Exploring the world during Wintersession

A grid showing four students and four scenes from the countries they are studying in.
Author  E.B. Bartels ’10
Published on 

During Wintersession, the three weeks in January between Wellesley’s fall and spring semesters, Stella Chiari ’26 will be in Aix-en-Provence in France on a trip led by Hélène Bilis, professor of French and Francophone studies. A philosophy and French double major from Massachusetts, Chiari says she chose Wellesley in part because it offered ample opportunities to study abroad: “It was important to me that my four years of college weren’t spent entirely at Wellesley, still in Massachusetts, but engaging globally and getting to see new parts of the world.”

This year, 45 students will dust off their passports and embark on an international adventure during Wintersession, according to the Office of International Study, to participate in one of four programs led by Wellesley faculty. They will head to France with Bilis; to Cuba with Koichi Hagimoto, professor of Spanish; to Italy with Flavia Laviosa, senior lecturer in Italian studies; or to Germany with Thomas Nolden, professor of German studies and comparative literature studies.

“I had always been interested in the study abroad Wintersession programs, even before I started my first year at Wellesley,” says Alex Cahn ’24, who will be going to Cuba. “Due to the pandemic, I wanted to spend as much time on campus as possible, so Wintersession is a great chance for me to study abroad without making the semester-long commitment.”

The Aix-en-Provence trip is a new offering this year, but Bilis says its “conception, focus, and goals are very similar to the three-week summer program my department and I have offered three times in Bordeaux.” Students will attend classes at a French language school, go to cheese- and bread-making workshops, visit nearby Marseille to learn about the history of Provence, and live with host families.

The students are excited for these expeditions for a variety of reasons. Zeina Nassif ’26, a Russian major who is heading to France, says: “Many great authors such as Pushkin and Nabokov were educated on French works. If I want to understand the greats, I need to understand French! I’m looking forward to diving into the language, and I’m hoping to greatly improve my spoken French and my French vocabulary. I am also excited to meet people in Provence and learn more about the local culture.”

“My first impression of French culture came from the French musicals I watched in my primary school,” says Eliza Mei ’27, who is also going to Aix-en-Provence. “Since then I’ve been dreaming about learning French and visiting France one day. I had a specific interest in French history and literature as well, and all these factors drove me to take French classes and study abroad in this land of baguettes.”

Cahn, who says she loves to dance, can’t wait to experience the music and dance of Cuba. “I will also be thinking back to my AMST 217 course, where we learned about Latinx music and identity,” she says.

Chiari sees the Wintersession trip as a preview of coming attractions. “Next year I’m hoping to spend my entire spring semester in Aix,” she says, “so this Wintersession program is the perfect opportunity for me to familiarize myself with the Provence region, practice speaking French 24/7, and get a taste of life abroad.”

“There’s a French expression, attributed to the great thinker Montaigne: Les voyages forment la jeunesse, which roughly translates to ‘travels shape youth,’” says Bilis. “I agree with Montaigne: Leaving behind what is familiar and safe to head off toward something previously unknown is deeply formative on so many levels.”

Visit the Wellesley College Instagram channel to watch students share their experiences from study abroad.