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O Fim duma Viagem

Analysis: an oasis of clarity and reasoning in the vast desert of the real world

FRANCE | Saturday, 12 September 2015 | Views [271]

Tuesday began with a meeting at the Brown in France office of how to live like a real Parisian. Specifically, how to live cheaply in an expensive city,like a real Parisian student.

Tip number one: live at home. If your parents have lived in Paris your entire life, and you're beginning university in Paris, most of the time you'll still be living with your parents. Erin said this like it was a surprising thing, but I didn't find it terribly odd. Although I know a number of people who live in a dorm in the same town as their parent's house, dorm life isn't really a thing in France. The only person I knew who, in college, lived in an apartment reasonably close to her parents ended up moving back in with them senior year to save on rent. And that was in a city where money paid per square meter is not nearly as high as Paris. However, since none of us had Parisian parents, that wasn't a terribly helpful tip. I suppose I could quickly try and acquire either adoptive parents or French in laws, but I don't think my real mother and father would like either of those options very much.

Tip number two: your student ID card is pretty much magic. Like, you thought it was helpful when it got you into buildings and let you check out books or get food? Well, does your American student ID get you into French national museums? (Actually, as evidenced by Versailles, kind of.) Does it give you a discount on anything from train tickets to hair cuts? Once you have your ID, try asking for a student discount. It doesn't hurt, and it might help. (Obviously, student IDs are pretty awesome, but honestly, I can't decide which is better: French ID or Carthage ID. French ID gets me into the Louvre, but Carthage ID gets me into the building that I live. French ID gets me everything discounted, Carthage ID gets me free "food" and coffee. You can't eat art. I mean, you can, but your student ID is not going to be enough to get you out of the huge fine and potential jail time.)

Tip number three: never go see theatre at full price. There are a huge number of discounts, student or otherwise, available for pretty much whatever piece you might want. And if you like opera, you can try and grab a last minute seat for five euros and, at intermission, switch with all the people who only pretend to like opera and give that illusion up after one act.

Tip number four: you can eat cheaply. Most of this was things I already knew, (farmers markets, cheap grocery stores, eat out for lunch, get the fixed meals, etc.) But I did learn that it is French law that tap water free of charge be an option. So you won't hear a French waiter legally claim that they don't have water. (I did have a waiter claim that once. MakesÀz me really curious how they were able to make the rice they were serving.)

The presentation was followed by the more practical side of things, when we went together to a Resto U (Restaurant universitaire.) Without our student IDs/Erin, we would have been paying 7 euros for lunch. Instead, we were paying 3.25 for a meal and a dessert, or a smaller meal, or other combinations.

The restaurant was on a boat on the Seine, which was pretty cool. (Carthage should have a boat restaurant. And by "should have that" I mean "should have that, but it's not worth doubling tuition over.")

Maybe it was the location. Maybe it was the smell that came with the location. Maybe it was an acquired distrust of cafeteria meat and the sudden expectation that I would be able to tell the person what I wanted. But I found myself pointing at a platter of fish and seafood when asked what I wanted to eat. I did grab a piece of chocolate cake, though, do at least my brain wasn't completely broken.

Lunch was fishy. Nothing too bad, or at least nothing that I ate more than one bite of. Tilapia and mussels and even a little squid, plus another unidentified fish. So it wasn't the worst food decision I'd ever made. And the chocolate cake was very good. But, because of my choice of meal, I'm really not qualified to compare it to other cafeteria food.

But, like most of the times I eat lunch at a cafeteria, I finished and had to think about going to class. Thinking very hard about it. Especially when Megan was trying to find someone to go clothes shopping with her. (I am in the vast minority of girls who would find going to a math class more appealing than clothes shopping. This is hardly surprising, since I believe I'm also in the minority of people who would find going to an advanced math class preferable to pretty much anything that doesn't literally kill you.)

