WORD OF THE DAY: aube (f.)- dawn
As this will more than likely be my second to last blog, I’d like to share with you a list of pros and cons of the Skidmore in Paris program. Here, I’ll list my 5 favorite aspects of my semester so far, and 5 things I wish I had known before I came here.
Pro #1) The field trips here are amazing. This semester alone, we’ve had the opportunity to go with IES to the Loire Valley, Reims, Normandy, and Giverny. Through Skidmore specifically, we spent a weekend in Brittany, visiting the beautiful, seaside towns of St. Malo and Mont Saint-Michel. Within Paris itself, IES has had group field trips to the Senate, the French Daily Show, the artists square in Montmartre, and many more. IES also holds raffles throughout the semester for soccer, ballet, opera, and cooking class tickets. Only those who have proved that they went out of their way to find new cultural experiences here are eligible for these tickets.
Something I wish I’d known beforehand) It’s not necessarily a con, but it would have been nice to know the size of the program before arriving. I was one of 13 people in Bologna last semester; there are around 50 people at the IES French Studies Center. I think it would have been helpful for Skidmore to explain more clearly just what IES is, and the role that Skidmore itself would play in our stay here.
Pro #2) IES provides the opportunity to take classes outside of the IES center at either the Sorbonne or l’Institut Catholique. Having taken all of my classes at a European university last semester, I know that it’s an overwhelming experience, but that it immensely improved my foreign language skills.
Something I wish I’d known beforehand) IES requires everyone to take five classes. I normally take four academic classes at Skidmore, so taking five classes here can be very overwhelming. I took two classes last semester in Bologna and still spent around the same amount of time every week in class as I do here, just with the chance for a lunch break (many students here have class from 10:45 to around 2 o’clock with only 15 minutes in between to dash across the street to buy a sandwich). I believe that being required to take five classes is very stressful and the fact that many people do just fine with four classes at home means that taking four classes here should be ok as well.
Pro #3) I really like some of my teachers here. They’re experienced with teaching international students who don’t speak french as their first language, which makes it much easier to acclimate to taking all of your classes in french.
Something I wish I’d known beforehand) This kind of goes back to the five classes thing, but there are 50+ people at the IES French Studies Center who each need to be taking five classes. This means that there are a limited number of seats in the 10 or so classes there are to choose from at IES. I think that it would have been helpful to go over the details of taking classes at the Sorbonne or L’institut catholique so that people had more information when choosing classes. If people had more information beforehand, perhaps they would have chosen to take a class outside of the center but as it is now, most people, myself included, opt to take all five classes at IES. This limits your choices for classes.
Pro #4) As someone who’s lived in both an apartment and a homestay while abroad, I think that I prefer the homestay system here. It isn’t that I didn’t love my roommates in Bologna, but home life is just easier when you’re living with adults. As opposed to my apartment last semester, this one is more thoroughly lived-in, it has a dishwasher, and each host family is responsible for providing you with a breakfast every morning and dinner 3 times a week, the latter you eat with the family. The immersion aspect is still here, but I got the chance to request a family that didn’t speak english, which I believe has helped me immensely. I have been studying french for three times as long as I’ve been studying Italian; it made sense to have the safety net of english speaking roommates. But after 10 years of studying french, I knew I was ready to take away that safety net. IES gladly took my request into account, and I’m so glad that my wonderful host parents do not, in fact, speak english.
Something I wish I had known beforehand) The attendance policy here is, in my humble opinion, unnecessarily strict. There are no unexcused absences allowed for any of your classes, being 15 minutes late counts as an absence, and every unexcused absence is 1/6 of a grade deduction for a 90 minute class and 1/3 of a grade deduction for a three-hour class. If you are too sick to go to class, you are expected to go to the doctor and obtain a “certificat medical” to excuse your absences for the day. I believe that this policy limits our independence, not because we can’t get away with skipping class, but because IES does not trust us, as adults, to know when we are too sick to go to class and to make up the missed work on our own time. Of course, the possibility that people may use lenience as an excuse to skip and travel is very real. I believe that there must be a balance between the two. Lots of teachers at Skidmore allow one or two unexcused absences per semester; IES should consider doing the same.
Pro #5) The friends you make. I know I already marked the program size as something I wish I’d known before coming here, but I think it also works to my advantage. I was so worried about making friends this year. I had no problem doing so last semester when I was in a program with only 12 other people; just think of how much easier it is here with around five times the number of people here. Towards the beginning of the semester, I spread the word that I wanted to go to Brussels for the weekend. In no time at all, I had a veritable army of new friends booking their bus tickets to come with me. Because Paris is so large, it is slightly more difficult to hang out with my friends here than it was in Bologna. But i’ve still made so many friends here that no matter where they live, I have plenty of options for people to hang out with.
Something I wish I had known) IES seems to be of the mindset that we came abroad for a semester to work even harder than we do at home. This is false. Of course we came here to work hard and improve our french, but we also came here to have fun and learn about new cultures. I had absolutely zero homework and tests last semester before the finals that counted for my entire grade. I have a LOT of homework and tests here this semester. Both of these are problematic. The first was problematic because I had too much independence; I was required to make sure for myself that I knew all of the material. The homework system here is problematic because the amount of work we have every week here for classes that may or may not interest us takes away from the fun, cultural aspect of studying abroad. Two thursdays ago, as we were finishing a test in our grammar class, our teacher announced that we’d have another test the following thursday. Some people hadn’t even finished taking the first test yet. It really would be a manageable level of work at Skidmore, even more so, since the classes would most likely be taught in English. However, I really think that slightly fewer tests and papers would make a big difference in people’s willingness to get out and explore Paris.
Bonus thing I wish I had known) This is specifically applicable to French Majors. As a French Major, I knew that if I wanted to spend a year abroad, I’d need to spend a semester getting credits done for my major. Literally the only program available to do so on the list for ocse is this program: Skidmore in Paris. I wanted all of my classes for the semester to count for my major, and I assumed that as a french major taking classes in french, in France, on a skidmore-run program, that all of the classes here would count for my major. This is false. Even if the classes here, in the capital of the francophone world, are all taught in French, unless the subject matter is specifically related to France, the course will not count for the french major at Skidmore. As a result, I had to switch out of a class with my favorite teacher into a very boring class just because the original class didn’t count for my major, and the boring class does. This doesn’t make much sense to me, as the french major at Skidmore has never specifically meant that one must focus on France, and France alone. The francophone world extends far beyond the boarders of France; the classes available here on subject matter not-specific to France show that very clearly. It’s time that the Skidmore French department showed that as well.