January Scholars in France










Seven fortunate MIT students were selected to participate in the JSF program.  Below is a sampling of their recollections from the trip.

Jenny Ahn
Class of 2005, Major in Biology

I've always loved French. Fun, lively, and exciting, this is what the French language and culture mean to me, and this experience, well... C'était magique! A dream come true... I wish I could go back and do it again. Each day was such a joy, a new adventure just waiting to happen. A simple stroll down the block, a glance down at rue Casimir de la Vigne just as the sun was peeking over the chimney tops of buildings nearby, announcing the start of another happy day... I enjoyed every little detail, every minute of our January sejour in Paris. Getting up bright and early in the morning to a strong cup of tea, fresh baguettes, natural danone yaourt with fruit cocktail swirled in, and a slice of brie cheese (and an occasional croissant with chocolate mousse... yum), and Bonjours instead of Hellos, to then later go out and be surrounded by all things beautiful and picturesque (bridges over the Seine, monuments, paintings, town squares, small markets, cafes, etc.)... to go out and interact, speak with French people as if this were normal, as if we were not visitors but residents of Paris... life was so different... so carefree... so perfect. I was at liberty to do as I wished, to skip around, to stop and stare at pretty pastries through bakery windows, to go into boutiques and art galleries because I had time... because I had no hovering deadlines looming menacingly over my head, no serious business that needed to be taken care of. No restrictions, nothing holding me back, except my store of energy which I was glad to push to its limits every day (especially the day of our Louvre marathon where we managed to visit every floor of its three gigantic galleries... lots and lots of walking and staring). It has now been a full two months since we were in Paris, but just thinking about that time gets me excited all over again and will always bring a smile to my face. I shall never forget the wonderful experiences I had throught the January Scholars in France program, and am truly thankful to those people who made it all possible. Thank you =)

Punya Biswal
Class of 2005, Major in Mathmatics and Computer Science

I was among the minority of the participants who had never visited Paris, or indeed continental Europe, before, and this trip was all the more exciting and enjoyable for this reason. I fell completely in love with the city - with its cobbled streets, its churches, its constant capacity to surprise.

The theater spectacles were the high points of the visit for me. And I will always remember the new friendships I made!

Alexis DeSieno
Class of 2005, Major in Brain & Cognitive Science

From the 19th century flaneur in French impressionism, to Toulouse-Lautrec and Manets paintings of a glass of absinthe, to the influence of African immigration on Picasso, nothing has affected me more than the art of the French, and of Paris, the center of the artistic world over the last few centuries. And I have dappled in my own forms of artistic expression, through imitation of the great French artists, through trying to replicate Rodin's "the kiss," to trying to paint cubism like Picasso (and failing), or even just to sketch the picturesque scenes of Paris cafes, Notre-Dame and the Seine that I found in my art history books. The poetry of Baudelaire and Robert Desnos, the philosophy of Sartre, the plays of Moliere have come alive for me in the existentialist and romantic paintings of Paris such as Boulevard des Capucines by Monet, and I have learned a greater appreciation for the past and the French culture through studying these works not only for their artistic merits, but in their historical and social context in my french and art history classes at MIT and in high school.

But it's one thing to learn about french culture through the art replicated in a text book, and a completely different thing to learn about it in person. Whereas I expected to learn the most about the art and culture of Paris in the museums and monuments, I was surprised to find that I learned the most through the everyday life of a Parisian -- through the somewhat philosophical advertisements in the metro, through the lack of nutrition information on food packaging, and through the much more risque movies, 9am weather reports and soap operas on the morning tv. This "vie quotidienne" is exactly what the JSF program strives for -- a complete immersion into the life of a Parisian. The JSF program was an important experience in my life not only because it taught me a lot about art, history and culture, but also because it taught me a lot about myself and how I think. When you learn about the french ideals in a class, you have a vague understanding of what they mean, you can perhaps even reiterate and repeat them when asked. But to be a part of them, to live with them, even just for two weeks, really makes obvious the difference between the French and American way of life and as well as causes you to reevaluate your own values. Even the differences in importance placed on every day things was apparent, from Americans who seek convience and self-service, to the French who prefer to remain traditional with their specialty shops. The differences in customer service which is almost non-existent in France where the cafe waiters rush you during your meal and urge you to pay as soon as possible, represents a very different outlook than that of America, and many subtle differences in the everyday life such as these made me pause and think about which I would genuinely prefer to live with. I gained more than just a knowledge of Paris, more than just a few more vocabulary words and artists names, and more than a few extra pounds from French pastries -- I gained a more complete understanding of myself, of what is important to me, and of how I want to live. In making these realizations and decisions, I have taken part of Paris back with me, as something that is further ingrained in my way of life and which will remain a fundamental part of my own personal philosophy forever -- and for that, my JSF experience was priceless and irreplaceable.

Rossana Ivanova
Class of 2005, Management Science

Immersed in two weeks of restaurants, theaters, operas, museums and events, I felt like a kid in a candy shop, with so much to do in so little time. It was a world so different from the one I know at MIT, it felt surreal. I am truly grateful to everyone responsible for the JSF program and hope other students in future years will be able to experience at least as much as I have.

Michael Motion
Class of 2004, Major in Electrical Engineering

Two weeks in Paris, what better way to spend IAP! Great food, great environment, great memories and last, but foremost, my first visit to Paris! I was delighted to visit the most romantic and enchanting city in the world. The charming environment that Paris projected amazed me. Not only was the city appealing, but it also made me feel right at home. After two weeks, I felt like a Parisian and had adapted to the French lifestyle. For me, however, the highlight of the trip was the visit to Roland Garros. Being a tennis fan, I have always dreamed of visiting the famous stadium. It was a thrilling experience to see the site where the French Open is held. I wish I could be there right now playing tennis rather than working on a pset.

Carrie Niziolek
Class of 2005, Major in Brain & Cognitive Science

I always get a rush of excitement when I overhear random passersby speaking French -- in the hallways of MIT, on the street -- my heart beats a little faster and I get even the urge to follow them, even though I know I'm not going to join in on their conversation. Can you imagine what I then felt being completely surrounded, enveloped by this culture I'm so accustomed to seeking out? I didn't have to pursue it here, it was just something natural. I felt extremely privileged to just be in Paris each day (it even turned me into a slight insomniac, since I never wanted to miss out on some adventure I could have been having out in the city), and I'm very grateful to those who made our trip possible.

Sebastian Ortiz
Class of 2004, Major in Computer Science & Electrical Engineering

I enjoyed my time in Paris even more than I expected. There was so much to take in that I never fully grasped how lucky I'd been until my return. A city where the constant bustle of modern life and the beauty of medieval architecture coexist perfectly. These images flash into my mind when I glance around MIT- which at best bares a slight resemblance to parts of la Defense...