Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Putting the STUDY in Study Abroad: An Academic Update

Mardi, 26 novembre.

The craziness has officially begun. I can't believe it -- it's not even Thanksgiving yet and already, they're everywhere! No, not Christmas decorations. (Although those are all over the place.) I'm talking about the countdown Facebook statuses from friends studying abroad.
"Less than a month till I'll be back in the USA!" 
"Can't believe I only have three weeks left in France." 
"Can't wait to be back in America!"
And, weirder still are the updates from other friends who are already done with their semester abroad! There's still just under a month until I'll be heading home, so it doesn't feel like I'm quite at the end yet. I still have things I want to do and places I want to see. And, unfortunately, classes to go to and exams to take. It's not that I don't enjoy school: in fact, all the cancellations caused by the recent grèves have made me realize how much I do appreciate having something to occupy my weekdays!

Actually, it's been a while since my last academic post, so I figured I'd give you a little update on the STUDY aspect of this whole study abroad thing.

First up... Culture Générale en Histoire de l'ArtFirst off, let me remind you that Molly dropped this class at the beginning of the semester because she couldn't deal with the professor's disorganized method of teaching. To Molly: YOU WERE SO RIGHT. The professor is very friendly and I'm still interested by the information, but the whole affair is just so painfully poorly organized. We learn in bursts -- ten minutes of rapid-fire notetaking and jotting down of important vocabulary words, followed by half an hour of repetitive rambling. Additionally, the class has been cancelled a few times -- not by the grèves, but by our professor. Now, William & Mary professors have been known to cancel class from time to time. Sometimes, they've decided to cut their losses and get a jump on a holiday weekend. Sometimes, in the case of one poor professor, they've fallen down the stairs and quite literally cannot come to class. But the number of classes I have had cancelled in the last TWO YEARS at William & Mary pales in comparison to the number cancelled in the last two months at the Université Paul-Valéry.

The first time she cancelled class, I was elated. It was one of those cruel Monday mornings at the beginning of fall (you know, when you're not quite used to the shorter days and your alarm clock suddenly goes off before sunrise?) and I was not feeling like getting out of bed for my 8h15. So getting a personalized email from my professor, letting me know that class had been cancelled, was incredible. Until I realized why the email was personalized: I had emailed my professor a few days previously with a question and, apparently, my email address was the only one she had. So after letting me know that class was cancelled -- and, in other words, that there would be no reason on earth for me to get to school before noon that day -- she asked if I wouldn't mind swinging by campus to inform the other students. And let me tell you: the only thing worse than getting up and walking twenty minutes to school at eight o'clock in the morning to go to class is getting up and walking twenty minutes to school at eight o'clock in the morning NOT to go to class. Class was cancelled for the second time last week. Again, I woke up to an early morning email: class would PROBABLY be cancelled, my professor wanted to let me know, and that if she didn't show up at 8h15, I should tell the other students that she was sick and go home. So I walked (in the rain) to class. And I wanted (in the rain) outside the door. And half an hour later, I walked back (still in the rain) to my house. Because -- guess what? No class. (Hey, at least it's a good story.)

Next up? Histoire régionalea history course on the medieval history of the Languedoc region. The class is divided into two sections: a cours magistral and a travail dirigé. The CM usually goes pretty well. Our professor's lectures are well-structured and informative and, even better, there's usually a powerpoint to help us pick up on key names! As for the TD ... well, suffice it to say that it's given me a few ideas to pass onto the US government for interrogating prisoners. It. Is. Torture. Each class, a handful of students are called up in front of the class to present (or, rather, to mumble through) their commentaires du texte -- oral analyses of documents that we've been assigned to read and study. I thank God every day that we anglophones were allowed to turn in a written version, because after each student presents, the professor TEARS THEM APART. It's vicious. But however miserable the projects and critiques are to listen to, the class has a tendency to provide some unintentional entertainment. Whether it's the boy who showed up to class yesterday without his project because "... my partner never contacted me to work on it" or the duo that explained away their presentation's lack of cohesion by pointing out that they "live far away from each other" and "would have had to drive to work together." Or, my personal favorite, the inexplicably sassy girl who -- after being told by the professor a dozen times not to read from her notes -- indignantly responded, "But this is the introduction. You have to read the introduction!"

My third integrated class is Allemand. Or, at least, it would be if I could even pretend like I'm actually taking it. In reality, after three weeks out for our professor's broken ankle and another three weeks missed on account of the grèves, I've been to this class a grand total of THREE times all semester. Our final exam will apparently consist of 90 minutes of writing -- which will be interesting, as the whole semester combined hasn't required that much work.

Fortunately -- or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it -- our Cours RI (the special classes designed for Ameican students) have not been impacted by the student protests. Instead of dealing with the complications of the blocages, they just moved of to another campus! So at least my attendance in those classes has been a little more regular. Because they take place with the same group of people in the same rooms, these classes all feel pretty similar, albeit with a few different faces and slightly different exams. I feel like I'm learning the most in French as a Foreign Language, where we've learned how to write the very specific types of essays required by French professors. Our professor is fun and we have a pretty good classroom dynamic, which is nice. I also enjoy my French Civilization class because the topics vary from week to week. (Last week, healthcare. This week, politics. Next week, immigration!) However, the class has also taught me my least favorite aspect of study abroad: the dreaded  "...so what is [insert random but controversial issue here] like in America?" question. Because, you know, our massive country is so homogenous and and our government so centralized that there's probably just one answer to your question! Oh wait. It's not just in class -- the French population genuinely does not seem to understand the incredible diversity of law, tradition, and opinion in the United States. And you think that a country with 300+ different varieties of cheese would understand regional diversity!

Unfortunately, Phonetics has proven to be my least favorite class. The information we're learning is interesting and important, but I can't help but feel we're not learning it in a helpful way! Also, our professor has an almost comical tendancy to overuse the phrase: "Et voila -- il n'y a plus d'accent!" Really? Really?! Because I'm preeeetty sure there's still an accent.

All my classes definitely have their pros and cons, but all in all, I'm really enjoying the experience and am glad I made the decision to come here! I enjoy the familiarity of my RI classes, but it's been a great experience to take classes with actual French students. Even if they do spend most of their time making excuses! Hahah. And although I don't always feel particularly challenged in class, I'm definitely still learning a lot, both inside the classroom and on my own. Besides, it's nice not to be totally overwhelmed with work: in most of my classes, I've been able to get good grades without having to put in so much effort that I feel like I'm not able to truly profit from my experience. Because I think everyone can agree that although STUDY might be half of the term STUDY ABROAD, it's definitely the less important aspect.


  1. Wow! Amazing! Thank you for the update and let me just say that we could all learn from the mature manner you approach EVERYTHING that comes your way. Bless your heart Elisabeth.

  2. 300 types of cheese, huh? I love your comparatives so much and you pretty much hit the nail on the head. We enjoyed the classroom critique as well == your mom is right in that your attitude is always amazing. Life is pretty much what we make of it. You do well and P&B are proud.