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Turns out Carthage students particiapting in Brown study abroads aren't typical Brown students

FRANCE | Wednesday, 26 August 2015 | Views [214]

There are several cities where, the night before I leave, I stare out a window and make a promise to myself and to the city that I'll be back. Paris is not one of those cities. Rather, it's one of the cities that it seems like I keep returning to. It's not always intentional, but it's never a bad thing.

Two years ago, my parents and I spent a week in Paris for purely touristic purposes. One year ago, I flew through Paris on my way to and from Morocco. Flying from Morocco, I knew that, if possible, I wanted to study in France. And I knew that would only be possible if I could take math classes abroad. Brown in France was one of two programmes that I could find that gave me that option. And of the two, it was my favourite by far. And now, here I was.

After a breakfast in the hotel, (extremely sour grapefruit juice, a small cappuccino, and a hunk of bread with Nutella) we headed over to the office. It was raining slightly, but with the maps and directions they'd given us, we got there without problem. (Another difference between Brown and SUMSRI students: Brown students like being in the front and leading much, much more. SUMSRI students just like standing in the back and critiquing the directions.)

We met at 10:00 with Stephanie and Erin for general information. Highlights included:

  • A description of the office. There were the offices of Erin and Stephanie, a computer room, several bookshelves, and a kitchen with a tea kettle and an espresso machine. (I had a pang of longing for overly strong and minty green tea and my Moroccan host mother's cooking.

  • Study abroad tips. Nothing super insightful or surprising here. Just advice like "try to minimise English speaking." Which is great in theory, but it's really hard to convince a large group of American university students to speak in French when their professor is not in the classroom frowning at them every time they switch into English.

  • A taste of what's to come. Basically, looking through the schedule in the handbook and learning on what day we'd be getting more information about what each of those activities entailed. Things like the pro-seminar and alone weekend were still rather cryptic.

  • The number and names of all the students in Paris 6. Because we do start so early, Erin and Stephanie agreed we were special and singled us out, first with the description "the three Paris 6 people" and then by name. Between the two, I had plenty of idle time to look around the room and try and figure out who the other two were. Based on the people I'd not had much conversation with, I made a guess, which turned out to be correct. Go me.

After that, people from the bank LCL showed up to take our passports and make us sign things. Lots of things. Including once where we had write "lu et approuvé par" before signing our names. When I tried to skim read the legalese French, (an endeavour that was always going to fail) one of the bankers came by to point out what I was supposed to read and sign. So either never actually reading those forms is universal, or they were taking advantage of Americans never reading those kinds of forms. I sure hope it's the former, or at least that Brown in France wouldn't recommend a bank that tricks us into giving away our souls, first born child, or entirety of our current or future money.

Once we'd finished agreeing to whatever it was we were agreeing to, it was time for a "pique nique." Assuming that by "pique nique" you mean "carry out from a local restaurant that is eaten in the office." I had a tomato and mozzarella panini and chocolate mousse. Both were very good (what else would you expect?)

During lunch, another round of "who are you and where are you from?" Started between me and the five people closest to me. Two people in, the room fell silent. Which was probably disconcerting for the person introducing herself, but it meant everyone heard the introductions. And once our table finished, (the first person had to reintroduce herself for the rest of the room) the other table went. So finally we had a full introduction of name, hometown, and concentration for everyone in the room.

The upshot of this was that I met the one other Midwesterner (Erin, one of the programme coordinators. She'd grown up in Illinois, and did not seem to believe me when I said I knew more cities in Illinois than Chicago.) And I got to talk to Jaclyn and Ben, the other people taking classes at Paris 6.

Jaclyn is a computer science major planning on taking classes in CS and/or math, and Ben is a neuroscience major planning to take some math classes.

After lunch, I went with other people to look at SIM cards. Less because I actively needed one, but more to have something to do. Then Ben and I went back to the hotel to use their internet. On the way, we did succeed in not only speaking, but communicating in French, without any professor types present.

