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After spending a semester in Paris, Marquis Scholar and Phi Beta Kappa member Laura Roberts ’05 (Cornelius, N.C.) is conducting an honors thesis that expands on her experiences in France.

A double major in English and French, Roberts is studying the views of contemporary American expatriate writers in Paris. She is paying specific attention to the authors’ views of American culture, French culture, and the relationship between the cultures found in the literature.

Roberts’ primary research involves Diane Johnson’s Le Divorce, but she also is examining works from authors such as David Sedaris, Adam Gopnik, and Alice Kaplan.

“Having studied abroad in Paris, it is fascinating to read books about people who are living in France and acclimating themselves to the culture,” she says.

Roberts’ thesis adviser, Christian Reyns-Chikuma, assistant professor of foreign languages and literatures, says the student’s objectives are to study national stereotypes and learn why people, specifically Americans, choose to live abroad. She is investigating how France views the United States and the reciprocal views of the United States towards France.

Comprised of three main sections, her thesis begins with an analysis of how Johnson includes herself in Le Divorce. The remainder discusses each country’s stereotypes and American and French feminine views.

“Since protagonists of these stories are independent women, she tries to see what are the differences between the two feminisms — American and French,” Reyns-Chikuma says. “My role is to help her organize her research and her ideas, going beyond conventional conformist thinking.”

Roberts says Reyns-Chikuma and Bryan Washington, associate professor of English and her other adviser, have been very helpful.

“They help refine my ideas and provide me with suggestions and directions. They set goals for me to meet so that I keep up with the workload,” she says.

“I think that [a senior thesis] is the type of project that Lafayette really encourages for its students. Lafayette has been a great home for four years and has taught me a lot.”

Reyns-Chikuma says that Roberts’ research is equally challenging and fulfilling for him.

“Very often, [collaborating on projects] is as interesting for the teacher as it is for the student,” he says. “It allows both the teacher and the student to seriously deepen an issue.”

Considering a future career in publishing, Roberts is a resident adviser, member of Alpha Phi sorority, and writing associate. She was a member of the crew team. Roberts is a graduate of North Mecklenburg High School.

Chosen from among Lafayette’s most promising applicants, Marquis Scholars like Roberts receive special financial aid and distinctive educational experiences and benefits, including a three-week, Lafayette-funded study-abroad course during January’s interim session between semesters. Marquis Scholars also participate in cultural activities in major cities and on campus, and mentoring programs with Lafayette faculty.

Honors thesis projects are among several major opportunities at Lafayette that make the College a national leader in undergraduate research. Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Thirty-nine students were accepted to present their work at this year’s annual conference.

Categorized in: Academic News