18 February 2008

Maastricht in Pictures

For Teresa's February break, we decided to meet up in Maastricht, Netherlands to visit Scott and get a taste of the Dutch countryside. Maastricht is located in the very southern tip of the Netherlands, right on the border with Belgium. It is also famous for the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht, which created the European Union.

This was the first time I saw Teresa since May 2007, and the first time seeing Scott since December 2007. We had a nice little IU reunion! If you look to the upper left of the picture, you can see the wrought-iron year of that building (A 1775).

Maastricht is very much a biking city, so our first day, we borrowed bikes and toured the city.
It was a great way to see the different areas of the city- and very convenient, since most of the streets have bike paths paved in red. However, be prepared to bike on cobblestone- it's very bumpy!

The old Maastricht fort, which we saw as a part of our bike tour.

Typical Maastricht street leading from the Vrijthof Square, one of the two main squares in downtown Maastricht.

The next day, we took a 15-minute bike ride out to the Château Neercanne. This is me posing with my rental bike, with its too-tall seat. Most people here are taller, so it was not easy to find bikes that were marginally comfortable! Behind me is the little vineyard in front of the castle.

Side of the castle and view of the countryside after we first climbed up the hill next to the vineyard. Note the beautiful weather, and the clarity of the sky such that you can see the moon!

Garden in front of the castle.

Front of the castle. We didn't get to go in, but we did see the fancy restaurant on the other side, built into the hill. After walking around this part of the castle, we did a bit of exploring through the paths on the hill around the back.

In this picture you can see the border of the Netherlands and Belgium. You only have to cross the bridge! And cross the bridge we would...by visiting Brussels on a separate trip the next week.

17 February 2008

And classes begin.

(Note: I wrote this post weeks ago but didn't finish or publish it. More posts with more updated info on my life will come soon!)

Once again, I have much to catch up on in here, so I'm going to combine two weeks into one. This works though, because I can describe all of my new classes in one blog. Classes at IES stated February 4, while classes at Paris IV-Sorbonne started February 11. Winter break is officially over!

Weeks of Feb. 4 - Feb. 17

Themes of the week:

  • Classes and schedules. For the first time since I've been here, I'm finally on a regular schedule. Though I don't have nearly as much free time anymore, I still have long stretches of time between classes with which to eat lunch with friends, go shopping, or explore the city. It's very strange not going to work at the lab with every break I have! More about the specific classes later in this entry.
  • Traveling. Both weekends of these two weeks were spent outside Paris. It was hard to leave because all of my IES friends are here having fun together on weekends, time spent together that I missed out on. However, the weekends I spent away were worth it. The first weekend was spent with my pen pal Claire and her mom, in Draveil, and the second weekend was spent in Maastricht. I will write a separate entry just for my weekend in Maastricht to follow this one.
La météo: Luckily, the weather was absolutely gorgeous these two weeks. I love that the weather here is more constant- if it's beautiful, it will be beautiful for at least an entire week. If it's cloudy and rainy, it will be that way for another entire week. It's a nice change from Bloomington, where the weather seems to change every single day!

For the first time, I:
made friends with a French girl without help from anyone. My international pen pals, Claire and Annika, were both introduced to me through my dad since they are daughters of his colleagues, so I didn't have to do anything to meet them. I had really hoped to make French friends here on my own, but was told that it's nearly impossible to make friends with French girls because they are very reserved and competitive with other girls. Mais, voilà! I met Stéphanie in my travaux dirigés (T.D., analogous to our discussion sections in the US) portion of my class at the Sorbonne. She helped me understand the assignments required for the class, since there was no syllabus given- all information was oral, and spoken too fast for me to understand. After class, we walked together back to Port Royal, the nearest RER station, and she explained to me that she was also friends with a Chinese foreign exchange student, so she understood my needs to become accustomed to the French education system and the French language. I'm very grateful to have a friend in this course- it will make my experience at the French university worth it!

Foods discovered:
La raclette. The Bremonds introduced me to this special dish while I was there over the weekend. La raclette is a traditional dish from the Savoie region near Switzerland, and it involves heating le raclette (a type of cheese from the same region) and sliding the hot cheese onto steamed potatoes and cured meats. We had three types of flavored raclette to choose from: white wine, smoked, or pepper, and we put each slice on a little spatula, six of which fit into slots on a machine made specially for the purpose of serving la raclette. We had slices of prosciutto to go with the cheese and potatoes, and cider to complete the meal. It was delicious!

