La Rentrée: My First Week at the Sorbonne

Of course there are other buildings next to it, but here's my "campus"
Of course there are other buildings next to it, but here’s my “campus”

I made sure to get to my first class, “Introduction to the Cultural History of the Middle Ages” early.  French students? A French professor who will probably hate me immediately? A class all in French? Saying I was nervous would be an understatement.

Can we go back to summer now?
Terrified would be a better word.

The first class was a CM, Cours Magistral, or a lecture style class. It went surprisingly well. The professor, thankfully, had a powerpoint to go along with his lecture so I understood most everything he said when he was talking about the Franks and Visigoths. I even talked to a girl after class! Making French friends? I sure hope so.

Unfortunately, a CM is only about 1/2 of the actual course. The rest of the course is a TD or Travaux dirigés, also known as a seminar of sorts with a teaching assistant and only about 50 students instead of the 200 in the CM. Of course, the only grades you get are in the TD from your teaching assistant so when you end up looking like this during your first TD:

Uhhh what?
Was that French?

You might have a slight problem.

Thankfully my other classes went much, much better.

Which is frustrating because I signed up for a backup class just in case the Middle Ages course was horrible (and it was) and it turns out my backup class is amazing! The TD professor has the perfect accent, talks at a normal pace, and seemed really happy to have me there! Unfortunately, as it’s an analysis of very recent history, it also has a real life application to my major and career path… Why do I say unfortunately?

My inner Diana Bishop just really, really wants to learn what the heck went on all that time ago… and maybe a little alchemy.

Who wouldn't want to learn the symbolism behind this picture??
Who wouldn’t want to learn the symbolism behind this picture??

So I’ll probably go to all of my classes again next week and then decide which one to drop. Maybe the Middle Ages class was just horrible because it was the first day and she didn’t know what else to do besides name drop all of these philosophers? When she wrote Huizinga on the board I was terrified. It didn’t look like a French word at all so no wonder I didn’t understand!

The only bad thing about my other classes is that there really isn’t an assigned textbook. They each hand out bibliographies with dozens of books listed. One professor actually told us that there was no required reading, but if we wanted to do well we should read a few.

Optional, but highly encouraged, giant reading list?
Optional, but highly encouraged, giant reading list?

I don’t even know.

As far as meeting French students… I’ve had mixed results. I feel like it’s your average university setting: unless you reach out to someone either by smiling, offering up a pen, or flat out introducing yourself, most everyone will just mind their own business and leave you be.

They obviously didn’t hear or see my inner plea for French friends.

I guess I need to work on my adorable, help me vibe
I’m taking lessons from Stitch.

But it turns out I have another class with the girl I talked to after my Middle Ages class! I talked to both her and her friend for a few minutes about classes and then sat next to them in the lecture. So I’m even more reluctant to drop the Middle Ages class because I’m very slowly making friends!

That sums up all of the information I have on my classes at the Sorbonne since I’ll only be taking 2 classes at the Sorbonne and 2 with Sweet Briar. I’ve already mentioned in a previous post how fantastic my grammar class is- yes, yes you can use that adjective with grammar- but I haven’t talked about my other Sweet Briar class. It’s an art history class where we spend an hour and a half each week sitting around analyzing paintings and sculptures in the Louvre.

I might have actually twirled like that too...
I might have actually twirled like that too…

I don’t think much more description is necessary here. Our professor is funny and has a massive knowledge of art and the Louvre in general. Apparently, he noticed that a painting was gone from its usual spot so he went and asked a worker where it was. They then told him said painting had never actually been in the Louvre’s possession. So he told the worker that if they didn’t email him the location of the painting in three days, he would write an article saying that the Louvre had lost a painting (or was robbed).

24ybi3o
Where is she?

Needless to say, they emailed him the information detailing the painting’s new location. So kind of an Art Historian bad-ass. Is that an oxymoron?

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A Vampire Weekend in Nice

Before this past weekend I’d never completely traveled by myself. Sure I’ve taken plane rides between countries alone, but there has always been someone on the other side who already has everything planned out. This weekend trip to Nice, France was all me. I found the cheapest train tickets, the hostel without a curfew, and mapped everything out to be sure we could easily get from the train station to the hostel. It actually went surprisingly well, of course until the end, but I’ll get to that!

