The Paris Diaries

The following letter was written by Camille Serchuk, professor of art and co-director of the Southern in Paris summer study program. Photographs were provided by Thuan Vu, professor of art and co-director of the Paris program.

Dear friends and supporters of the SCSU Paris Program,

Paris 2013Our program has gotten off to a great start in Paris this year.  The students arrived with Professors Vu and Eilderts on Monday, and were met at Charles de Gaulle by Professor Serchuk, who welcomed everyone with fresh croissants.  We then boarded a bus for the journey to the Cité Universitaire, in the south of the city, where the students are staying.  We arrived, got the students settled in their rooms and then gave them a chance to rest and unpack.  We then held a brief orientation and gave the students their program cell phones (which enable everyone to keep in touch), Métro passes (which provide unlimited access to the city’s public transport, all month) maps of the city, and special cards that entitle them to easy and unlimited access to the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, and the Orangerie, so they can visit these collections as often as they want, without having to stand in line. Our program draws heavily on these museums, and the students come to know them very well; these museum cards help make that happen.

Paris 2013That evening, for our first French meal together, we traveled to a creperie in Montparnasse, a short journey from the dorms.  After dinner we went back to the neighborhood near their dorms and went grocery shopping so that they would have provisions for their rooms.  It was a long and tiring day, and the students went to sleep filled with anticipation for what they would encounter the next day.  

Our group of sixteen students this year comprises students from a variety of programs including Art, Psychology, Political Science, Education, French and Women’s Studies. They have already shown themselves to be a bright and cooperative group, with a great range of interests and talents.  At our second orientation session on Tuesday morning, they had lots of thoughtful questions about how to navigate and communicate.  We were impressed with their curiosity and their desire to interact respectfully with everyone they met.  After we sorted out some lingering computer issues (staying in touch is always a high priority!), we headed to Trocadéro, the best spot in Paris from which to view the Eiffel Tower.  It was a beautiful day, and the students got great photographs of this essential Parisian monument.  From there, we picked up some sandwiches for lunch and then walked to the point of departure for the Bateaux-Mouches, the “fly boats” (so named because their front windows make them look a bit like insects) and enjoyed a river tour of the city.

Paris 2013Wednesday, we began our courses. In the morning, Professor Serchuk’s students visited the remains of the Roman Arena. Professor Vu's students began to draw in the Luxembourg Gardens, and Professor Eilderts’s students began their studies of French, examining the city of Paris within the French social, political, and cultural landscape. In the evening, we visited the Louvre for the first time. We oriented the students with maps, and then visited some of the best-known works at the museum, including Michelangelo’s Dying Slave, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, the Mona Lisa, and Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa. From the Louvre we went to dinner at Le Trumilou, where we also celebrated the birthday of one of our students.

Since then, we have had visits to the Basilica of Saint-Denis, the sculpture galleries at the Louvre, and the Cluny museum of the Middle Ages.  On Friday, the students in the Gothic Cathedrals course traveled to Laon to explore the cathedral there.  The weather started out cold and drizzly, but by the end of the afternoon, we could get great photographs of the cathedral’s magnificent façade.  Saturday the students were free to explore on their own, and then on Sunday we convened at the Centre Pompidou, the National Museum of Modern Art, and explored its marvelous collection of twentieth century art.  On the first Sunday of every month, the French museums run by the state open their doors for free, and we encouraged the students to take full advantage of this opportunity.

As you can see, it has been a very busy first week!  We are having a great time and working hard—from our perspective, exactly the right balance for our program.

Paris 2013All best
Camille Serchuk
Co-director
Southern in Paris