Paris as Classroom

Paris on Foot

How Walking Around Paris Helps Students Create Meaning

Paris is a living campus – an extension of the in-class experience of The American University of Paris that allows students to apply learned theory to real-world contexts as they explore the city’s streets. Walking around Paris is a sensory experience, and each neighborhood has its own history, feel and flair. The French concept of le flâneur describes someone with the time and detachment to stroll around a city observing society from the outside; it shows just how closely our understanding of our lives can be connected to our sense of place.

At AUP, students can choose how they want to become flâneurs – whether through student clubs or academic study. Opportunities to walk through one of Europe’s most culturally and historically rich cities occur on a daily basis and can connect students to the Parisian way of living. Walking can also be a great chance to socialize – as Merrick Sanford discovered as Co-Chair of the Walking Around Paris student club.

“I love learning about the history of Paris,” says Merrick. “But I was scared to do it alone, because of the language barrier.” The walking club allowed Merrick to meet other students who were also interested in engaging with the city around them. Each week, members use a group WhatsApp chat to choose a different arrondissement, the French word for Paris’s neighborhoods, and then they explore for around two hours, taking in cafés, shops and museums along the way.

One recent Fall-semester walk included a trip to the Christmas market in the Tuileries Garden, combining an important national monument with a festive Parisian tradition. Attendees were encouraged to ask questions about the history of the area as well as about their fellow walkers. “We’re a very relaxed, open club,” explains Merrick. “I’ve made friends with people from all different backgrounds.”

Meandering the city can be a great way to make friends, but it’s also an important intellectual endeavor. Emre Caglayan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Media, Communication and Film Studies and the Program Director for the film studies major. Part of his research explores how the concepts of walking and cinema are connected through a strong appreciation of this sense of place. “It's kind of this triangle,” explains Caglayan, “between the spaces we live in, the films we watch and our own relationships to those two things.”

Caglayan invites students to explore these concepts and others in “Cinema and the City,” a junior-level class open to any major. Students grapple with questions such as: How are complex urban centers portrayed in film? And how is cinema shaped in turn by the multifaceted experiences of living in such cities? As well as Paris, students analyze cinematic representations of Berlin, New York, Istanbul, Rome, Taipei and Glasgow.

Living in Paris is one long opportunity to immerse yourself in new experiences while thinking critically about the perspectives explored in class. By traversing the city on foot, you develop a closer connection to French society and a more meaningful sense of self. If you see yourself wandering Montmartre while meeting like-minded people from all over the world, then apply to join us in Paris today.