Being a Student at the Sorbonne

It sounds very impressive, doesn’t it? I feel like there’s only one University that people from the US know in France, and it’s the Sorbonne. So, as I’ve discovered since arriving in Paris (over 6 weeks ago!) that while being a student here is a very impressive and difficult undertaking, the entire French university system, from admission to class structure to expectations, is completely different. And it’s not a bad different, of course, it’s just a huge adjustment for me that gets slightly easier each class that I attend.

The facts: I’m taking two courses through my program, and two courses through the Sorbonne. My classes at Sweet Briar have been going strong since my first week, however, the Sorbonne semester just began on the 14th. I will be honest here and admit freely that the evening before my first class I was consumed by fear and dread. All that I’d heard to expect was leaving me shaking in my boots, and not just proverbially. What I’d heard consisted of horror stories of professors who speak quickly, don’t care about students, don’t give syllabuses, expect the world, and students who only show up to get the notes to take the final. So, I sit here now a survivor of two weeks of these classes, and some of these rumors can now be dispelled. Some of them. The fact is, french courses are divided into two parts– a cours magistral, which is the giant lecture (both of mine have 500 plus students in them) that meets about 2 hours per week, and a travaux diriges, which I was led to believe was a smaller discussion section in which you actually interact with your professor and fellow students for around 3 hours a week. TDs do not quite reach that lovely Bates classroom intimacy that I’ve grown accustomed to– on the contrary ,though they are usually supposed to have no more than 30 students in each, one of mine has 73 students. Not a lot of discussion possible there.

The two courses I’m taking are Litterature Comparee: Hotes et parasites and Methodologie de Litterature, so pretty standard fare for an English major. My TD professor for comparative lit is really great– he’s lively and young and friendly, and is easy to understand. The lecture, or CM portion, though, unfortunately is not so easy. The professor was absent the first week of classes (this apparently is not a rarity in France) so I’ve only had her for two lectures so far, but her frame of reference is way out of my reach and my ability to understand her quick lecturing style is not super high. But what can you do? My methodology class is almost the opposite: the CM is a little easier to understand, a little less impossible to decipher the information being given. However, my TD is miserable. Brace yourselves, I’m going to complain right now. I’m fully aware that I am currently young, living in Paris, and without many cares in the world, but I’m just going to say this anyways. My professor is scary. And has incredibly high expectations. And our class meets between 5-8 pm. It’s just impossible for me to leave NOT feeling totally drained. But that’s my only issue, and it mostly stems from the giant hassle that is scheduling all your classes here.

In my comparative lit class, the reading list is kind of wonderful in a I-am-pretty-familiar-with-all-of-these way. The Odyssey, Tartuffe, a Hoffman story and Toni Morrison’s Beloved are the works that I will be comparing this seemster in class. My methodology course is a little more French-centric, about which I’m happy– what better place to be exposed to French lit than Paris? We’re reading Stendahl’s Le Rouge et le Noir and Diderot’s La Religieuse.

This may surprise you, but writing this blog has gotten me a little freaked out over going into the next week of classes and has prompted me to get down to business with all the reading I have to do. Hopefully this glimpse into the academics of a Parisian study abroad student made sense and painted a proper picture of the world in which I currently reside.

Le Petit Dejeuner, or my thoughts on Breakfast

I wouldn’t say that I’ve always been a breakfast person. Well, at least, not in an indulgent way. Cereal in the morning was usually my routine, beginning in elementary school and continuing through high school.

This changed when I got to college. For one thing, I didn’t always make it to breakfast. Okay, I’m going to be honest and say it was a rarity for my first two years of college to have breakfast in the morning, and now, I find that outrageous. Because, dear readers, I’ve fallen in love. With breakfast. Part of this stemmed from lazy Sunday mornings at Bates walking over to the Pop Shoppe, a diner in Lewiston, where I would order two egg over easy with cheese, white toast, and a side of corn beef hash. Typing that order not only makes my mouth water, but also makes me slightly homesick (bates-sick? diner-sick?). Anyways, I began to appreciate again the glory that a morning meal is. Breakfast can make a rough morning a great day. This sounds like a public service announcement but it isn’t, just my raw thoughts on an under-appreciated meal.

Anyway, the location change to Paris this semester has caused my breakfast habits to adjust a little. Here, I eat breakfast at my host family; they leave me the makings of a traditional, simple french breakfast and I eat at my leisure when I wake up in the morning. This consists of tartines, which is yesterday’s bread (so it’s a little hard) with butter and jam, and coffee. Simple, but I find myself looking forward to it as I’m falling asleep. The bread here is so incredibly good, they deserve the reputation. My host family probably goes through four or five baguettes in a day; there’s two parents, three children and me, and we all want bread, and lots of it!

Tartines are great, but on the weekends I like to get out and try some new things to satisfy my hunger. Last weekend, I met with my friend Hannah for brunch at Bastille and, without any idea where to go, we set off in search of sustenance. The first corner we hit was a hip little cafe that had a big sign out front for BRUNCH that was pretty extensive considering it cost 16 euros. We went in, and it was a good choice. Here’s what we received:

YUM! It was apparently an very “English” breakfast, but it delivered all sorts of wonderful things so I was a very big fan.

Today, I went off in search of a similar brunch with my friend Alyssa. We met at St Michel, and set off in search of delicious inclusive brunch, but didn’t have as much success. Everything we found was at least 20 euro and very touristy, so we settled on a sit-down creperie. Guess what? It was not a let down. I was quite pleased with my “Chevrette” crepe– goat cheese, creme fraiche, honey and walnuts, with mixed greens on top and a hot chocolate. Heaven.

