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Paris doubles as classroom for summer program in France

January 12, 2013

Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of Life.” A global center for architecture, art, cinema, fashion, food and music, Paris continues to inspire and attract people from around the world.  

This summer, the School of International Letters and Cultures in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offers students the opportunity to not only “walk about Paris,” but to be expertly guided and taught by associate professor of French Markus Cruse, with Paris itself as the classroom.

The goal of the four-week, six-credit “The Urban Imagination in 19th-Century Paris” program is to give students an in-depth encounter with the history of Paris in the nineteenth century, when Paris was the most important site for architecture, art, culture and politics in the Western world.

During the program, students live with carefully selected host families in Paris, and go on daily excursions into the city guided by Cruse. Significant monuments, museums, neighborhoods and many out-of-the-way places never visited by tourists serve as the sites for all lectures, presentations and discussions. By the end of the program, students are familiar with both Paris’ rich past and the many challenges it faces for the future.

The program is conducted in English and is designed for both students with no knowledge of France or French and students who are French majors and minors.

“The program has a little bit for everyone,” says former participant Stéphane Mijuskovic. “An architecture student with us gave the group the opportunity to learn more about 19th-century architecture. Art and history students benefited from our visits to museums, monuments and historical places. As a French student on the program, I appreciated the immersion into the French language and culture.”

“In addition to teaching language, we also teach culture and cultural awareness, which is the foundation of communication," says language professor Mariana Bahtchevanova. "In our French courses, students learn more about France and the francophone world (the history, geography, contemporary culture, everyday life, the media, educational system, political system, etc). They also gain insights into a different worldview.”

Students in the program earn six credits with two courses: “The Urban Imagination in 19th-Century Paris, 1789-1848” and “The Urban Imagination in 19th-Century Paris, 1848-1900.” Topics explored in the courses include Art Nouveau, Impressionism, the medieval revival, mortuary art, Napoleon, Neo-Classicism, political propaganda, religious architecture, revolution, the rise of modern capitalism, Romanticism, Symbolism, and urban design. Cruse likes to promise students who go on the program that by the end they will know more about the city than any guidebook.

In addition to their time in Paris, students have two three-day weekends free to do their own traveling. They also spend one weekend in the Loire Valley discovering the famous 16th-century châteaux of Chambord, Chenonceaux, and Clos Lucé (where Leonardo da Vinci died in 1519). Described by Fodor’s as “a fairy-tale realm par excellence,” the Loire Valley has some of the most beautiful landscapes and best food in France.

Students also go on a day-trip to Chartres cathedral. Built in the 12th and 13th centuries, Chartres is by far the best preserved medieval cathedral in Europe, with more than 80 percent of its original stained-glass windows.

Program particpants have access to the “newly renovated International Studies Abroad Paris office located in the Latin Quarter, just across the Seine from Notre Dame Cathedral. This vibrant quarter has been the center of student life for centuries and ISA students benefit from its central location when accessing housing, universities, museums and cultural events. The office is the location for weekly meetings and houses a classroom/meeting room, resident director offices, a bathroom, computer/internet terminals and wireless capabilities for those who wish to bring their laptop. During normal office hours (generally Monday-Thursday from 9am-6pm, and Fridays from 10am- 5pm), students may visit to access the free computer/internet facilities, receive tutoring, utilize academic and other resources, check the ISA bulletin board for upcoming group, community, and cultural events, or simply visit with the ISA staff.”

The International Studies Abroad directors and assistants welcomed us and helped us with logistics during our stay,” says Mijuskovic. “ISA also organized for us to have ‘Navigo’ passes for unlimited Metro use.” 

The study of other languages and cultures has always been one of the most rewarding of human activities – one that is replete with intrinsic interest, practical value and insights into one’s own culture and behavior. But in today’s increasingly global environment, intercultural and interdisciplinary communication and knowledge have unprecedented value. “The Urban Imagination in 19th-Century Paris” summer program gives students the opportunity to experience French language and culture firsthand while living with local Parisians in one of the most historically, artistically, and culturally important cities in the world. 

The School of International Letters and Cultures’ study abroad programs are among the longest running and most prestigious at Arizona State University. Founded in 1981, and directed by knowledgeable, world-class faculty, the programs offer students the opportunity to experience and study international humanities and learn languages firsthand while earning credit toward their degree.

For more information about the summer program in Paris, visit the study abroad office web page, or contact

Applications accepted through the ASU Study Abroad Office.