Week 14

WORD OF THE DAY: arc-en-ciel= rainbow

Well, here we are, friends. It’s finally my last week in Paris. I won’t say that I don’t know how I made it to this point, because that cliché statement doesn’t hold any merit for me. Time passes, whether we want it to or not; it’s what we do with ourselves that determines for us, and for us alone, whether it was time well spent.

This has been one of the hardest years of my life. It flung me into a world of loss that until now, was fortunately a stranger to me. This year taught me independence on a scale that sleep away camp and regular college could never begin to teach me. I’ve met some pretty incredible people this year, some of whom I know I will most likely never see again, and together we’ve forged a path for ourselves in a way that’s only really possible through great change.

Let me break it down for you. Have you ever heard the expression, “sink or swim”? Well, it’s a little bit like that. Choosing to go to school in a foreign country is, I would say, akin to throwing yourself into the deep end of a pool. You leave behind the familiarity of the pool deck, your home, for something where you have far weaker footing. You may flounder, for a moment or longer, but eventually you learn how to tread because there is no other option. You learn how to tread, and you do it on your own because you’ve left your friends behind on that dock.

Once you can paddle around for a bit, you find new people also fighting to stay afloat. Together, you go from treading water to learning how to swim.

And eventually, you grow tired from the water. Now comes the task of returning to shore. Your new swimming friends all must return to different docks around the pool; you must find your dock all on your own. You finally pull yourself out of the pool and onto your dock, weary, but strong. Your new friends have all found their docks as well, and they all seem so far away.

But when you turn around, you find the friends you left behind to get in the water in the first place. They seem different, older and with experiences that you weren’t a part of. You know that they’ve changed, for better or for worse. You hope they can see just how much you’ve changed too.

From time to time, you’ll think back fondly on your time in the pool, reminiscing the heart-pounding moment you decided to take the plunge. Perhaps you’ll get back in the pool someday; you are, after all, now a very competent swimmer. For now, though, you’re content to be back on solid ground.

Except now, that ground doesn’t seem so solid anymore. It wavers underneath your feet. Those you were close with before entering the pool suddenly feel so much farther away.

In those moments, I urge you to look out to your friends, on distant docks. Look and see how they struggle to find their footing as well. While everyone must find their footing on their own docks, you can take solace in knowing that you’re all struggling.

You took that initial plunge into the deep end of the pool and survived; I know you can do the same now that you’re back on the dock.

À bientôt,

-E.

La Belle Notre Dame

WORD OF THE DAY: feu- fire

I’m writing an emergency blog tonight because as I write this, Notre Dame is still on fire. As far as I understand, the fire started around 2.5 hours ago when the spire collapsed.

Image result for notre dame

I already spoke a little about this with the gilet jaune, but this is a good chance to review what to do in crisis situations like this in a foreign country. Skidmore in Paris is part of the larger, IES organization. In situations like these, IES sends out a mass text to everyone studying at one of their centers here in Paris, and everyone is expected to respond with your name, your location, and whether or not you are safe. How do they send out a mass text, you ask? Simple, at the beginning of the semester, IES had everyone write down their phone numbers before the end of the first week. If your number changes, you’re expected to notify them immediately.

I, like everyone else, am devastated by what has happened tonight at Notre Dame. The city of Paris has been through so much heartache in the past five years; this did nothing to help it. I am hopeful thought that Notre Dame will survive this. The National Cathedral in DC, my cathedral, suffered terrible damage from an earthquake in 2011. The cathedral is still being repaired today, but it is still standing. It may take a while to repair, but Notre Dame will not fall.

…probably not

À bientôt,

Elizabeth

Week 13

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.

À bientôt,

Elizabeth

Week 12

WORD OF THE DAY: bell (f.): cloche

I apologize for not posting last week; the looming end of the semester has made me lazier than usual. So what’s been going on since last I posted? If you didn’t see it, I did my Instagram takeover for OCSE last week. I also have had several tests in the past two weeks, and spent last weekend in Aix-en-Provence.

I think that the spring weather here has put everyone here, myself included, in a great mood. It’s cool and rainy, but still warm enough for the flowers to come out, for trees to start showing their summer leaves, and for everyone to use any excuse to spend as much time outside as possible.

Last week, we registered for classes for next semester. I think class registration made something very clear for me: my time abroad is almost over. I’ve had mixed emotions over this realization. My first instinct was to panic. What haven’t I done yet this year that I still want to do before I leave? What if I’m not enjoying myself as much as I should be?

I also feel excited. I may have mentioned this before, but a year is a long time to be abroad. It’s been a wonderful, thrilling experience, but I haven’t spent longer than two weeks in the United States since last May. I’m excited to go back to the life I left behind almost twelve months ago when I arrived in London, ready to start this adventure. I’m excited to see my friends and family, and show them how much I’ve changed for the better. I’m especially excited to see my dog, Rosie, again.

As for me worrying I haven’t made the most of my time in Europe, I’d like to quickly recap everything I’ve done this year. In mid-May I flew from Washington DC to London to spend a week with my cousins. I got to see family members that I never get to see, and I visited some of the sights that make London such a great city. I then flew to Turin, where I spent six weeks interning as a translator for a law firm, called Jacobacci & Partners. It was there that I learnt how to take on adult-levels of responsibility, and how to dress, act, and speak like a northern Italian. The stipend they provided covered my rent and proved to me that I can find work as a translator if I look hard enough.

Towards the end of those six weeks, my mother arrived in Turin. After showing her around for a few days, we drove up north to Lake Maggiore. We spent the next two weeks driving around central Europe, and I got to remember just how cool it is that after only taking it for a year in college, my mom can still converse with locals in German.

I flew home in late august and went straight to the funeral of an old friend, and spent the next two weeks recharging in DC. I never wanted to come home before the year started, but I’m so glad now that I did, as that was the last time I got to see my dad.

Two weeks later, I’m back at the airport and flying to Bologna, Italy. It was through Brown in Bologna that I met some really great people who helped me learn to actually hold a conversation in Italian. My roommates became my best friends. Together with my American roommate and our friends, we travelled all over Italy, and even to Warsaw, Poland. We made ourselves uncomfortable, both through unfamiliar situations and learning how to travel cheaply, and became more resourceful with our time and money as a result of stepping outside our comfort zones. Before I could even blink, my time in Bologna was already over.

After a quick Christmas break, I hurried back to Europe to start my semester here, in Paris. I’ve had my grumbles and generally low moments here, but my friends and I really have accomplished so much in the span of three, short months. We threw ourselves whole-heartedly into this french-immersion program, gladly taking all our classes in French, conversing with each other in French, and living with French families. We’ve explored the farthest corners of France, and of Europe in general. We’ve learned that Paris is not always a fairytale city, and we’ve embraced it as our own anyway. Paris is our city, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

I am tired. It’s been a long year. I’ve accomplished so much here, and I know that everything I’ve experienced here has shaped me into a better, more independent person. I’m tired, but I’m excited for the future. After this semester ends, I plan to travel for a few weeks with my friends, then finally…

I’m going home.

À bientôt,

Elizabeth