At the hotel, I discovered that I was continuing my new-school tradition and had locked my key in my room. So I hung out in the lobby, using their WiFi  until Ben finished activating his SIM card and came back down. Then we headed back to the Brown in Paris office.

There, students were looking through binders that listed the reviews alumni had given for courses they'd taken. This was incredibly helpful if you were planning on taking courses at Paris 1 or 4 (or even 8) and could look through two binders full of reviews and information like "say you're American and, instead of a two hour written final, you'll have a five minute conversation with the professor, but they'll call it an 'oral exam' and give you an A." Besides which, they, as primarily humanities majors, had course requirements like "a theatre class" or "something Asian." Humanities majors have it so much easier. (Ignore the fact that French has the most specific major requirements I need to think about, and by this point math is technically just "take several courses more advanced than calculus"...) I read through the reviews of the two math classes that would actually be offered and tried to identify Chad's handwriting based on a knowledge of what courses he'd taken. (Chad was the previous Carthage alumnus. Physics/math/French triple major, and he'd taken all his course at Paris 6. Unlike every Brown student I've met.)

Once we'd looked a bit at classes both off and online, it was time for our meeting with Christine. Christine is one of the Brown in Paris tutors, and she was helping to give a crash course for refreshing our French.

We began with yet another round of introductions. Name, concentration, siblings, hometown, passions, and why we'd chosen Brown. (Fortunately, the last question was dropped in people's responses and answered in a large group. I felt myself get defensive at comments like "it's the best university by far, with all the best students," but I didn't think starting an argument the first full day of the programme would be a good idea.) Pets was not one of the questions, though to hear people's responses you might think otherwise. Unless you believe dogs are basically siblings, in which case you have a lot in common with my classmates.

During our introductions, Christine would gently correct us every time we made a mistake. Although helpful and maybe even necessary, I'm not used to people doing that in French. Isabel (Carthage French professor) would usually let our mistakes slide as long as they weren't interfering in our ability to be understood. During presentations, she would take note of our mistakes, but not always share the sheet with us. So the instant feedback was nice.

Once introductions and "isn't Brown the best school ever?" Pep rally were over, Christine asked if we had any questions. We did, in fact, mainly about restaurants. She had two people role play a dining situation to give us some of the words and phrases we might need. One of those phrases was "café noisettes" to indicate a small amount of coffee. Which led to the inevitable next question of  noisettes were. Because I happen to like hazelnuts, I learned the word for them, and was in a good position to define it.

Well, an OK position. Short of reverting to English, I didn't have many good ideas. ("It's what's in Nutella! " "... Chocolate?")

Christine described them as what squirrels ate. I was trying to explain that I'd never seen a squirrel eat a hazelnut when my mind decided that what my definition really needed was a Japanese topic marker. "Noisettes wa..." I had not tried to do that since probably my junior year of high school. My Japanese has gotten a lot better since then, since once my brain told me "that sounds wrong" I corrected myself to "Noisettes ga..." I took a mental step back to regroup and figure out what I wanted to do. Define hazelnuts. So the proper construction for that would be "to iu no wa... to iu no imi desu." It was at about that point that I gave up and waited for one of my clssmates to take over.

Other than the unanticipated revenge of Japanese, it was a good session. Immediately following it we had a housing meeting. Erin hung onto the sheet while she gave us a philosophical talk about how every arrondisement had it's own character, and we were participating in the character of the specific area our housing would be in. We'd get to know the patisseries and bars, and they would get to know us. And one day we'd sit down and the waiter would ask "the usual," and we'd know that we belonged. And then she and Stephanie passed out sheets. Each sheet had times and addresses (as well as phone numbers, though that was more of a fallback than anything else) for each of the potential lodgings. My sheet had all studio apartments, but, following the counsel of Erin and Stephanie, I asked Erin to add a few host family lodgings to the list. My first appointment was to go to visit a studio apartment at 18:30 Tuesday. It feels terribly grown up, and I'm not sure I'm quite ready for that.

Tags: french, housing, japanese, music

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