According to alumni, including John Peters (BA 2000), this was one of the few programs to be different, thus creating a strong sense of community among the participants. Peters said the program ensures that students are supported by quality professors who are invested in you and a much more intimate and unique experience.
“The fence was terrible and I was flabbergasted,” said former student John Peters.
In an obituary sent to Vanderbilt magazine that was not published, Professor Morton Holbrook, a former VIF alumnus, expressed his appreciation for the program. For him, the memory of VIF has endured as a tribute to its founders, teachers and administrators who pushed the program forward.
“The time spent in Aix reinforced their feelings of affection and support for their alma mater in Nashville,” said Holbrook. “The life of the program extended to the transformation of France from a colonial power, led by Charles de Gaulle to relinquish Algeria, to the European leader of today, where immigrants, as to the States -United, have contributed a lot to national life, more recently in the World Cup. “
The VIF experience
Holbrook attended VIF the first semester it existed, in 1961. For him, the experience included studies in Aix-en-Provence, a five-day boat trip from Montreal to France, spotting Pablo Picasso at an arena , learn familiar French, drive a scooter through France and discover his love for languages and diplomacy.
Peters said he appreciated the opportunity to be in France, while staying at Vanderbilt at the same time.
“There’s a reason people, for so many years, have been drawn to this, and I think it’s a real shame that it’s not an option anymore,” said Peters.
For professor of French, English, Jewish Studies and Law Robert Barsky, VIF was something very special. He said it was a wonderful experience that strengthened his support for study, research and immersion abroad.
“We traveled with the students to Paris, Nice and the surrounding areas, to strengthen their understanding of France,” he said in an email to The Hustler. “There is something really special about research and teaching in the geographical location from which the course content emanates, and for this reason I have taught courses on Émile Zola and medieval carnival .
Professor Barsky also mentioned the Maymester programs at Vanderbilt.
“The VIF and Maymester programs have been extremely important to my own research, and I have developed an array of projects and published work that specifically arose out of my work with Vanderbilt’s study abroad programs,” said Barsky.
What made Vanderbilt’s programs different
Jeremy Stelmack (BA 2016), an alumnus of the program, had the opportunity to study abroad twice, once as part of a “Vanderbilt in” program. According to Stelmack, the VIF program was much smoother. He indicated that in the other program, there were a lot of structural obstacles in terms of transferring credits and getting credits to his major and minor.
“Plus, you’ve basically guaranteed great quality faculty who know how to work with American students,” Stelmack said. “I have always felt comfortable going to see my teachers.”
Peters also adds that interactions were much more intimate in the Vanderbilt program.
“When you went to unaffiliated schools, you could almost get lost,” Peters said.
He also highlighted Vanderbilt’s efforts to ensure it was an immersive experience.
“We couldn’t speak English at all when we were in the building,” Peters said. “The program director, who was a faculty member at Vanderbilt, was there with us every day. On the other hand, while difficult, many other study abroad programs often turn into extended spring break.
Stelmack believes there were pros and cons to having a “Vanderbilt bubble” overseas. According to him, there was not much incentive to go and make local friends at VIF, as they were isolated. Nonetheless, Stelmack believes this would be the case in any program unless you opt for an exchange program to fully immerse yourself. Programs not directly affiliated with Vanderbilt had a “much weaker support system.”
“The professors won’t be particularly invested in you; they focus on French students. They are also very different teaching methods, ”Stelmack said of other programs.
Barsky said he’s watching looking forward to finding new ways to support Vanderbilt programs.
“VIF is a Vanderbilt program, while CIEE and other such organizations are private,” Barsky said. “We did a research project in which we explored Maymester and other teachings abroad. While there are some good privately run programs, the results of our survey reinforced my belief that Vanderbilt’s faculty led programs are far superior to private sector alternatives.
According to Holbrook, the Vanderbilt program cemented his relationship with the university.
Several professors and alumni also expressed their confusion as to why the VIF program was canceled.
“When I asked an administrator of the program why they closed it, she didn’t really know. It would surprise me a bit if people stopped caring about it, so I guess it’s budget, but I don’t really know. Peters said.
Holbrook also received a variety of responses, ranging from monetary issues to grant issues from the French majors, when he put forward the idea of reinstating Vanderbilt programs all over the world. According to him, no one in the administration was pushing him. In addition, he believes that the university should have publicized the program outside the French department as well.
“A top-notch university should have an international curriculum instead of relying on other schools,” Holbrook said.
Peters also encourages the reopening of VIF.
“Every time I donated to Vanderbilt, I specifically put on my donation that I wanted it to go to the Study Abroad Office,” Peters said. “I think they can push to fill if there are gaps in the budget. I think this is a program worth trying to revive. Peters said.
Not only were the faculty and former participants concerned about the shutdown of the entire program, but they also believe the way it was shut down could have been more fluid.
Virginia Scott is Emeritus Professor of French and Applied Linguistics and Education, as well as the former Academic Director of the Center for Second Language Studies at Vanderbilt. Scott said while the issues were understandable, she was concerned about how the administration terminated the program.
“People who were dedicated to us for many years were made redundant and the building was left filled with furniture and books that members of the French department had contributed over the years,” Scott said in an email to The Hustler . “It could have been done civilly and with care, which could have taken 6 to 9 months, but it would not have left a scar. Our relations with these French administrators and teachers were definitely destroyed.
Holbrook noted the new chancellor’s ties to the University of Chicago, which has its own study abroad programs. Therefore, he said he hoped to get the Vanderbilt administration and Chancellor Daniel Diermeier to reconsider these possibilities.
The current pandemic also highlights various tangents to the program.
Scott said she believed COVID-19 would have brought the VIF to its knees in that it couldn’t have survived so many years without students. Barsky also expressed his concern about this.
“The real question now is what the future of study abroad will look like in the face of the COVID crisis and the challenges it has created,” Barsky said. “I think Vanderbilt is well positioned to explore and expand study abroad options. Despite the demise of Vanderbilt programs overseas, we have built a truly comprehensive range of Maymester and ASB experiences. “