Classes are finally in full swing in Paris, which actually only started this week. Which is strange, because it’s nearing midterm time back in New Paltz right now. A brief rundown of what I’m taking:

Grammar class (two hours/every day): This is about as exciting as it sounds. We work in a variety of areas, such as speaking, listening, reading and writing. It’s been a helpful review so far, albeit a touch boring. I’m getting used to the two-hour class thing though; the first few days were rough. Now I can usually make it through and only glance at my watch once or twice. As much as I complain about it being every day, it makes a huge difference in how much you learn (versus a 75-minute class, twice a week, back in New Paltz).

Phonetics (1 hour/every day/every other week): This class only just started for me this week. Again, useful stuff, but pretty boring. We review the pronunciation of words and phrases, record ourselves saying said phrases, listen, and repeat. The professor gives helpful feedback, though her pack-a-day voice is a little difficult to replicate. This is where I’m headed, by the way, after I finish this post.

Gastronomy (2 hours/once a week): Thank God this class is interesting, or else getting to class at 8 am would be absolutely impossible. This is one of two lecture courses that I’m taking, and is by far my favorite. Here, we learn about the history of food/wine in France, the different meals and how they’re served. The professor is surprisingly engaging for the forum in which the class takes place (talking into a mic to an auditorium full of sleeping students). Yesterday, he began part one of his lecture on regional wines of France.

History of Versailles (2 hours/once a week): This is the other lecture course that I’m taking, although I have not yet been to it. Lectures only started last week, and I switched from Comparative Literature into this one on the recommendation of one of my friends. Comparative Lit wasn’t happening; the professor was all over the place and impossible to follow. I took notes for the first 30 minutes of class, until I realized that I had absolutely no idea what she was discussing. So, here’s hoping this Versailles course will be much better.

Director’s Course (1 1/2 hours/twice a week): This class is taught by Celine, our program director, and the theme this semester is 20th Century France. It’s basically a history course, but slightly different than such history courses taken in the US because the focus is on the French perspective. We’ve had some interesting debates already, and I look forward to further discussion of the French presidential elections as they draw closer.

And voila, these are my classes for the semester. There is a distinct “laissez-faire” philosophy to education in France: you (especially at the university level) are responsible for your own affairs. This means having no advisor (although Celine serves as our advisor here) and sometimes having just one or two grades for the semester. In my lecture courses, for example, the final exam grade is the only grade that I receive.

It’s taken some getting used to. There is an expression about the French grading system that “20/20 is reserved for God.” When I got a 15/20 on my first test (75%!), I was told by my professor, “Bien fait!” Well done, are you kidding me?? But things are done differently here, and I was assured not worry about it.

And now- off to Phonetics. Repeat after me…

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