Wednesday, February 3, 2010


I can't remember if I've mentioned French showers yet or not, but I don't like them. You can't even call them showers really - it's a bathtub with a shower head that you have to hold. Now, they might not all be like the one I have here with my host family (though, this one seems to fit the description the housing director gave us), but there isn't even a shower curtain. Since I'm living in someone else's house, I don't want to take really long showers, but lately, I've had no choice - I can barely figure it out. And I certainly can't ask "Excusez-moi, mais comment peut-on prendre une douche en ce pays?" (Excuse me, but how does one take a shower in this country?) Tonight, I found out that the thing is temperamental and sometimes, the shower head doesn't work. Or maybe I'm just doing it wrong. Anyway, I thought that deserved a mention.

Course selection is finally over, and I'm very happy. I'm going to take three courses at Paris VIII-St. Denis (a writing workshop where they teach you to write with constraints like l'OuLiPo, a literature class about Paris and how it's impacted French literature where we'll visit different parts of Paris that are mentioned in novels, and a history class about the reign of Louis XIV), one at Paris IV-La Sorbonne (a basic philosophy course), and finally, a French literature course at l'ENS (that will be impossible, but I can't wait!)!

Then, today, we talked about the differences between French and American universities. First, in American universities, since they cost so much more, they told us students are treated like clients, and as such, we get individualized attention, they make sure we have the guidance we need to graduate, there's one-on-one time with professors, etc. But, in French schools, since they're all public and the entire country pays for students to go to school, the students aren't at the center of the picture. A certain degree of anonymity is always nice, though, so I don't think I'll mind going a semester without being important. They also said that, in American universities, the professors give more homework and are more explicit about what is expected of the students - usually presenting a syllabus and a reading list. However, at French universities, students have more liberties, in a sense. The professor starts by handing out a bibliography for the course, but the students choose which books to use. Maybe the professor will choose one or two as textbooks, but it's up to the student how many extra books he/she reads and why. Then, there are only two or three real graded assignments in French classes (oral presentations, disserations, or a test). I've already talked about the methodology behind the dissertation, but the oral presentations and tests are a little different too. They told us not to be afraid of speaking, even if our French isn't perfect, because the students and the professor will already be impressed at our courage for taking these courses in French, so they'll focus less on how we say things and more on what we say. Then, with the tests, the professor won't say what kind of test it will be. And they told us not to be too afraid about getting bad grades - apparently, all French professors give bad grades. Grades here are out of 20, and the saying goes: "20 is for God, 19 is for the professor, and after that, we'll see." So, I suppose we'll see. CUPA has deemed a 9/20 a passing grade, and since, when you study abroad, it's all pass/fail, all I need is a 9. Woohoo! The final difference is that, in America, college is seen as a transition period between adolescence and adulthood, whereas here, college students are viewed right away as adults. Even though many still live with their parents while they go to college, they are supposedly incredibly independent and, since these schools don't have real campuses, treat Paris as their own personal campus. It was an interesting discussion.

Today, I also went back to l'ENS to see where my course is going to be on Monday. It's right next to La Salle Beckett (because, of course, Samuel Beckett taught there!). I also took another good look at the Ernests, and found an adorable kitty, which I proceeded to pet for a while. He must have been a smart cat to pass the concours to get in. Hopefully, he's there for the education, and not for the Ernests! Then, I got some more Berthillon ice cream (salted caramel, my new favorite flavor!), and on the way back, I had one of those moments. I was walking along the Seine, ice cream cone in hand, passing by Notre-Dame, and suddenly, it hit me all over again that I'm actually in Paris! It's just so incredible - this city is so old, and has inspired millions, and I'm here right now. All of the customs and traditions (academic and otherwise) that I've been observing, are older than anything in the United States, and everyone here is really proud of their culture and language. The opportunity to learn just by living day by day is incredible! My courses haven't even started yet, and I feel as though I've learned more than I could have learned studying French at Hopkins my whole life.

That's it for tonight. I really need to stop staying up so late. I'm putting a picture of the ENS cat here, and I'll put the CUPA party pictures on yesterday's blog.

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