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Learning la science politique in Paris, Lyon and Washington, D.C

Lisa Smith in front Le Louvre

Lisa Smith in front Le Louvre

“Will you bring this amendment to the Senate floor?” This request came repeatedly to Lisa Smith over the summer. C-SPAN captured the moments when Lisa would approach Senator Jeff Merkley on the Senate floor to hand in documents. A double major in French and Political Science, Lisa secured a two-month internship in the Washington, D.C. office of the Oregon Senator. Her work involved researching various bills under consideration, screening phone calls for Senator Merkley, and lots of writing to different constituents. Running into Elizabeth Warren, attending a talk by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Lisa simply said “I was just star-struck…” Associate Professor of French Fabienne Moore, who has known Lisa since she took her FR 301 course on “La France contemporaine” in winter 2014, recently sat down with her for a conversation on her combined passion for politics and French.

Lisa was actually in Lyon when she was interviewed via Skype from D.C. about her internship application. She was spending the year studying in France, but hers was a most unusual experience: Lisa had been selected as one of two UO students to attend for the first time the prestigious Institut d’Études Politiques, better know as “Sciences Po.”

In Fall 2014 she was enrolled in Sciences Po Paris, the flagship institution, then in Winter and Spring 2015, she moved to Lyon to continue her studies in the local Sciences Po. Why this geographical split? Professor Moore, who served on the selection committee, remembers how faculty agonized over the one and only seat available for the first time to a UO student and eventually compromised by awarding two equally qualified students one term each: Eugenia Lollini (double major French/Anthropology) went off to Sciences Po in Menton, while Lisa Smith embraced the challenges of settling into Paris.

Because the airline lost her luggage, the beginnings were rocky, but Lisa had managed to rent a typical “chambre de bonne,” perched on the seventh floor (also typically without elevator) in the 7th arrondissement neighborhood, from where she would walk daily to her classes, passing on her way the Invalides—Napoleon’s tomb under its gilded dome—and the Ministry of Education.

The focus of her seminars were the European Union, European and International Politics, a fascinating comparative course on Social Services in Europe, and a “cours magistral” in English on International Law with a discussion section (no less than 10 credits!) Lisa explained that the main challenge was less French proficiency than the format expected for writing assignments, which took a while to master. One class on the French Political System was taught by Marc Foucault, who was Chief of Staff for the mayor (then President) of Amiens Métropole; it included a tour of the French senate and interviewing a senator’s right-hand assistant—a unique opportunity.

Lisa Smith, accomplished dancer

Lisa Smith, accomplished dancer

Comparing the two cities, Lisa found Paris more expensive than Lyon (where students get a subsidized transportation pass). But she felt Sciences Po Paris was more organized and all course schedules and expectations clear. In Lyon, Lisa commuted to three different campuses to take 8 courses, one of which disappointed her as the professor went missing for 5 weeks (!) though the final grade relied on a single final exam. Fortunately Laurie Wilson at the Centre Oregon in Lyon was a great help in figuring out confusing credit issues. In Lyon, Lisa reconnected with a Franco-American friend from elementary school, and spent lots of interesting time with her and her French friends, “a nice difference with Paris” Lisa explained, where it had been more difficult to connect with French students. But living and learning in Paris won her over, as she recalled fond memories from Christmas markets to Eurodisney, interspersed by trips to Nice and Colmar (in Alsace). A globetrotter, Lisa also travelled to some gorgeous European cities: Dublin, Geneva, Barcelona, Milan and Cinque Terre. A Russian-American fluent in Russian, Lisa (short for Vasilisa) also had a chance to practice her Russian during a family visit in Moscow: “when I speak in French, words sometimes come in Russian and sometimes vice versa…” This exceptional year abroad was transformative: “now I have a lot more confidence. When I leave the UO, I’ll know how to do so many things after this real word experience!”

Back at UO this fall, Lisa is already dreaming about an internship at the State Department in the capital, her top choices being the Office of International Affairs and the Office of Education and Culture. Her experience last summer in the very masculine world of politics confirmed to her how much women are needed to bring positive change. Go Lisa! We wish you a great year back on campus!

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