When I came to St. Lawrence, I was certain of two things: I wanted to study history and I wanted to travel. And so, in my freshman year I declared a history major and studied abroad on the France program (Spring 2005). My decision to study in France laid in a general desire to travel rather than any particular interest in French history. (At the time, I was still primarily interested in Chinese-American immigration history.) Nonetheless, I found my study abroad experience to be genuinely enjoyable as well as personally and academically enriching. In particular, my warm and accommodating host family greatly facilitated my ability to learn the French language. From a minimal knowledge of French (French 101), I gained a reasonable proficiency in understanding/speaking and reading/writing French. When I returned to St. Lawrence, I wanted to maintain these language skills and so I continued to take French classes. By junior year, French language fluency had become an important engagement in which I had invested a significant amount of time. Thus, it only seemed logical that I return to France for further study (Fall 2006). Once again, my interest was linguistic rather than historical.
In any event, it was my second venture in France that piqued my interest in its history. In the fall of 2006, the so-called “veil affair” (the 2004 law banning conspicuous religious symbols in public schools), the 2005 suburban riots, and the 2005 law on colonialism were still fresh events. These events inevitably constituted aspects of the landscape in which my study abroad was situated. Moreover, I found myself interested in the history that helped to engender and continued to inform these debates. In my senior year, I decided to undertake a European Studies independent study which provided a unique opportunity to further explore these issues. My research project sought to explore the connections between contemporary assimilation policies toward Muslim immigrants and the “national integration” policies of the early Third Republic (1870-1914) toward a majority peasant population whose ambiguously “French republican” identities (and loyalties) were decidedly local and Catholic.