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EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: Cultural exchange to encourage a future of sustainability

Tim Nixon

18 Jan 2019

“In this framework, a few months ago, the French Embassy brought a delegation of 10 Community College representatives for a few days to Paris in order to develop direct contacts between these colleges and French Institutions.”

For many years, the study abroad field has been an expensive venture open only to students who can afford to study internationally. With the Community College Study Abroad program, the French Embassy is encouraging mobility to students attending community colleges, who make up just 1.8% of U.S. students studying abroad. This follow-up interview with the Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy, Bénédicte de Montlaur, highlights how they have continued to develop an opportunity to equalize the “studying in France” playing field.  It’s an innovative outreach initiative between cultures to help plant seeds of sustainability for the future.  Tim Nixon, Managing Editor, Thomson Reuters Sustainability.

Tim: Since our last report, what is new with the program?

Bénédicte: The program this year still proposes the 4-year-long master’s degree program to one Community College student, but the new edition proposes many new elements regarding the bootcamps.  Indeed, we noted that the previous year’s bootcamps—short sessions in France combining both professional workshops and cultural visits—were very successful. We would not only teach new skills to the students but also provide them with a glimpse of French culture. As a response to that observation, the program now proposes 4 bootcamps, instead of one as in the previous editions, with a total of 65 spots rather than 20 previously.

In Paris, the successful n+i engineering and sustainable development bootcamp will return for its third year. The 14-day non-degree session will take place in June 2019 and concentrate on sport and sustainable development. This year, it will be supported by the cities of Paris and Los Angeles and will be dedicated for community college students from the Los Angeles community college district.

In Lyon, a 14-day program in organized by the IUT Lumière Lyon 2 will focus on sustainable development in the fields of public transportation and waste management.

In Montpellier, a 19-day program in partnership with the well-known engineering school, Polytech Montpellier, will present students to the major industrial challenges in France, including food and water, energy and materials, and data science and management.

In Caen, a 15-day program will concentrate on active citizenship in the digital era, giving students the chance to take classes, explore cultural and historical sites in Normandy, and visit digital companies and civil society institutions. This one will be done in partnership with the Université de Caen Normandie and in collaboration with the International Institute for Human Rights and Peace.

Tim: What is driving the growth? How are you measuring success?

Bénédicte: We’ve received so much positive feedback from the students and the Community Colleges we work with. Some of them told us that the program allowed them to discover and consider new career path within their current studies, others said they loved the city. Our students who benefited from the four-year program said they had a great experience, even though it might still be too early to see the impact of the program on the long-term, it seems like this program is useful, and somehow an eye-opening experience for these students who never or rarely traveled nor studied abroad before –as a reminder, students from the CC represent less than 2% of the US undergraduate students studying abroad while they are 40% of the undergraduate American students.

Over the past years with this program, we have also developed our network of Community Colleges throughout the Unites States. We started with a network of 12 Community Colleges in 2017 to around 15 in 2018. This shows an appetite for these students to study abroad and for the Community College to encourage to do this type of experience.

Tim: Could you see it becoming reciprocal, with more bilateral exchanges of students?

Bénédicte: Absolutely, as the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, our mission has been with this program primarily to develop interest from American students to study in France, but we also want to think long-term and know that developing this type of program the other way around would be ideal. Community Colleges and French Institutions work together on the most efficient ways of cooperation. In this framework, a few months ago, the French Embassy brought a delegation of 10 Community College representatives for a few days to Paris in order to develop direct contacts between these colleges and French Institutions. Together they discussed new ways of cooperation, through virtual mobility for instance or the hosting of French students in work-based learning programs, two developments that seem promising.

Tim: What kind of careers do you see opening up for your students?

Bénédicte: The students we select for this program are already involved in engineering in sustainable development or social science-related studies. Through the Community College in France, we want them to be able to deepen their knowledge in the field and add an international experience to their curriculum. While looking to grow a career as technician or manager, we also hope for them to be better equipped and also more interested in positions with multicultural or international exposure, preferably, but not necessarily, with France. However, France is ranked among the best countries in terms of engineering studies, and over the past year, the countries as shown a commitment in the field of sustainable development so we strongly believe that it could make sense for the program’s students to consider France for their career.

Tim: What is a specific success story for which you are most proud?

Bénédicte: The bootcamp format, a short and non-degree program taking place in the summer, is a perfect fit for students with commitments in the United States and who cannot afford to leave their home for too long.

However, the four-year degree granting program is well fitted for students who wish to deepen their experience of a foreign country and transform their stay abroad in a professional benefit.

Since the inception of the program two years ago, we’ve sent two students to France and it’s been a real success for both of them. In addition to getting a high-quality degree at an affordable fee, they have both been able to develop skills in French, following intensive language classes upon arrival. In addition to their professional growth, they both emphasized on the incredible life experience it has been so far.

see  video of Diego one of the students who was selected for this master’s degree program:<

Tim: How would you hope to see the program in 10 years?

Bénédicte: We’re proud to see that we were able to initiate and develop this collaboration between the Community Colleges and the French Higher Education Institutions (HEI). The program and Community College network is growing every year and we are eager to see how it is indeed going to impact on the professional opportunities of our students when time will come for them to look for a job. However, we already feel that the positive feedbacks from the students make the program worth it. In ten years from now, we hope to see the program working on its own, with a collaboration across the Atlantic established strongly between each entities and the Community Colleges recognizing the French HEIs as resourceful partners. We are considering the development of this mobility program in so many forms: short time on site, online, exchange program.

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