I could really get used to this…

I’m sorry if my new found hobby of taking pictures of all the delicious food I eat is causing problems, though the only one I could foresee is jealousy…

Sleigh Bells in Paris

I like music. A lot of people like music, true, but I do a lot with music at Bates through WRBC, Bates’ own student-run radio station. As you can imagine, I am one of those students that run it. I’m specifically the publicity director for WRBC, but we all help out on all sorts of aspects to help with upkeep and running of the station. So in addition to planning, publicizing and rocking out at cool concerts, I also get to spend two hours a week in the station broadcasting a live radio show. We are sent new music before it comes out, and have rooms upon rooms of CDs for all the DJs to check out. This is definitely something I’m missing while in Paris. Anyways, like I said, I like music. I tend to see as many concerts as possible– in high school, being so close to Boston made this very easy. I saw my fair share of awesome basement indie shows before I even turned 18. Since moving to Maine, though, there’s been a bunch of shows that my friends and I have deemed “worth it” enough to jump in a car and drive somewhere for a night. Those have been some of my favorite memories– Animal Collective in Boston (Freshman short term), Grizzly bear at Skidmore college (sophomore fall), Major Lazer and Rusko and DING DING Sleigh Bells in Cambridge (sophomore spring), to name a few.

Last spring I saw the male female duo Sleigh Bells perform twice– the first time, opening for Major Lazer in a tiny basement venue “the middle east” that I frequented in my high school days, and the second, when they opened for Yeasayer at the paradise. Therefore, it would be accurate to say that I am a fan of said musical act. They are LOUD they are UNAPOLOGETIC and just so COOL! It’s hard to put it into words, but if you ever get a chance to see them in concert, GO!!!

So, I got another chance to see them and concert. And what do you think I did? Obviously, I went. I convinced three of my friends from my program to come, but they weren’t as familiar with the band as I was, but very willing to check it out. Beforehand, we went out for burgers at Breakfast in America . And no, we don’t regret it. I got a milkshake!

And it was delicious.

The venue for the show was really cool– a little hard to find but cozy and intimate. My only complaint was that I hadn’t anticipated a lack of coat check. I ended up having to carry my big wool peacoat around the whole night. The openers were cool– knight riders, though we arrived in the middle of their set and weren’t paying much attention. Here’s a shot from their performance:

My photos from Sleigh Bells themselves came out fuzzier, not as clear. I attribute this to the fact that I was dancing my butt off, also perhaps because the entire room was in such an indescribable state of euphoria that it could not be captured accurately by the camera. In any case, what a great Tuesday night.

A Walk Through Paris

This week, after returning from Copenhagen, the weather finally became a little more Parisian and pleasant. Monday was the best– the sun was shining, it almost reached 60 degrees! There was an undeniable happiness on the face of everyone in my class that afternoon, including the professor!

When class ended, it was 3 pm and I didn’t have anything else to do. I decided to attempt something I had yet to try: walking home from school. I live in the 12th, or south east end of Paris. It’s a little out of the way of things, especially the homes of my friends, but it’s next to a big metro stop that has lots of different lines, so I’m definitely not complaining. School is in the 6th, which is on the other side of the Siene, as well as just generally far away from my apartment. For context, my commute via the metro takes about 35 minutes each way. So, I figured I’d take advantage of the day and test out the route. I looked it up on google maps before I left, and made note of the three streets I wanted to turn on (it isn’t a complex walk, merely lengthy). It ended up taking about an hour and fifteen minutes, and when I looked up the distance later, it was 3.8 miles. Totally doable, especially once the sun becomes a little more permanent! Anyways, here are some photos from my walk home through Paris.

Sometimes life is just so hard… Now is not one of those times. I’m young and in beautiful Paris, what more could I ask for??

Copenhagen for a weekend? Pour quoi pas!

I took my first training wheels euro trip this past weekend. And let me just say– it was a great success!! This is the last week before classes begin at the Sorbonne, and since most of my friends are taking half of their courses there, it was our last chance to take a trip without homework and other scholarly responsibilities hanging over our heads. So, we logged onto the easyjet website (to those of you who dont know easyjet, it is a budget airline that flies all over europe. my savior) and found the cheapest place to fly from Paris. Copenhagen won! So we went, with nearly no idea of what we’d do, but we went and it was lovely. So… photos?

In CPH, everyone is gorgeous and rides bikes. The weather is usually very brutal winter weather, more like Maine than Paris– but we lucked out. It was only ever grey, no rain, snow or freezing temps.

I had a delicious danish breakfast– the bread there was more substantial than french bread. Not that I’m complaining, but it was a nice change. Also, the produce. How I’ve missed fresh fruits and veggies!!

Much of Copenhagen is around water– crossing bridges means wind wind wind but also very beautiful views.

Like I said before… bicycles. If I were to sum up Copenhagen in a photo, it would be this one.

Standing outside of the coolest part of Copenhagen– Christiana. Check out some info about this place (where I couldn’t take pictures inside!)

Our hotel room comfortably housed 4 girls in a small space–this is because the hotel was designed in the spirit of a cruise ship… on land. Bunk beds on bunk beds, ya dig?

It only took ONE Danish pastry for me to fall in love..

On my last day I was lucky enough to meet up with two Batesie friends, Kaitlin and Brad, who are currently studying in Copenhagen for the semester. We ate soup in a cozy basement restaurant before they showed me their dorm rooms. It was such a pleasant reminder of home, though in a very different location. Hopefully, it is the first of many Bates reunions in Europe.

Well, that was Copenhagen in a nutshell. More adventures to come!