Places discovered:
  • La Sorbonne. Well, at least the Art History and Archeology department. The department is situated in the 6th arrondissement, right next to the gardens leading up to the Jardin de Luxembourg. The amphithéâtre, or lecture hall, is unbearably hot, so students have the habit of layering clothes to prepare for their two-hour long lectures five times each week. Luckily for me, I'm only required to go to one lecture per week! Instead of the tiny fold-up desks that we have in most lecture halls at IU, the hall is lined with long desks, which is useful for the French version of note-taking, which seems to be this complicated system of many-colored pens and highlighters. (And they're somehow able to write down every single thing the professor says, including all of the random tangents that a normal American student would not write down!) Here's the outside of the building:
  • Château de Chamarande. A short drive from Draveil, where the Bremonds live, is this nice little château with a large park on the grounds. Though we couldn't go in, it was pretty from the outside, as was the path around the grounds. A nice way to spend a beautiful Sunday afternoon!

Lessons learned about French culture:
Differences with the French education system. Most notably, the French generally don't have regular homework assigned, or even required textbook readings for the class. It's expected that the students will do research on their own to find out more about each subject. Also, since the education system is supported by the state, professors are government employees with no offices or office hours- and in my case, no email provided to contact the professor! (Though, I'm sure she'd give it to me if I asked.)


  • Questions d'esthétique. This class focuses on the philosophy of French art, encompassing all fields from music, to art, to literature. It's a twist on the class I took last semester at IU on the connections between music, art, and literature. The professor has a great sense of humor, and I love the small size of the class (only 8 people)! Possibly one of my favorite things is that the cover of our course packet for the class features Marcel Duchamp's "The Fountain." (Go look it up if you don't know what I'm talking about- it's very representative of the Dadaist movement.)
  • Histoire de Paris. The class is taught by IES's oldest professor, who has been teaching there for 30 years. Not only is it interesting because we get to actually go on walking tours to see the history we are talking about, but the professor tells us funny stories about the monarchs of France and loves to go on random tangents. He's so knowledgeable- hopefully I'll be able to walk around Paris and tell stories about the history of the buildings marginally the way he does by the end of the semester! (And clearly, I forgot how much I liked history classes.)
  • No Friday classes! This is the first (and probably last) time I'm going to be able to not have Friday classes, due to the schedules of science classes at IU. It's so strange that my relief with Fridays now comes on Thursdays!
  • Histoire de l'art à la Sorbonne. I am officially taking a class about the representation of myths in art, but it's only one of the five lectures (or cours magistraux, C.M.) that the first-year art history students are required to take. With the five lectures, each student takes one discussion, or T.D., which means that my T.D. has absolutely nothing to do with the C.M. What makes it worse is that all of my graded work will be only in the T.D.- so basically, I will never be required to show my knowledge of how myths are represented in art! I was very frustrated this week because there is no syllabus provided with the T.D. class, and I didn't realize that my extremely fast-talking professor was assigning the exposés (or oral presentations) for the semester, so she randomly assigned me a Renaissance portrait- for a presentation in two weeks! I am fine with doing an exposé for the class, since there are only about 8 students total, but definitely not in two weeks! The only thing that made me feel better after the class was Stéphanie's kindness and willingness to help me out.
  • Littérature du 19ème siècle. I thought this class would be a great way to knock out one of the 400-level requirements for the French degree at IU, but it's quickly becoming hard to tolerate because of the very French professor. She is incredibly critical, and always asks vague or ridiculously easy questions that no one wants to answer for fear of being wrong or not wanting to answer an easy question. At the beginning of each class, she asks if we have any questions- usually on comprehension or vocabulary- but is quick to point out that we should have understood everything on our own (for about 80% of the questions asked). Then, she proceeds to lecture for the rest of the class, which is definitely not how literature classes in the US are conducted. It's no wonder why there are less students that show up with every class meeting! The only good part is that I like the literature we are reading.
Progress in French language skills: I know that my Sorbonne classes will help immensely with this. Trying to follow my T.D. professor was incredibly hard the first day- she's the fastest speaker I've met! However, I realized that I was suddenly able to talk faster in the minutes directly after class, when I was talking to Stéphanie. At least I'll be able to improve my speaking skills by taking this T.D.!

03 February 2008

IES Orientation and Propédeutique

Clearly I can't manage to post regularly each week, so for this post I'm combining weeks. This post is for the first two weeks of IES, which is the name of my abroad program. The first week was Orientation, which introduced us to our new surroundings, and the second week was Propédeutique, an intensive language preparation class for two hours every morning. What's nice about this class is that it becomes our language and grammar class for the semester, so I'll feel settled at least for one of my classes next week!

Weeks of Jan. 22 - Feb. 3

Themes of the week:
  • Wandering around Paris. Every day during the first week, I roamed the city with my newfound friends from IES, with no real objective. The best part is randomly "discovering" famous places when wandering around, such as the Cimitiere Montparnasse, which we walked into while wandering the 14th arrondissement.
  • Being sick, unfortunately. Somehow I caught a cold the second week, so I became acquainted with the French pharmacy (obviously marked on streets with the flashing blue-green cross) and buying exactly the right brand of tissues.
La météo: The first week was absolutely beautiful, sunny every day and perfect for exploring. The second week was cold, rainy, and cloudy in addition to my cold.

