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Muller’s Time As Resident Director Spent Advising Students In France

Published: December 15, 2010

The CSULB pennant flew in France this past summer when Romance/German/Russian Languages and Literatures’ (RGRLL) Markus Muller served as resident director of the CSU International Programs.

Muller, who joined the university in 2001, spent from July 2009 to July 2010 with his wife Patricia and their 4-year-old son Emiliano in the beautiful Southern French city of Aix-en-Provence with regular trips to Paris to advise students studying there. “I directed, managed and oversaw roughly 100 students from all 23 CSU campuses including CSULB,” said Muller, who serves as RGRLL Language Program Coordinator and who earned tenure in 2007.

“Our students spend one year in France at one of the program’s two study centers in Aix, the program’s permanent office, and in Paris. Both in Aix and Paris, the main goal is to study the language but students also can enroll in courses at one of the campuses of the University of Paris where they study everything from math to business. Some students are adventurous and seek other academic opportunities. I recall one student from San Francisco State who was admitted to the Paris Conservatory of Music.”

Since its inception in 1963, the CSU International Programs have provided qualified students an affordable opportunity to continue their studies abroad for a full academic year. More than 15,000 CSU students have taken advantage of this unique study option.

International Programs participants earn resident academic credit at their CSU campuses while they pursue full-time study at a host university or special study center abroad. The International Programs serves the needs of students in more than 100 designated academic majors. Affiliated with more than 70 recognized universities and institutions of higher education in 20 countries, the International Programs also offer a wide selection of study locales and learning environments.

The differences in instruction between Paris or Aix-en-Provence and Long Beach can threaten culture shock. “Compared to France, the American university experience can seem high schoolish,” said Muller, who earned his B.A. from the University of Tübingen, his M.A. from the University of Kansas and his doctorate in French from UCLA.

“First of all, the French really don’t have what we call ‘college’ where students receive a general education before specializing at the graduate level. You go directly into the major you picked,” said Muller. “If you graduate from high school at the age of 19, and you want to become a doctor, you go straight to med school.”

That translates to a tough test of personal responsibility for the average U.S. student. “There is very little supervision in France. Nobody tells you what to do,” he said. “There is a high degree of ambiguity that the students have to cope with. Many are not used to that coming from the states. Students are warned about this but it is still a struggle for some of them.”

RGTLL's Muller Paris

Another cultural difference is the way professors interact with students. “The idea of office hours is still little-known to the French,” Muller said. “Normally, you catch the professor after class. Sometimes there will be office hours listed whether they show up or not.”

The changes in students after a year in France are obvious. “They mature in tremendous ways. They are totally different after a year,” he said. “The changes are as much physical as mental. They even walk differently. There is always a student who has never left the United States or even California. Talk about culture shock. They become more sensitive. They think differently. They start thinking comparatively. Sometimes they decide that whatever they had back home in the States is better than France. Or they simply say, everything the French do is better. Very often, these are the students who stay a second year.”

In the land of haute cuisine, students also become more adventurous culinarily. “They learn such things as not to put the appetizer, main dish, salad and dessert on the same plate,” Muller explained. “I remember an office visit from a frantic French house mother who revealed how one of her American students living in her house put spaghetti Bolognese, salad and chocolate pudding on one plate and ate it. When advised this is not how it’s done in France, the American student replied that it all ended up in the same place. The house mother was in shock.”

In general, students make a great leap forward. “In the first weeks, there is a period of wildness. Provence, especially, is a beautiful place. They date a lot but, in the beginning, they confine their dating to the student group. After a semester, that changes,” he said. “They study, too. They travel. I led several student excursions to places of cultural interest (such as the city of Arles) and natural beauty (to the Camargue, a national park covering the Rhone delta) on weekends. The year 2009 was tough because the dollar was weak but students still managed to visit Monaco and St. Tropez for personal trips. Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon and Spain are also popular. England, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Germany and Iceland also are on the list.”

After a year in France, Muller returns even more convinced that adding an international component, especially another culture and language, should be part of any college education.

“As far as I’m concerned, it ought to be a requirement,” he said. “There have been resident directors who have not been language scholars. It is good that every year, someone goes there with the most current level of knowledge of what the CSU is. It is really important for the success of a program to see the students get the most out of their time there. They want to get the maximum academic and personal benefit. A lot more people should do it.”