Entire class sent abroad

Centenary College of Louisiana announced on Oct. 3 an initiative called “Centenary in Paris.” The initiative involves the plan of taking its entire freshman class to Paris for approximately 10 days during the summer. It is a part of the college’s new immersive segment of the fall semester, starting next August.

This idea of sending 150 first-year students of a college to a foreign country sounds “formidable,” (wonderful) as William Arceneaux, president of the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana stated. True. Centenary College of Louisiana is the first one in the nation to do this. True. The highest officials of Louisiana and France are linked to the idea. They approved it. True.

This idea is attractive. However, concerns to debate the idea still lingers.

The first interesting point is, provided that 150 students are at once in the foreign country, they have less chance to learn about France and Paris. True merit of study abroad programs come from understanding a foreign culture and the understanding comes from meeting locals and talking to them in their language and realizing who they are as Americans themselves.

However, under the Centenary in Paris initiative, 150 students are likely to talk to each other and hang around by themselves, as they are new to each other, too. They will rather build friendships among themselves, especially if faculties hold their whole class and supervise their trip.

The program may support students in creating strong bonds with classmates and with the college, that’s not a learning procedure of a foreign country or culture. This suits well with what David Rowe, president of Centenary College of Louisiana said to Inside Higher Ed, “The focus of the study is not Paris. Paris is the venue of the study.”

This goes against the remark of Arceneaux, praising the initiative’s “efforts to promote its French language heritage,” which Louisiana State originally had during the  European colonial era.

Secondly, the fact that the students are “freshmen” matters. Research from University of Delaware “The Freshman Factor: Outcomes of Short-Term Education Abroad Programs on First-Year Students,” compared the effects of study abroad programs between freshmen and sophomores.

Eighty percent of sophomore first-timers said sophomore year was the right time for them, according to the survey conducted on freshmen and sophomore first-timers who participated in the study abroad program in January 2006 and 2007. Only 20 percent of them wished they were in the program in the first year. It also shows freshmen are not thinking primarily about their major or career choosing to go abroad. The report also said sophomore first-timers learned more than freshmen about current political or social issues outside of the U.S., considering University of Delaware has not had a program of all first year students going abroad at once, this looks significant.

English professor of Centenary College of Louisiana Jeff Hendricks said, “often it is too late as they (juniors) have to shift their focus to graduation.” Well, I am currently a junior now and I am having a great experience here. Now I can see what I would not have seen if I was a freshman.

Last but not least, money matters. According to the Louisiana local newspaper Shreveport Times, students will not be required to pay any additional fees or expenses for the trip as the cost of study abroad is factored into tuition and fees.

This means if the college’s budget is tight due to a larger curricular overhaul, they may plan to increase the tuition fee for incoming students. An article of Inside Higher Ed in October pointed this out, saying the university plans to increase tuition.

Details to be settled are not confined to the monetary issues. Where are they going to stay once all 150 students arrive at Paris? Is there a suitable building in a college in Paris that all students could accommodate at the             same time?

What about Rowe’s remark that the “Centenary in Paris course is not required to graduate,” according to National Public Radio? Will this confuse Centenary first-year students?

In addition to these, in a discussion forum of Inside Higher Ed, pros and cons make a controversy, which leads to students’ confusion. Remarks range from questioning who exactly approved the trip idea and possibly how many students do not support this Paris initiative. No matter these are clarified fact or not, this is not helpful for students who need to make a decision.

The best thing the Centenary College of Louisiana authorities could aim at is to set up the detail as soon as possible and notify faculties, staff and students to prevent any further confusion, if possible.

The idea, which sounds attractive, means it also involves risks.