Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Typical Day of Pre-Session Life

Mercredi, 28 août.

I realized that I've written a lot about my adventures since being here -- planned excursions, trips downtown, even the life-saving grocery shopping trip of 2013. What I haven't really talked about, however, is what I'm doing the rest of the time. (It's not all picnics and olive tastings.) Over the past 10 days, I've adjusted pretty well to the schedule -- and I've even taken some pictures to help you get a sense of my surroundings! So here it is, a typical day in my "pre-session" life:

For starters, I wake up every morning around 7h. (Per usual, a side note: the "h" stands for "heure" and is used sort of as a replacement of the colon and/or the word "o'clock" in French.) Class starts right at 9h00, so waking up two hours early leaves plenty of time to get ready and go to breakfast first. Of course, seven in the morning isn't really tbat early, but I always set a couple of alarms just in case it's hard to get up! Sometimes, if I'm lucky, I wake up as the sun is rising just behind the building across from me. It's so pretty that it almost makes up for the fact that I live just over a glorified prison yard!

As you saw before, my room is super tiny, so it takes no time at all after my alarm sounds to get dressed and pack my bag for the day. Because Molly didn't have a cell phone until just the other day, she had a more exciting alarm -- me banging on her door in my jammies!

Imagine me running up and down in my jammies!
The view from the front steps of our bulding!

What's outside my window? Tennis/basetball courts ... not a prison yard!
Breakfast is ... well, it's whenever we're dressed and too hungry to wait any longer! (But typically nowadays, it's around 8h00.) During the three-week pre-stage, we get free breakfast each morning at the Restaurant Universitaire. A typical breakfast at the Resto-U consists of a cup of orange juice, fruit or plain yogurt, a mini baguette (with butter and jam, si tu voudrais), either a croissant or pain au chocolat, and a bowl (you heard me) of tea/coffee/hot chocolate,. As we were quick to figure out, the bread is the perfect size for a sandwich at lunchtime. So now, the daily routine is to eat the rest of the breakfast and sneak the miniature baguette out in our backpacks for lunch! I make a lot of Jean Valjean jokes -- but don't worry, I'm pretty sure that the penalty for leaving with bread we've paid for is nothing close to 19 years in prison!

After breakfast, we walk from the Resto-U across the street, through the University of Montpellier II campus, across another street, and into the University of Montpellier III campus. Our pre-session classes are located at Paul-Valery, in the Ionesco Building, which is the home of the IEFE (Institut d'Etudes Françaises pour Etrangers). It's a pretty basic building, but there's a nice student lounge solely for foreign exchange students with reading materials, a refrigerator, and a microwave. During the semester, it will be like our little international refuge!

In the morning is our grammar class. We were given placement tests on the first day and I was placed in Group B; it's the more advanced group, although I'm not sure the distinctions mean much. We spend our time reviewing grammar and learning vocab, working on oral comprehension with videos and radio interviews, and analyzing articles for better reading comprehension. It's not exactly easy and the vocabulary words are totally new to me, but it's definitely not as intellectually challenging as some of my French lit classes at home -- I can tell that our professor is taking it really easy on us for now! We have our morning grammar class from 9h00 to 12h30, with une petite pause in the middle -- the perfect 30 minute break for snacking, studying, or even napping.

After grammar class, we have at least an hour for lunch. Sometimes, this means eating a hot meal at the Resto-U. More often, though, it means making a sandwich in the room or snacking on fruit and yogurt. Still, I enjoy light meals -- although I'm rarely stuffed after a pear and some yogurt, it makes sweet treats or yummy cafe meals even more special!

Although mornings are pretty much set in stone from Monday through Saturday, the afternoon is when things get a little funky.

