Tag Archives: Sorbonne

A Busy Parisian Bee

Now that the first week of full classes has gone by I can admit that this is going to be a very busy semester! 4 days out of the week my schedule is packed and then the other three days I’m like this:

What do you mean I’m in Paris? It’s cold!

This semester I’m taking 3 classes at Sweet Briar (the program I’m studying abroad with), 1 class at the Sorbonne, and I have an internship at the École Militaire. 

I intern there. (It's not a joke)
I intern there. (It’s not a joke)

My study abroad program finds internships for the spring semester students and so I’m working in a journalism/international relations office where I’m translating and will soon be writing my own policy analysis articles. I had to create a CV all in French and apply like normal, but now I have one of the undoubtedly coolest internships in all of France. I’m probably one of the dozen un-uniformed people there and I am constantly surrounded by generals and strange French working customs.

For example, you give handshakes at the office in France! (Which is weird for France. I’ve stuck my hand out several times only to be awkwardly stared at.) But of course if you’re a girl you shake hands and do la bise (French cheek kiss thing) which is typically the only greeting I’ve been used to here.

I just go with it
I just go with it


I might just be super lucky, but also the attire for the non-military personnel is decidedly casual (albeit French casual which is miles ahead of American casual any day).

Class wise, at the Sorbonne I’m taking the History of the Middle East in the 20th century, which is covering everything from the creation of Israel to the Arab Spring in 2011. Most Sorbonne classes are simply continuations of the previous semester so I was a tad bit nervous about not knowing what happened in the Middle East in the first half of the 20th century. Then the professor handed out the final exam from last semester and there was a big picture of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk so I knew I was going to be all right. (If you don’t know I did a big research project in Turkey last year and Atatürk was kind of the founder of the modern Turkish state)

My professor is clearly an expert on the subject of the Middle East, she’s easy to understand, and she informed me (the only foreign student in the class) that I will not have to take the final exam at the end of the semester.

That's one less exam I have to take!
Basically she’s 100% amazing.

For my Sweet Briar classes I’m continuing with the amazing grammar class and I’m taking the History of Art in France in the 19th and 20th centuries, which is basically a continuation off of last semester. (This is the same class where we visit the museums in person for class). I’m also taking the History of France and Europe in the 20th century, which I should drop because I only need to take 3 classes because of my internship, but it seems like a really interesting and useful class since I would get to know more about recent French history. (Which you know could be useful for an aspiring diplomat)

I’m also continuing to give English lessons to family’s kids a couple hours a week for a few extra euros. Gotta pay for my pastry and coffee addiction somehow! (Actually let’s be honest: I’m starving and saving all my money for the opera)

Oh also… It snowed this weekend. This Texan girl was like this:

"Are those actual snowflakes??"
“Are those actual snowflakes??”

(I had never seen snow fall before. It was a good day.)

Anyone want to hazard a guess from the gifs where I’m thinking of travelling next? (If you guessed England you would be right!)

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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…

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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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:

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.

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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Yoga in Paris?

When Sweet Briar, the program that I’m studying abroad with, told us that the Sorbonne offered free sports classes for students, I thought, cool, and decided to casually glance over the list later. But then when I saw that list contained a whole section dedicated to Yoga, I almost did a feathered peacock pose right there! (Just kidding guys I can’t do arm-stands I’m not that good)

I went to my required medical visit twice, (the first time they had apparently “lost” my appointment time or something) so that the doctor could sign a sheet of paper saying I was physically fit enough to do yoga. Then I waited in a long line at school and snagged the last spot in the last beginner class of yoga left!


It also happened to be the exact same day so I ran home and changed into my yoga pants before heading back for the class.

We started the class off with savasana

download (1)

Which is extremely important for concentrating on breathing and releasing tension. I’m used to finishing my yoga class with savasana, but I figured yoga would be a little different here anyways. But then we didn’t move.

We didn’t move for a very long time.

Definitely still focusing on breathing


30 minutes into my yoga class and I was already falling asleep! Which I guess is good if you’re practicing yoga mainly to relax, but I’m used to a more active, intense form of yoga called vinyasa so after we did 2 sun salutations and the class ended I decided to change to the more advanced class.

Yoga and Drill Sergeant are two words that should never ever go together and yet they did. No relaxing smiling personality, only a permanent scowl and a penchant for yelling at the class.

“No looking at other people” she would say. “I describe everything you need to do so you don’t even need to have your eyes open!”

Yeah uh huh and how does that work if you don’t know yoga vocabulary in French?

But thankfully even though the languages changes, the positions do not, so I was able to follow along pretty well since I had already done them before!


It wasn’t very relaxing, but it was great in terms of what I wanted for a yoga class. Lots of deep stretches and flowing through poses like I’m used to. I might even be sore tomorrow!

The only bad thing was that she let the class out half an hour late…

And I missed my lecture class because it would have taken me 45 minutes to get to the classroom on the other side of Paris and you do not walk into a class in France 15 minutes late.

Yeah, Namaste to you too professor.
Yeah thanks,  Namaste to you too professor.

So tomorrow I’ll go back to the sports office at the Sorbonne and see if I can change back to the easy yoga class, because I can’t keep missing my lectures. Also Drill Sergeant Yoga lady would probably tell me to stop taking her class if I asked to get out on time. She was that mean. But I doubt that there will be any remaining spots in the class 😦

I guess I’ll just have to do my vinyasa on Youtube!

Because a picture of me like this in front of the Eiffel Tower is now on the bucket list.


I won’t be completely giving up on yoga in Paris though. I’ve heard of some free classes around the city so I’ll have to check them out and blog about them in the future!

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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).

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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