France

France

Explore how cross-cultural identities intersect with centuries of history and traditions

Centuries-old ideas, traditions, and culture are at once both harmonious and dichotomous to contemporary life in France’s major cities. Despite the world’s somewhat fixed ideas about what constitutes French culture, France has long been home to many immigrant populations, and its demographics and culture are constantly evolving with time. We dive deep to develop a richer understanding of the country by exploring innovative museums, interviewing locals, and heading off the beaten track of tourist experiences.

We balance an exploration of French history, art, food and culture with conversations about how France is always changing, and look underneath the veneer to discover truths about contemporary life in the country. As we travel through these cities and immerse ourselves in the daily lives of our host families and school, we discover France from a multiplicity of perspectives, and zoom out to apply what we learn here to our home country and the global stage.

Potential Program Themes

Immigration and the social and political response to citizenship
History, food, art, and culture
Narratives seen through the lens of cultural organizations

Potential Itinerary

Students depart to board their overnight flights to France.

The group arrives in Marseille in the early afternoon, meeting Envoys leaders at the airport and heading to our hotel to get refreshed. After a briefing on safety and security in the city, we start getting to know the city by taking a historical tour of Fort Sean-Jean, built in 1660.

Afterwards, we introduce the topic of multiculturalism in France. We learn about how immigration has strengthened and enriched the community, while opening our perspective to the challenges that come with a burgeoning multicultural society. We explore these topics at the iconic MuCEM, the Musée des civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée, opened in 2013.

We end our first day in Marseille with dinner and a walk in Le Panier, a neighborhood just north of the Old Port that has been inhabited since 600 BC and was a haven for recent immigrants over the years. We take a look La Vieille Charité, a former almshouse for this historically poor area that is now a museum and cultural center, and consider how this neighborhood has evolved as we walk past the many street murals and new businesses and restaurants in the area.

We begin the day by meeting with local female leaders in Marseille to learn about the challenges to female entrepreneurs from various cultural backgrounds. After spending some time visiting a few related community spaces, we head to the Marseille History Museum to discover the more ancient history of Marseille. Founded in 600 BC as a Greek colony, the area was conquered by the Romans in 49 BC, and became a prosperous Roman city and and early center of Christianity in the Roman Empire. We explore how the Romans influenced the architectural, artistic and cultural history of Marseille as we delve into the exhibits. We consider the concept of layers of history, physical and cultural. How do multiple cultures exist today, from the ancient Roman culture to the modern French culture? How do Arab influences factor into this amalgam? On leaving the museum, we walk through the Jardin des Vestiges, which still holds Greek archeological remains. In the evening, over dinner, we close this first chapter of our journey with reflections and a renewed inquiry-based question development session where we all design our plan of inquiry for the rest of the program.

We wake up in the morning and have an early breakfast. Before leaving the hotel, we have a safety and security briefing for the Paris portion of the program, adapting our expectations and the norms for traveling as a group in this new, big city. We also spend some time getting ready for the exchange we’ll be undergoing with our hosts at the boarding school, and prepare to be respectful and highly communicative. Before leaving, we have a goal-setting conversation and write down our goals in our journals for later reflection. Mid-morning, we head out to the train station (or airport) for a day traveling from Marseille to Paris. Upon arrival, we head to our host school, where we will spend the next five days immersed in the routines of the local boarding school that will be our host. Activities at the school are designed and carried out by local partners in collaboration with faculty.

Our day begins with a visit to the National Museum of the History of Immigration, house in a building originally intended to honor France’s colonial empire. Today, it’s home to permanent and temporary exhibitions created by and about immigrants Around 25% of France’s citizens have immigrant roots, but this history is seldom known or understood by the larger world. We spend some time exploring the exhibits with our guide, and discuss our first impressions of immigration in France over lunch.

We continue on to the Arab World Institute, which disseminates and promotes Arab culture and provides a place for cultural exchange and understanding. We visit the museum’s exhibits of contemporary Arabic art, and then head up to the rooftop to see the stunning views of the Seine and Notre Dame.

We bring a picnic snack to the Jardin des Plantes, and have some free time to explore the beautiful park after eating. We take a short walk to the tearoom in the beautiful Grand Mosque of Paris for a Moroccan mint tea, and then walk through the Latin Quarter, home to many public universities, students, bistros and bookshops. We close the day with a group dinner at the Syrian restaurant Rose de Damas, and ice cream on Ile de St. Louis at the famous Bethillon.

We visit Le Centre Pompidou, a large contemporary art museum housing numerous works by famed French and international artists. After exploring the exhibits, we take some time to soak in the festive atmosphere in the public square outside the museum, and students have the chance to conduct brief interviews of Parisians in French.

We end the day with a walk through the Marais, one of the only areas of Paris where the narrow streets and architecture of the Medieval and Renaissance eras are preserved. We step into some of the art galleries to get a sense of the contemporary art scene, walk through the beautiful Place des Vosges, and grab dinner on the Rue de Rosiers, the main thoroughfare of the historic Jewish quarter. While walking through the Marais, students are given a photography challenge, and asked to draw inspiration from the art they’ve taken in over the day. Over dinner, we share our photos with the group and explain the influences that guided our lenses.

We spend the morning exploring one of the largest open air markets in Paris. As we stroll through the dense, half-mile stretch of vendors, we take note of all the different ethnicities and backgrounds represented, and have the opportunity to ask vendors and shoppers for interviews and portraits, en français bien sûr!

We return to the school for lunch and our final afternoon spent in exchange with our French peers.

We start the morning with a walk along the Seine, heading over to Ile de la Cité, where we’ll see the famed Notre Dame, still under reconstruction after the fire in April 2019. We talk about the importance of the cathedral, but also make room for a frank discussion of the contrast between the financial response to the fire and global leaders’ weaker responses to more pressing natural and humanitarian disasters around the world.

We walk over to Sainte-Chappelle, a Gothic chapel with one of the most extensive 13th-century stained glass collections in the world, and one of the earliest surviving buildings of the royal palace that housed France’s kings for hundreds of years. Our local historical guide helps us understand the role of Catholicism in the history of France, as well as the processes used to construct, paint, and create the stained glass windows in the 13th century.

We end the day with a visit to the city’s most iconic landmark. The Eiffel Tower was constructed over two years for the 1889 World’s Fair, and was the tallest man-made structure in the world at that time. After spending our final moments in Paris admiring this structure that so many dream of seeing with their own eyes, we head to the airport for our international flight home.