“Emily, what do Americans think about Reagan?” my French professor asked during my Contemporary World Analysis class at the Sorbonne.
“Quoi?” I squeaked, a little surprised to be called on, especially by name in a class of at least 40 students.
“Well the French think of Reagan as an actor” he offered. “So what do the Americans think?”
I think I muttered something about how religious he was, which was fitting since we were analyzing Reagan’s “Evil Empire” speech in class. (For those who don’t know here’s a snippet: let us pray for the salvation of all of those who live in that totalitarian darkness–pray they will discover the joy of knowing God” ) Whew. It is a class on history from the Cold War to present day, which meant we talk about America a lot.
Which means that automatically makes me, the American, an expert on the subject!
Secret here: If I was an expert on the subject I wouldn’t be taking this class!!
But it’s been really interesting to hear about the Cold War from a 3rd party’s perspective. I almost started laughing in class when the professor first said “American aggression” because we never learn about it like that, and yet if you think about it aggression is as good of a word as any to describe some of our policies during the Cold War.
That day after class the professor waited for me to ask how things were going and if I was understanding everything. So contrary to what I had been led to believe, some French professors do actually care about their students!
I already explained classes a bit in a previous post, but there are two parts to French university classes.
1. The CM (Cours Magistral): This is your basic lecture class. One professor, a microphone, and a PowerPoint (if you’re lucky) and at least 200 students. Typically meets for one hour once a week.
2. The TD (Travaux dirigés): One professor/Teaching assistant, and max 50 students. This is the class where you get graded. Here you go in depth, beyond what you’ve learned from diligently attending the CMs. You read articles and discuss/present them in class. Typically meets for 1.5 to 2 hours once a week.
I’m lucky. I have one CM and TD for the same class where both professors use PowerPoints so I’m sure to get down 70% of what they’re teaching with the right spelling. For the Cold War TD (the one I was discussing at the beginning) the professor speaks slowly and writes important things down on the chalkboard so I get by. The CM for the same class is another story. Let’s just say I’m glad I already know a little bit about the Cold War, because it might as well be useless.
But, back to my original point: I’m constantly reminded that here in France, I truly do represent America.
For example, the other week I was getting coffee and grabbed 3 packets of sugar. Someone noticed and asked me “If all Americans like a lot of sugar in their coffee.”
But I guess that’s part of the experience of studying abroad! I portray American culture and values while living abroad so I have to make it my mission to make sure that others perceive me (and consequently America) in a positive light.
In America if I don’t know the name of the President from a random year in history, it’s overlooked because no one expects us to remember that. But if I don’t know something about American history while I’m here in France I feel terrible! I should be the most knowledgeable resource in the class about the United States because that’s my country.
Honestly, I’ll probably be musing about this the entire year. (In between studying up on Cold War American stuff of course) What do you think?
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2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Being an America Encyclopedia”
Salut! It’s wonderful to hear about your adventure this year, and while I never studied at the Sorbonne, it all sounds so outrageously familiar – from studying in Germany at 18, at 21, & just travel in general. I love it. I’m married with 2 little ones and in no place to go off alone to study somewhere, so it’s fun to re-live the crazy experience of university abroad via your blog. Thanks for sharing =) et bonne chance!
Thank you! It’s good to hear from you Michelle!