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.!

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