Some days, we have our French Civilization class. It's about two/two-and-a-half hours (from 16h15 to 18h30ish -- 24 hour time, ya dig?) and is taught by the most adorable and enthuastic French man. He's genuinely so excited and passionate about everything from amphitheatres to prefectures that it's impossible not to enjoy the class. Unfortunately, we only meet with him in the classroom a total of four times, including our final exam. (This Friday ... eeek!) Our French Civilization class also gives us the opportunity to visit an oliveraie and have an official wine-tasting ... which we've now done on two afternoons in lieu of having real class. Some afternoons next week, during our last week of pre-session, we'll spend the afternoon again with our grammar professor, doing oral presentations. I don't think they'll be quite as exciting as olive and wine excursions, but since we can present on whatever subject we like, it should still a little more entertaining than a typical grammar class!

In addition to class, afternoons are sometimes used for other, smaller adventures. Last Saturday, it was a tour of historic Montpellier. Tomorrow, it's an afternoon at the beach! So far these little trips have been a lot of fun, and not quite as exhausting as our day-long excursions. After our beach trip on Thursday, we have a few more petites excursions  -- including one to the Musee Fabre and another afternoon on the beach! Chouette, non?

Lastly, some afternoons are reserved for meetings. These are the worst. Although the information we've received at both our administrative meetings has been very important and helpful, they're very long and insanely stressful. I usually feel like I come out of them knowing more and having fewer questions than I did when I went in ... but that's definitely not a guarantee. Meetings are nice because, in theory, they're short and leave us with more free time to adventure on our own or run errands; however, they seem to have a tendency to run over. Our last meeting was at least three, if not four, hours long -- and it was just about classes!

After meetings/class/adventures, we're usually free for the rest of the evening. If we get done early, there's sometimes enough time to walk around town or run errands. Other times, we eat dinner and go to our rooms for homework and bed. (And, of course, blogging!) Some nights, however, we have different plans! These are usually optional, but a lot of fun: in the past, it's included going to Les Estivales, making/eating crepes, and (last night) playing trivia at "The Shakespeare Bar" with our student assistants. (We came in 5th out of 17 teams ... not bad!) And the other evening, when our Internet was down, Molly and I took the tram down to Place de la Comedie to use to the wifi at McDo! And to try French McFlurries, of course.

The view from the McDo window! Pretty schnazzy.
Still, no matter what our plans, by the time it gets dark outside, I'm usually back in my room, on my computer, getting ready for bed. Several of the other students go out at night to bars, but I've spent most of my evenings in because by the end of the day, I'm just too tired to even think about walking anymore! (Which reminds me, I was walking so much at the start of this program that my feet swelled up like little balloons. Ridiculous.)

Because we're kept so busy, it's been tough to find time to do things. While some tasks -- like making photocopies across the street -- take only a few minutes during lunch, others are a little more time confusing: buying French cell phones meant a trip downtown to the Place de la Comedie and grocery shopping at Geant requires a 30-minute tram ride each way. Running errands during the lunch break is particularly tricky because many (if not most) shops are closed an hour or two for dejeuner! Still, we're making do for now. I imagine that it's going to get a lot more confusing and difficult for a few weeks as we take exams, transition into our homestays, and get through our first few weeks of classes ... but then I'm hoping it'll get easier and a little bit more routine.

I'm also looking forward to speaking more and more French as time goes on. Right now, it's about 30/60, maybe 50/50 on a good day. I speak in French in class and when out with Molly or other friends who want to speak French. In the dorms, on the bus, and in our big groups, however, it's really hard to speak anything but English. Everyone is at different levels so some people aren't quite as comfortable and, besides, no one wants to be THAT kid. The weird mix of language is having a kind of funny effect of me -- although I haven't really noticed an improvement in my French after the first week and half, I have noticed a decline in my English! It's not that I'm forgetting words or how to spell them; I just find myself arranging sentences in a different way than I normally would. Even more noticeably, I almost consistently use some level of franglais. Because all the American students here have at least a relatively solid level of French, it's not a comprehension problem to jokingly throw around French words when speaking in English. It's at the point now that I don't even do it consciously; I was Facebook-messaging Zoe and kept sending her random words in French without realizing. Too weird!

Well, I hope that helped to give you a slightly better since of what life is like here in Montpellier. It wasn't quite what I set out to do at the beginning of this post, but hey -- to be honest, there is no such thing as a "typical" pre-session day!

1 comment:

  1. I'm so impressed and inspired by you my dear!