel Tower, seeing Notre Dame, attending a performance at the famous Palais Garnier opera house (and seeing the Marc Chagall painting on the ceiling), mastering the Métro system, and having her portrait drawn by an artist on Montemarte.
“I’ve learned not to second-guess myself,” she says. “I’ve learned to be more confident in my skills and to take more risks. At home, I’m not that comfortable going outside my comfort zone. Here, you have to — and you want to — just for the experience.”
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“I’ve learned to be more confident in my skills and to take more risks. At home, I’m not that comfortable going outside my comfort zone. Here, you have to — and you want to — just for the experience.”
Let them be, let them learn.
If Prof. Rollet could, he would leave his students to fend for themselves the entire time they’re in Paris. “I would do nothing and just leave them and say, ‘I’m here if you need me,’” he jokes, then adds seriously: “They would learn so much.”
Carthage faculty take different approaches when it comes to leading J-Term study tours. Some are with the students every moment, leading full groups to every destination on the itinerary. Others offer a mix of scheduled and free time. Prof. Rollet guides the students on city tours in the morning, lets them explore the sights on their own in the afternoon, and joins them again for dinner (often a multi-course meal at one of Paris’ best restaurants). He also gives them a free weekend in which to leave Paris and explore another European destination. This year’s participants traveled on their own or in small groups to Amsterdam, Italy, London, and Spain.
Even small moments, like stopping for lunch at the Loulou’ diner, can have a big impact — like walking past famous director Roman Polanski on the way to their table. The encounter sparks a conversation about international relations, politics, pornography, film, and gender.
“Art is part of everybody’s life here,” Prof. Rollet remarks. “Most middle class people read books and magazines, go to the theatre and the museums. One of the most popular shows on TV is about books.”
A course tailored to your interests
Like most J-Term study tours, the Paris course included students of all ages and majors: physics, computer science, communication, education, finance, psychology, and more. Students were required to keep a journal on the study tour, and write a five-page research paper on a topic of their choosing. The students tailored the coursework, and even customized the itinerary, to their interests.
Sean Cleveland ’16, a marketing major from Wheaton, Illinois, chose to write his paper on French advertising. “I’m a business major, and while this isn’t a business-related study tour, I’m turning it into one,” he says. He’s a senior, and this was his first study tour. “I’ve always wanted to do one. I really think this is how you grow as a person.”
Taylor Alton ’18, a graphic design/communication double-major from Barrington, Illinois, loved seeing the street artists in Montemarte. Along with several other students, she posed for one of them, leaving with a one-of-a-kind souvenir. “I figured, I’m in Paris! Why not?” she says. “I’m an art major, so that caught my interest.”
Anna Ptacek ’18, a secondary education/history major from Racine, Wisconsin, traveled to Paris with her family when she was 10 years old, but she really wanted to see it again. “I wanted to make memories as a young adult, traveling without my parents at my side,” she says.
The experience is often life-changing: The world becomes smaller. Perspective widens. New interests develop. Career paths open. Confidence builds. And most students return to campus with a renewed love of learning and a new passion for travel.
“Before we leave home, they’re nervous, but once they’re here, they’re ecstatic,” Prof. Rollet says. “I see them grow a lot. They don’t always realize how much they can do.”