Friday, September 6, 2013

Oh, Happy Happy (Fri) Day!

Vendredi, 6 septembre.

Oh happy happy day! Today has just been an absolutely lovely Friday ... and it's only 6 pm!

The happiest of days actually kicked off yesterday, when we finished up our orientation classes. We had a final exam which, to be honest, was pretty rough, but the day picked up when I got my classes approved by the study abroad coordinator. After having spent hours and hours navigating the crazy confusing website, it was a definite relief! Then last night, we all met up at Place du Peyrou (which you should recognize by now from all my frequent visits!) for a sunset picnic with one of our fabulous student assistants, Ileana. It was tons of fun ... and the view wasn't half bad either!

Today, Molly and I woke up bright and early to walk over to campus and check our niveaux (levels). In addition to giving us feedback on our French, the levels -- based on our work during and exams at the end of the pre-stage -- would decide which RI (Relations Internationales) classes we would be placed into for the semester. So ... no pressure, right?

Just a little bit of background information -- French universities use a system of reference called CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages). It ranks language learners in one of six categories, based on listening, speaking, reading, and writing. A1 students are beginners, while C2 students have mastered the language and can speak just about fluently. Although students are described as being a certain level, the level actually refers to the level they're studying for: for example, a student described as B1 might not operate at B1 level, but is studying to get to that point. It makes sense if you think of it like grades in school -- when you enter 9th grade, you don't enter knowing everything a 9th grader should know. Rather, you enter ready to learn and prepare to take your 9th grade exams at the end of the year.

Anyhow, after the difficulty we had with our exams on Thursday, Molly and I were feeling a little bit nervous. Neither of us had really had a hard time in the pre-session class and we'd been getting pretty good grades (I got a 19/20 on my last writing assignment!), but the final was rough. We were happy to find out we'd been placed in the uppermost level French language and phonetics courses and even more excited to see our CEFR level -- B2+!

B2 is described as the "vantage" or upper intermediate level. Students classified as B2s can, according to Wikipedia, "interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party." (You can read more of the description if you click on the graphic above.) Molly and I were absolutely delighted to find out that, in addition to being classified as B2+s, we were the ONLY students out of all the kids in our program who made it to that level. Everyone else's levels range from A2- to B2. To be honest, it's not that big of a deal. There's clearly not that much, if any, difference between a B2 and a B2+ and there are kids in our classes who seem to express themselves a heck of a lot better than we do. But still ... it feels good. (:

To celebrate our success -- and because we've been wanting to go for a while -- Molly and I decided to spend the rest of our morning at the Montpellier Zoo!

I don't know too many fun facts about the zoo, other than that it's one of France's only free zoos and it's only a short walk from campus. Of course, it's not the National Zoo or anything and the animal selection is pretty limited, but I was really surprised and impressed to see that it's actually a really cool zoo!

My favorite part of the park had to be the signs! This one says "Forbidden to feed the animals" and has illustrations of bananas, apples, and baguettes. (You just know that in America, the illustration would be of french fries and a soda!)

My other favorite part? The rhinos! I don't remember the last time I saw a rhino in person -- if ever, as there aren't any at the National Zoo -- but it was absolutely breathtaking. They're huge and, to me, they look like they belong more with dinosaurs than in our modern world. Crazy.

In addition to rhinos, the zoo had a lot of other cool animals -- lions, zebras, emus -- as well as some other species that I haven't seen in too many zoos. Because the weather in Montpellier is so temperature, there were a lot of animals from warmer areas, like Syrian bears! (I tried to ask them how they felt about the possibility of war, but they were too busy waddling.) Sadly, the giraffes weren't out today ... so I guess we'll just have to go back another time!

Found a cousin in the zoo's boutique.
We also made an exciting discovery along the route: an abandoned cardboard box on the side of the road, chock full of ... baguettes? Sometimes France is too French for its own good.

After our zoo adventure, Molly and I took a short break and then headed out again -- this time down to centre-ville, where we visited for the first time the Jardin des Plantes. You might remember that I passed it during our group tour of historic Montpellier, but I didn't have a chance to go in! It was definitely on my list of places to pay a visit before the start of classes, but when Molly and I were walking by it yesterday evening, it just looked so beautiful that we decided we had to pay it a visit!

Quote from Paul Valery, namesake of the university.
To be honest, the flower collection felt pretty basic. Maybe it's because of the time of year, but there didn't seem to be anything too exotic. However, all the flowers that were blooming were just lovely and all the greenery everywhere else just made them pop! I don't know what the first two flowers are, but the bottom picture here is of Suzanne aux yeux noirs -- Black-Eyed Susans!

We spent a few hours in the gardens, just walking around and taking photos. It was really relaxing and peaceful -- the perfect spot to come and destress after exams and class registration!

Spaceship...? Or just a little observatory?
Ruins of the original Jardin des Plantes.

What a beautiful place!

Tonight, Molly and I are headed with some other girls over to a friend's apartment (don't worry -- it's another American student who just moved into his homestay!) and then we'll all walk over to our third and final Estivales. Although we originally planned to force ourselves to be classy French people and taste wine this week, I think it's very likely that the two of us will just end up spending our money on food and desserts instead!

Estivales is always one of the best parts of the week, so hopefully this day will finish just as well as it started out! Happy Friday!


  1. I'm so happy you are loving the easier paced side of France and exploring the many facets of French culture. Congratulations on your B2+, I am so proud of you. Have that glass of wine tonight just so you can say you did. When in France, do as . . . Besides, it sounds far more exciting than me here at home with a new Dirt Devil. Love you and proud of you.

  2. I'm so happy to hear you went to the zoo! Remember the first time we google mapped Montpellier and I was so excited there was a zoo near the school? haha! The National Zoo used to have a rhino, I remember him, but I guess he died. Some zoo, maybe the Stuttgart or Berlin one had a mama and baby rhino! It just didn't look real!
    Congratulations on the b2+ level! Awesome! Proud of you both!

  3. Je ne sais comment l'expliquer mais "Suzanne aux yeux noirs" a un effet tres romantique compare a "Black eye Susan"...
    Merci pour tous les details que tu nous donnes, j'ai l'impression de me promener dans mon pays inconnu...Tout ce que tu decris m'enchante. Comme je suis heureuse pour toi.
    Bisous, Nanny