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.


About nbrouder
I'm a senior at Bates College getting ready for thesis and the real world!

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