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The cheapest round trip train from Paris to Nice we could find for that weekend happened to be an overnight train:

Basically the only picture I could take without seeming like a total creeper
Basically the only picture I could take without seeming like a total creeper

Each “cabin” had 6 beds, 2 stacks of 3 beds each. I felt like I was in some kind of spy movie, walking down the narrow, never ending hallways as if someone was chasing me.

YES
YES.

We got to Nice about 9 am the next morning and dropped our stuff of at the hostel before heading to the beach:

Those are rocks yes
Those are rocks yes

I actually kind of enjoyed the rocks instead of sand. They were horrible to walk on in bare feet, but you didn’t really need a beach towel and you left the beach without having a billion grains of sand in every nook and cranny of your body!

I was pretty nervous about staying in a hostel for the first time since I wasn’t sure what to expect. We stayed in a 6 bed mixed gender room, which was fine since we had a guy travelling with us. Surprisingly, we had an en-suite shower and we were even given free breakfast! All of our roommates were very nice and interesting to talk to and staying in a hostel even allowed me to meet some other Americans who were also studying abroad in Paris spending a weekend in Nice! What a small world! The hostel also provided lockers, towels, sheets, a hairdryer(!!), and of course, free Wifi.

We spent almost the entirety of our second day at the beach.

I think I sometimes forget that vampires (aka super white people like me) burn in the sunlight even with multiple applications of sunscreen, because this was me:

I burn. RIP Godric and True Blood.
I burn. RIP Godric and True Blood.

My future vacations will have to be beach-less I’m afraid.

Of course, our weekend trip could not possibly finish without a major problem, because it turns out everyone in our group just thought they knew the exact time the train left and no one actually checked to make sure… So we missed our train…

Sticking with the vampire theme... this was me.
Sticking with the vampire theme… this was me.

We took the next train though and we all got back to Paris in one piece, but for future reference I’m going to insist on seeing the train times for myself to avoid future sunburned vampire catastrophes. It would be a disaster.

In other news, my classes at the Sorbonne start this week…

I'm starting to think this might be me at the end of the week...
I’m starting to think this might be me at the end of the week…

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First Day of Class?

Is it actually possible for someone to be excited to start classes again?

The answer is: yes. I’ve had an enormous amount of free time this past week. What? Free time in Paris is everyone’s dream? Unless you’re a broke American college student…

Then you visit museums and mournfully window shop.

And laugh at the English shirts...
And laugh at the English shirts…

Just kidding. While I have already visited several museums, I’ve mainly just been wandering around Paris finding the shopping malls, avoiding the tourist areas, and noting down cool restaurants like “Bagels and Brownies” to check out later.

Nothing particularly Parisian about a bagel sandwich named "Brooklyn" but it was delicious!
Nothing particularly Parisian about a bagel sandwich named “Brooklyn” but it was delicious!

But a girl can only do so much walking a day before she starts to get cranky. So Sunday I decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and read my French Sci-Fi novel in my neighborhood park.

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The only thing that would have made that day even more perfect would have been a tall cup of sugary iced coffee… Uhh I mean Perrier.

Definitely.
Definitely.

Sorry guys. I swear I haven’t set foot in a Starbucks yet, but the instant coffee that the French love to drink is anything but satisfying. Either I’m going to figure out how to work a French press, that I can buy at Monoprix for pretty cheap, or I’m going to be a regular customer at a French café. Be prepared for a blog post all about coffee in the coming months.

But thankfully, I started classes today! Well, my classes with Sweet Briar at least. Sweet Briar is the college that runs this particular study abroad program in Paris. They hold excursions throughout the year and serve basically as a bunch of adults willing to hold our hands (if necessary) through life in Paris and classes at the Sorbonne. We take half of our classes with Sweet Briar (all French professors though) and half of our classes at the Sorbonne.

The class I had today was the “Atelier d’écriture” or a nitpicky French grammar and writing class that Sweet Briar highly recommends. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed a class about grammar. The professor basically gave us a few complicated English sentences to translate into French and then taught us the “French” way to write them correctly. She then made us practice over and over again using hilarious sentences such as “No matter where you go I will find you.”

Is Taken a little too close to home?
Is Taken a little too close to home? Moving on…

All in all a good first day of classes. Stay tuned for updates on the rest of my classes including an Art History class that supposedly meets in the Louvre? I can’t wait!

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Officially Not a Tourist

Last Friday I officially, (according to me) surpassed the label of “tourist” and I am now living in Paris rather than just visiting.

