Swarthmore’s Grenoble Program to End in 2012

After almost forty years, the Swarthmore in Grenoble program is coming to a close.

The decision, which was carefully deliberated within the French department over the course of this year, was announced to students participating in the Grenoble program as early as spring semester of 2011, though the program continued to admit students from Swarthmore and other colleges and universities for the fall 2011 semester. While the program will still host a few students who have chosen to study in Grenoble for both semesters of this academic year, it will not be accepting students for the upcoming spring semester.

The end of the Grenoble program marks Swarthmore’s loss of its longest running study abroad program, and one of its most popular. The program, established in 1972 and situated in the French city at the foot of the Alps, has hosted generations of students both from Swarthmore and other respected American colleges and universities. According to the Swarthmore College in Grenoble website, students are offered the quintessential European study abroad experience, taking courses at the French university level or with the University Center for French Studies (CUEF), participating in extracurriculars with French students, and gaining immersion into French life through cultural excursions.

Unique to the Grenoble program, a French faculty member from Swarthmore also travels with students to France each year in order to serve as Program Director and representative for the College.

Reacting to the decision to cut the Grenoble program, current and former Grenoble participants expressed sadness and appreciation for a program that strived to educate students both inside and outside the classroom. Robert Holowka ’12, who traveled to Grenoble in the fall semester of 2010, gave the program positive reviews, saying that he chose the program because of his participation in French courses at Swarthmore and because he knew the Grenoble program offered an “important experience to have.”

Jeewon Kim ’13, a French minor, agreed, saying that the best asset of the Grenoble program was its focus on immersion because “you really get to know what it’s like to live there.”

Professor Jean-Vincent Blanchard, the current coordinator of the French section of Modern Languages and Literatures, expressed similar feelings of regret, stating that while the Grenoble program represents “a loss to the college, to the department, and to the college community,” there are plenty of other great options for students to study abroad if they seek to study in France.

When asked about the decision to cut the program, Professor Blanchard cited multiple deciding factors—areas of concern that had come up in conversations held frequently last year.

The role of a Swarthmore professor as program director represented a significant cost for the program, as the French section keeps five full time faculty, “one professor in Grenoble, one professor on leave, and the rest at Swarthmore,” according to Elliot Weiser ’13, who is currently studying in Grenoble.  With the loss of Professor of French George Moskos in early 2011, and “the subsequent decision by the CEP to reallocate this position” any possible expansions of the program seemed to be erased, according to Professor Blanchard. The section then reemphasized its focus on the immediate needs of its students enrolled in French at Swarthmore, marking a shift away from the relationship with Grenoble.

Other programs such as Academic Programs Abroad in Paris, an “educational service that works closely with American universities,” do not have the same type of full time faculty that travel to Paris from a student’s home institution. Without this cost, the program has a better price for both Swarthmore students and faculty.

Even so, the role of Swarthmore French professors in Grenoble seems to be a distinct, positive attribute of the program. Robert Holowka remembers the Swarthmore faculty member during his time abroad as “really cool [and] fun to hang out with […] it was great. I can’t imagine going without having some sort of Swat professor there.”

Another deciding factor in play was the program structure itself. As study abroad programs such as Internships in Francophone Europe, which offers hands-on work experience as well as French immersion, continue to gain in popularity, French faculty and students debated the relevance of the Grenoble program for students looking for an experience beyond the traditional menu of university courses. Maia Gerlinger, a senior French minor, and Jeewon Kim in particular remember wishing that the program “offered internships or volunteering” opportunities to students, or even that the academic load in Grenoble was lessened so that students would have more time to engage in cultural activities.

But rather than revise the program and reassess Swarthmore’s relationship with the city of Grenoble, the French section decided that the financial and administrative costs of running the program outweighed the benefits that a significant overhaul of the program’s structure might bring. Professor Blanchard, while remembering feeling “bitter” about the initial decision, says he is “reenergized” and excited to use the end of the Grenoble program as an opportunity to reevaluate the French section of Modern Languages and Literatures and the needs of its students.

Facing challenges such as attracting students into upper level French courses, enrolling majors and minors (currently there are only five French minors and one French major in the class of 2012) and fostering a culture favorable to Modern Language and the Humanities on campus, the French section has other areas in which to focus its efforts. Studying abroad in Grenoble was “strongly recommended” for both majors and minors in order to fulfill the ‘study abroad’ component of the academic program. It is yet to be determined whether this requirement will be amended in light of Grenoble’s cancellation.

Balancing the gender divide in Modern Languages also remains a challenge, as the Daily Gazette reported in August that “over three quarters of the students majoring in Modern Languages, Art History, and Art were women.”

While the end of the Grenoble program has certainly brought to light new opportunities and challenges, Pat Martin, Director of Off-Campus Study, states that “it’s too early to tell” what the future might bring.

“Some students prefer to attend a program run by Swarthmore and some specifically do not. I think that fall 2012 enrollments for study in France will give us our first indication of what the impact might be,” Martin said.


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