Re-Positioning the study-abroad program in France

Posted on August 19, 2020 by Meredith Woo

Dear alumnae and friends,

I write to let you know that the College has decided to discontinue the Junior Year in France (JYF) in its current form. JYF is a French non-profit study-abroad operator that sponsors orientation and cultural activities, and places students with home-stay families. Typically, the students are enrolled at the University of Paris. They are not taught by the faculty of JYF or Sweet Briar.

In recent years, the number of students attending JYF has dwindled to a dozen a semester, and the number of Sweet Briar students, to one or two. As most of the JYF assets – part of the overall corpus of the College’s endowment – support scholarships, the beneficiaries have been students from colleges other than Sweet Briar.

Out of courtesy, I communicated this decision two days ago to the alumnae of the JYF, both Sweet Briar and non-Sweet Briar. They raised two questions.

The first was: will there still be a study-abroad in Paris for a semester or a year? The answer is, of course. Sweet Briar is committed to global education, and we will always endeavor to send our students to France and elsewhere. However, the operator (or vendor) for this kind of study in France will no longer be JYF, which has been sustaining a deficit for some time and is closed now due to the pandemic, but another entity that can locate excellent living and learning connections.

The second was: how can the profound and life-changing experience of the year spent in Paris be comparable to anything else, such as short courses in France? The answer is, it probably cannot – but we will always endeavor to persuade our students to experience the most sublime of the cultures in France – and for a year, if possible.

As we shift our resources from supporting the scholarship needs of non-Sweet Briar students in Paris to Sweet Briar students on campus, we will seek to augment our programming in “global humanities” within our Center for Creativity, Design and the Arts.

We will support, for instance, our students taking the College’s three-week term in Auvillar, France, at a residence owned by the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA), our partner in Amherst as it is in France. The three-week courses in Auvillar will be taught by Sweet Briar faculty. (In fact, we had one scheduled for the Spring 2020 3-week term, about American writers in “exile” in France, but had to teach it on campus due to COVID-19.)

We are also embracing more effective ways, other than the traditional study abroad programs, to expose students to the dynamism of a global cultural experience, whether they be 3-week immersive courses or internship programs of varying duration.

I grew up in Seoul and Tokyo, and came to America as an international student. Most of my professional career was in global education. I know deep in my bones the life-transforming and life-sustaining impact of experiencing cultures not one’s own.

I am deeply committed to making sure that our students experience the world in exhilarating and exuberant ways, and I will look forward to keeping you informed.

Meredith Woo