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Of course, that means I forget to take pictures of the major monument that I happen to be living by…

Oh hey there neighbor
Oh hey there neighbor!

Because it also happens that I’m living directly off of the Champs-Élysées, which is horrendously full of tourists all the time. They’re all there to see (and a very few make purchases in) all the designer stores. Louis Vuitton anyone? Yeah, not me. I usually walk pretty fast along that street because it’s always so crowded and uncomfortable.

Speaking of where I’m living… I’m in a tiny little apartment that has been supposedly handed down through my host mom’s family for generations. The floors creak when you move the tiniest bit and every room has the grand classic windows of your typical Parisian home. I love it!

My host mom’s vivacious personality has taken a little bit of getting used to. I was definitely overwhelmed the first few days because she likes to know everything that is going on with me. I’m not used to explaining every detail of my schedule! It’s also her first time hosting a student with the Sweet Briar program so she’s not quite sure how things work. Besides that she’s been really great to me, getting me to talk and correcting my grammar and pronunciation when necessary, making sure that I have everything I need, and that I like what we’re eating for dinner.

Regarding classes, we’ve been left to explore the city for the most part by Sweet Briar, since classes at the Sorbonne don’t start for over another week! Which means exploring the city and mapping out where all the free restrooms are… If you’ve ever been to Europe you know that a free restroom is like a holy grail. Most of the time they cost about 0.50 cents!

My expression when I found the first FREE bathroom.
My expression when I found the first FREE bathroom.
And my apprehension. They're free for a reason?
And my apprehension. They’re free for a reason? Gotta love those candid pictures.

We’ve had a few small classes, such as a class on current French politics (Interesting if you haven’t already taken a few classes on the subject!) and a very general, vague course on methodology for the courses we will take. For example, how to write a “dissertation” or a “commentaire-composé” for our classes at the Sorbonne. Thankfully we will have weekly tutorials at Sweet Briar since most of this “hypothetical” subject matter went right over my head.

Tomorrow, I think I’m finally going to visit a museum! But I’m definitely not a tourist anymore, I’m a student of French history, art, and literature according to my Student ID card. (Next time you see a cute French boy, tell him you study French literature -you might get a free drink**)

Technically not a tourist, but not by much
Technically not a tourist, but not by much

**Don’t actually do this.

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La vie à Tours

If you haven’t been reading my earlier posts I’ve been staying in Tours, France these past 2 weeks for an orientation of sorts, full of “intensive” French classes *cough*threehoursaday*cough* and well, lots of free time.

I know I mentioned my host family in an earlier post, but since that post, the family size has more than doubled! All five of their kids came back from vacation ranging from age 12 to age 20. I was sitting in my room when all of a sudden I heard them…

They're going to laugh at my French and ignore me and make fun of me.
Mother was right! They’re going to laugh at my French and ignore me and make fun of me.

The parents actually left for a date that evening, leaving us alone with the kids. It started off pretty awkward because they all spoke super fast and only with each other. But then the littlest boy told a joke and I laughed…

Their reaction to my laughter: The American understands us!
Their reaction to my laughter: The American understands us!

I think that was the moment when I won the respect of the eldest boy and he has since made the biggest effort to talk to me. I’m actually surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed talking to the kids. I think it’s because I’m very formal with the parents and choose my words carefully, but with the kids I can talk about everything from French YouTube stars to Mexican food!

So I’m actually kind of sad to be leaving this host family tomorrow because watching them all interact was both amusing and very enlightening and well, I’m going to miss having someone to talk to about “young” French culture.

Tomorrow, the group heads out for Paris, where I will be staying for the rest of the year! But before I go, I wanted to make a list of my favorite things about living in Tours.

1. Having a class in a room with a chandelier and sculpted walls.

..
No big deal.

 

2. Walking by buildings that are hundreds of years old every day and realizing that it’s completely normal for this city.

I think Rapunzel lives up there.
I think Rapunzel lives up there.

3. Switching in between French and English so easily you don’t even notice when you change.

I need this shirt.
This shirt expresses everything. Buy it here.

4. Having this be your walk home:

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5. And well, the tranquility. I’m probably going to miss the relatively laid-back atmosphere of Tours in comparison to Paris. Sometimes it’s just nice to relax 🙂

The next time I post I will finally be in Paris! Oh, and living next to the Arc de Triomphe! ❤

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