By Dr. Chad Stebbins
Director, Institute of International Studies
Missouri Southern State University
Since 1997, Missouri Southern has selected a different country or continent every fall to emphasize throughout the semester. This is one way we attempt to “bring the world” to the campus, especially for those students who are unable to study abroad due to work or family obligations.
This fall is the France Semester, with 63 programs — guest speakers, concerts, films, plays, and brown bag seminars — on tap to showcase this diverse country of abundant riches.
But why France? Here are just a few reasons why this country the size of Texas is worthy of intense study this semester.
For starters, few countries intrigue Americans as much as the République française. Our love-hate relationship with the French goes back to the days of the American Revolutionary War, when General Lafayette helped the colonists defeat Cornwallis and end the war. Indeed, France is the oldest ally of the United States, and the two have never fought on the battlefield.
Despite their rift in 2003, when the U.S boycotted French goods, poured French wine into the streets, and started eating “freedom fries,” the two countries continue to cooperate in the fight against terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Just as importantly, the two are intertwined economically, with more than $1 billion in commercial transactions taking place between the two countries every day of the year. According to the Embassy of France in the United States, France is the ninth largest trading partner for the United States and the United States is France’s largest trading partner outside the European Union.
The French company Gemalto, a world leader in digital security, recently announced that it will begin producing all passports for the U.S. Department of State beginning in 2007 using its smart chip that will be embedded in the cover of the passport. “These new passports will greatly enhance the travel experience for U.S. citizens by providing effective, efficient and rapid passage through border control points with an additional element of security,” reported the president of Gemalto North America on Aug. 4.
The commercial ties between the two countries can be witnessed firsthand on our campus and in our community. Missouri Southern’s food service provider is Sodexho, a French multinational corporation that is one of the largest such companies in the world. Alcan Packaging, located in the Joplin industrial park, is not a French company per se, but its home office is in Paris. And let us not forget that Michelin (based in the Auvergne region of central France) is still the No. 1 tire manufacturer in the world, with 19 percent of the market.
France is significant to us from a literary, artistic, and scientific standpoint as well. For example, consider the contributions made by Molière, Victor Hugo, Jules Verne, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Louis Pasteur, Jacques Cousteau, Louis Braille, and Marie Curie (although born in Poland, she was educated at the Sorbonne in Paris and became a French citizen). And the fashion industry wouldn’t be quite the same without Pierre Cardin, Coco Chanel, and Christian Dior.
France is recognized as the second most important producer of films in the West, after the U.S, in terms of volume, quality, gross receipts, and general influence in the world of cinema. The French cinema, known for its creative energy and innovative spirit, has had a profound and lasting influence on filmmaking in the Western world and beyond.
Everyone, it seems, wants to take a trip to France. In fact, it’s the most visited country in the world with an annual 75 million foreign tourists according to the World Tourism Organization. (Spain is second, followed by the United States and China.) For those who are unable to go, we bring you the France Semester at Missouri Southern this fall.