Continuing our series getting to know some of the faculty who have had their programs facilitated by AIFS in recent years, we chat to Richard Mowrer, Professor and History Department Chair at Folsom Lake College, CA. Richard established a “History of France” program in Paris in summer 2018 and returned with another group of students the following year. The program was paused as a consequence of COVID-19 but we hope to welcome Richard back in 2022!
Did you study abroad as a student? Do you feel that it has influenced your college experience and/or your career?
I did not study abroad while I was in college, but I did work as a waiter in a restaurant in Switzerland the Summer after my Junior year in college. And in grad school I spent an academic year doing research in Paris, which included participating in graduate seminars. Both these experiences gave me the confidence to take students abroad.
What motivated you to bring students abroad?
I saw a poster for a colleague’s Summer study abroad program in Florence. It occurred to me how awesome it would be to teach a French history course in Paris.
How did your destination(s) complement your teaching?
When teaching French history, there is no better location than Paris. Each day after class, we take excursions to see where the events we discuss in class actually took place. It’s incredible!
What is your favorite part about leading students on a customized study abroad program?
I get to tailor each element of the program to fit our study of French history.
Describe a favorite moment or memory of your program.
My students’ reenactment of Jacques-Louis David’s painting of one of the critical moments of the French Revolution—the Tennis Court Oath in the actual indoor tennis court. This particular group of students had stayed longer in the Palace of Versailles that day, so I gave them the coordinates of the tennis court in the town of Versailles. They sent me the picture to let me know they had found it.
Has your experience teaching abroad changed the way you teach back on campus?
Taking students to the places where history happened in Paris has helped me imagine other real places we talk about in class but cannot visit.
Was there anything you found challenging about the experience of teaching on a customized program?
The first year was an incredible amount of work–writing all new lectures, taking students to all new locations. The second year, I was able to slow down and enjoy it more.
Any advice for faculty thinking of leading a customized program abroad?
It is all about student interest. If you build it, they will not necessarily come. It has to be a combination of the right city, the right course, and the right instructor.
Do you have any recruitment advice for future faculty leaders?
I consciously and in good faith create an atmosphere of scarcity. I tell them that the program is limited to 20 students and that there will be a wait list, so if they’re interested they need to get their name on the email list and come to one of the recruitment meetings. Thankfully, each year there has in fact been a scarcity of spots, but I also think it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. And I don’t feel I’m being manipulative; the reality is they need to feel a sense of urgency—either because the program will fill up or because it will disappear as an opportunity. I also find it extremely easy to gush about the magnificence of Paris!
Any advice for students thinking of studying abroad?
Do it. It’s the kind of thing you only get to do when you are young and in college or retired and ready for life-long learning (and either one is great, by the way).
Where would you like to visit next, either for vacation or for a faculty-led program?
I love Paris, and I want to continue teaching in Paris, but my next vacation will probably be Italy.
AIFS offers customized faculty-led programs in a wide range of locations worldwide.