Tag Archives: History

Back in America For an Hour

This past weekend Sweet Briar, the program I’m studying abroad with, took us on a day trip to Normandy to see the D-Day beaches and the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.

The land of the American cemetery was given to the Americans following WWII so I was technically back in the United States for a brief hour!

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Our professors even “allowed” us to speak English while we were there, except I forgot and kept speaking French.

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While there I realized that without the sacrifices of so many men and women, I would not be here in France today.

It is notoriously cold and windy in Normandy so the night before I had a conversation with my host family that went something like this:

Host Mom: “Emily, do you have a scarf?”

Me: “What? Of course I do!”

Host Mom: “No, like a real scarf and not just one that looks pretty? One made out of wool or something to keep you warm?”

Me: “Ha. No I don’t have one.”

Host Mom: “What about a bonnet?”

Me: “A what?”

Host Mom: “You know like a hat!”

Me: “Uh no.”

Host Mom: “Well what about gloves? Do you have any gloves?”

Me: “I’m from Texas…”

I'm sorry that I'm Texan and I don't understand the cold!!
I’m sorry that I’m Texan and I don’t understand the cold!!

Basically, my host family ended up lending me their ski wardrobe, which I was very thankful for because despite the clear skies and the sun, the beaches were still freezing cold and windy!

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Showing off my mittens

We were also accompanied by a couple of tour guides who didn’t really do much besides walk us down the beach and point out a couple memorials with all of the information about the landings written down on them.

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Our first view from the beach

We walked through the part known as Omaha Beach, where some of the American forces landed during the Allied invasion of German-Occupied France.

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I really like this seafoam

Then of course, no visit anywhere is complete without seeing and photographing the local inhabitants of today:

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Thank you hand, for distracting the cat long enough for me to snap a picture

Cultural Remark: French dogs are remarkably well behaved. Seriously, dogs get on the metro all the time and most don’t try to run after other dogs or show any interest in passing by pedestrians!

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Our trip to Normandy was in brief, very short. We spent about two hours total on the beach itself before we had to head back to the train station in Caen to catch our train back to Paris.

This past week I’ve also still been super busy with my internship here and a bunch of applications for internships and advising have come out recently so I’ve been working away on them instead of updating my blog like I should!

But I promise…

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Sorbonne Class Update: Presenting the Idea of American Hegemony

“Emily, who is presenting on the article today, is very courageous,” my French professor started, introducing me to the class. (He’d never bothered to introduce anyone before)  “She is an American student and I’m very happy that she is presenting this orally because most foreign students do the written assignment instead, so she is very brave.”

Please continue Professor
Please continue Professor

It was true. I was the only foreign student in the entire class who was giving an oral presentation.

But, if he said anything else, I was too nervous to notice as I walked to the front of the classroom and set up my presentation. Did I mention my presentation was all in French and in front of a classroom mostly full of native French speakers?

First slide of my presentation. Go America!
First slide of my presentation. Go America!

“So today I will be talking about the text we just read,” my voice sounded shaky even to my ears and I tried to enunciate my words clearly, in an effort to calm my voice. “The New World Order, written by George H. W. Bush.”

This isn’t the exact speech I read, but some of the same ideas are found here in one of Bush’s later speeches.

As I went on, my hands shook less and my voice evened out. Throughout the semester I’d noticed that most French students, when they presented in front of the class, used nothing but a sheet of notes and they occasionally wrote down important dates and names on the blackboard. As a foreign student, this was both extremely annoying and boring. Without something to follow along with on the screen I often ended up missing the most important information. For example, I’d write down the name of the event, but by the time I wrote it down they had already passed over its significance -rendering the name or date I wrote down almost useless! So I resolved to create a full out American powerpoint for my presentation, minus the English bien sûr!

Every important definition, point, date, and name was clearly typed out in my fancy presentation. I even included pictures.

Did the class like it? I don’t know.

But I did notice that it seemed that a much greater majority of the class was paying attention to my presentation that any other student’s. The real reason might have been that my American accent was interesting or maybe the fact that I was talking about American hegemony…

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Basically American Hegemony is the idea that America is the most powerful nation in the world and needs to act as a world policeman

 

Regardless, my presentation went splendidly. The professor added a couple other points at the end and then opened the floor for questions. By this point I wasn’t even nervous and eagerly listened to the question from a talkative guy a couple rows back.