For the first time, I: bought books in a place other than the school bookstore. Students here are told exactly which editions to buy, but even so, books are much harder to procure here! At least at IU, the bookstores work together to supply the books at exactly the right amount with the right editions for each class, but here, it's a search to find the necessary books. At first, I bought the wrong volume edition for my grammar book, which was a bit of a hassle because then I had to find a bookstore that sold both the right book and answer key. Students have it so much easier in the US!

Foods discovered:

  • Indiana Café. Of course, me and my fellow Indiana-IES students had to check this place out, since it seems to be a chain throughout Paris. The name is deceiving- the place actually serves Tex-Mex food! I ordered a fajita salad, which was decent, but definitely not on a student budget. Oh well, at least we can say we've been there!
  • Pain au chocolat. It's not a completely new item of food for me or anything, but I've taken to eating one in the afternoon as a snack because for some reason I can't seem to last between lunch and dinner without feeling ravenously hungry. It's cheap and delicious!

Places discovered:

  • Cimitière Montparnasse. As I mentioned above, we randomly "discovered" this cemetery during one of our walks wandering Paris. It was absolutely gorgeous, and crammed with graves, to the point where it's impossible to reach some of the graves since there aren't pathways between all of them! We found Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, as well as many other interesting-looking graves (see pictures in my photo album, link to the right). I was looking very hard for Saint-Saëns with no luck, though I did know the general "block" where he was buried. I'll have to come back to the cemetery some other time!
  • Cité Universitaire. This place is like the city life part of every American campus. Because the French universities don't have extracurriculars or dorms in general, students have to go elsewhere to find these activities. Cité Universitaire is largely for international students, and there are many cultural houses that host different events each week. I tried out one of the practice rooms in the Maison Cambodge, which cost money but was of a much higher quality than the IU practice rooms. (From what I hear, most if not all practice rooms in Paris cost money, and you essentially "rent" the room.) Also, Cité Universitaire has a Resto U, or student cafeteria, where it costs only 2,80 euros for a full meal!

Lessons learned about French culture:

  • Eating with a knife and fork. I'm now becoming quite adept at using the fork with my right hand and knife in my left. I knew that the French usually use both utensils at once, but I didn't know that they sometimes use the knife in the left hand. At first I thought it was just the Bremonds that used the knife in the left, but I think it's pretty universal.
  • Taking Sundays seriously. Very few shops and stores are open on Sundays, at least in my neighborhood, but it really is a day of rest here. My first Sunday here, I just stayed at home and relaxed. However, I don't think the French are accustomed to the way American college students sleep in on the weekends- every time I sleep in, my host mom asks me if I was out late!

  • The IES coffee machine. It only costs 0,40 euro for a small cup of goodness! I always buy a moccaccino, and have yet to try any of the other flavors. This is the one thing in Paris that won't cost much!
  • My host family. Apparently I'm the first student that this family is hosting. I live with my host mother, who has 5 children (most of them grown up and out of Paris), the youngest daughter Typhaine, who is 17 and loves the music from Les Miserables, and Typhaine's cousin Jérémy, who just got a job and needs to practice his English so he can speak on the phone for his job. (Side note: speaking a second language on the phone is so difficult- not only do you have to be able to respond quickly, but you have to be able to understand people without seeing them face-to-face. It's harder than it sounds.) I also met the second youngest daughter Gabrielle, who is my age and is currently studying in England, and the oldest daughter Carole. My room is much bigger than I thought it would be, and the shower actually has a curtain! Possibly the best part is that my host mother is allowing me to eat dinner at home every night, in exchange for my occasional Indian cooking. It's really nice because we are supposed to be provided only breakfasts 7 days a week and dinners 3 nights a week.

  • Trying to find a class at the Sorbonne that I want to take and that fits in my schedule. I really wanted to take a music history class, but the musicology department is 45 minutes away from the IES center, which means that I wouldn't be able to take the literature class that gives me 400-level French credit at IU. The real problem that everyone is having here is that the IES schedule of classes really doesn't fit well with the schedules of outside courses. I finally decided on an art history class, because I'd like to deepen my appreciation for art and because that campus is 20 minutes away from IES.
  • Dealing with the awful exchange rate. One euro equals $1.50 USD, but things are still priced about the same which just means that I'll have to spend more while I'm here. I feel sad every time I update my expense log!
Progress in French language skills: Definitely way downhill from the first week. Although everyone signed a paper on the first day agreeing to speak only in French, even outside of class, English was officially allowed during Orientation, which became a precedent with all of the IES students. So now, I'm having a hard time converting from English to French- speaking in English all day renders me handicapped when trying to speak French with my host family at night. In other news, the Propedeutique portion of the orientation is helping with my grammar, since when I talk I generally ignore the fact that I don't conjugate correctly.