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.


Michael said...

I'm sorry the exchange rate continues to slip, Jenna - the rate was hovering around 1.33 when I was in Florence!

It's good to hear things are going well, though!

Michael said...

Also - your room is fantastic...I wish I had a cool host family!