“Why did the United States think that it was the only one who could spread democracy? There were plenty of other democracies at the time, like France and other European countries.”

I smiled. I had this answer down.

“Well even today in the United States some people have the idea -the ignorant idea that the United States is actually the only real democracy in the world. I come from Texas and there are some ignorant people who live there who don’t travel and don’t understand the world. When I talk about France with them they say ‘But France is socialist!'”

The entire class started laughing and I paused for a moment before continuing. “For some Americans socialism is the same thing as communism. So for them, the United States really is the only democracy in the world.”

Basically, I’m pretty sure I aced my presentation and got to make French kids laugh about a silly insight into American thoughts.

When I was doing research for my presentation I stumbled across this video… It should make you laugh and cringe at the same time. I definitely DID NOT share this with my French class!

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Old Town France, the Middle Ages, and Food

This past weekend Sweet Briar (the program I’m studying abroad with) organized a trip to Strasbourg, a city to the west in the country’s famed region of Alsace. I say famed because said territory was a point of deep seated contention between Germany and France, as it continually switched back and forth between the two countries over the last few centuries. One day you were German, the next day you were French, then a few years later you were German again! So it would make sense that such a region (15 minutes away from the border to Germany) would have a blended culture. The buildings look like they belong in a small German town and the German language is heavily present alongside the French.

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That was some delicious ice cream

Strasbourg is also called the capital of Christmas as their December Christmas markets are world renowned. Since it’s only October, I had to settle for buying their famous pain d’épices and visiting the one Christmas shop in Old Town Strasbourg.

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Christmas cookies and pain d’epices

Pain d’épices translated loosely is gingerbread, but gingerbread with a whole lot more flavor containing a wide variety of spices including honey, anise, cinnamon, and even orange.

Upon arriving in Strasbourg, we took a guided tour of Notre Dame de Strasbourg, the striking Gothic cathedral that towers over the town.

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It has to be one of the oldest looking cathedrals I have ever seen.

Next year they will be celebrating 1000 years since the foundation of the cathedral was laid. The cathedral was completed in 1439 and is the highest structure built entirely in the middle ages.

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On the inside, aside from the many glittering stained glass windows, there is an astronomical clock that calculates not only time, but also equinoxes, the lunar calendar, and other astronomical information. Every 15 minutes the clock comes to life and a figure representing a stage of life moves in front of death, a scary skeleton figure, and baby cherubs strike bells.

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Despite all of the cool astronomical references and the general ancient feeling of the town,  my favorite part of the whole trip was definitely the food. Sweet Briar took us to a restaurant that specialized in Baeckeoffe, an Alsatian tradition. Baeckeoffe is essentially a giant, slow cooked hot pot comprised of potatoes, vegetables, and meat marinated in wine.

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The outside.
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The inside.

It was delicious and I don’t think I have ever left a restaurant feeling so stuffed. My table couldn’t even finish the pot, but I still made sure to eat all of my dessert!

Then the next day for lunch I tried another Alsatian specialty called Flammekueche or Tarte flambée depending on your languageIt’s basically a pizza with an extremely thin crust. I had the original which contains fromage blanc, onions and bacon.

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I ate the whole thing. Good thing I had my yoga class the following day.

Then Sunday we took a day trip to Colmar, another city in Alsace.

We took a guided tour of the Unterlinden Museum to see the Isenheim altarpiece, a series of painted panels from the Middle Ages. The symbology and detail of each panel is absolutely stunning.

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They display everything from the crucifixion and resurrection to fantastical scenes of good versus evil. The tour guide actually compared the monsters on this panel to Pokemon!

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Pikachu doesn't see it either
Pikachu doesn’t see it either

Then we returned to Strasbourg for a few hours of free time and I decided to stick to the spirit of old town France and sat at a cafe, milking a glass of raspberry Sirop à l’eau for 2 hours in good French fashion.

Basically Italian soda with flat water, but it tastes so much better than that description.
Basically Italian soda with flat water, but it tastes so much better than that description.

That concludes my weekend in Strasbourg! What’s next on the list? Athens, Rome, Florence, and Venice! Fall break is just around the corner and I’ll be indulging in as much gelato as possible!

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Thoughts on Being an America Encyclopedia

“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?”

Reagan?  We liked him?
Reagan? We liked him?

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:
No.

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.”

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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.

Nothing like living in another country to bring out your deeply buried patriotism
Nothing like living in another country to bring out your deeply buried patriotism

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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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).

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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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