I had no problem getting to campus, and showed up at the lecture hall 5 to 10 minutes early. There were even other people there! (One of the cultural similarities the German and Portuguese students had found was that classes didn't start for 15 minutes. If that had been true for Paris, I would have had a long, lonely wait.) I chose a seat nearish the middle that would allow me to see all three boards.

Someone behind me asked me something in a whisper, and it took me three tries to realize he was asking if this was an L3 course. Turns out whispers in a foreign language are really hard to understand. I said yes, though I didn't even know what class I was in. My schedule just said L263, which left me a fifty/fifty shot as tocourseer this was Integration or Topology.

At about the time the class was scheduled to start, I noticed a man opening the blinds. This is not the simple process it is in a small classroom, but rather required standing on a ledge that existed for the sole purpose of allowing one to open the blinds and pushing the curtain. It seemed like a very forward thing for a student to do, so I concluded this must be my professor. The first thing he had done upon entering the classroom was bring in more natural light, so I could tell I would like him already.

Once the blinds were more open, he went up to stand in the front of the classroom, and I realized how poorly prepared for large lecture courses I was. See, my only concern had been "will I be able to see the board?" A much larger one should have been "will I be able to hear the professor?" And, since it's a bit hypocritical of me to complain someone was talking too quietly, I'll say instead that the acoustics in the room were not as good as they could have been.

Bad things about the class:

- It was four hours long. Not generally, but this week, he decided he had too much material to cover, and had scheduled us a supplementary course. I can't imagine it's a good sign when the teacher keeps you two hours late.

- It was kind of hard to hear him, and even harder when people behind me were whispering.

Good things:

- It was an analysis course

- We got a fifteen minute break between the first and second session

- It was analysis

- French and English have almost the same vocabulary for math

- Analysis!

The first hour of the course was introductory (time that usually takes: 20-30 minutes while the professor goes over the syllabus and course expectations. Time it took him: ~5 minutes to say his name, what course we were in, that "Integration" did not mean we would learn to integrate better, tell us what exams we'd have, and ask if there was anyone who was not a math major. ["I hope not, because that would be insane." One person raised his hand. "Brave soul."]) and historical. Finding areas, calculus, Fourier, etc. No one was taking notes during this part, and honestly, I don't think people were paying that much attention. Math professors stories are usually interesting, but seldom relevant. (Note to self: ditch this mindset before my history of math class on Friday.) So really, it was only three hours of pure math.

I've already mentioned (a couple of times) that I’m glad it was an analysis class. There are several reasons for this. For one thing, analysis course won’t assume you know… pretty much anything. In fact, they’ll usually begin by assuming you know nothing. And if that’s turns out to be true, you will run into problems very quickly because the proofs are nontrivial, but they do follow straight from the definitions you’ve just been given. This makes for a wonderful course for someone who has the mathematical background necessary, but might be missing the exact words. Besides, I’ve enjoyed every analysis course I’ve had, and see no reason why that should change now.

Whatever the enjoyment level, it was still four hours of someone talking about math in French. It was exhausting. Not unmanageable or even too terribly difficult. Just utterly draining. We got through two chapters of material. We talked about sets and numeric series. So far so good. Then we talked about series of sets, which was a lot harder a concept. And the professor was asking us questions (which struck me as a bit surprising. I’d been expecting zero interaction between professor and students during the course magistral) about several examples, and my mind was refusing to work. I understood the definition, but I could not use it. The concepts weren’t the easiest, (lim sup and lim inf aren’t exactly simple when you’re dealing with numbers. When you’re dealing with sets that behave even a little oddly, it gets messy.) and my brain was exhausted from 3 hours of working with French. And I was trying, which mostly meant making random guesses and hoping they turned out to be right.

And then we finished the chapter and moved on to countable sets, and life got so much better. Because even if they had a different name for it, I knew what countability meant. I knew what injective and surjective functions looked like, and I knew how to prove some well-loved sets are countable. Which appeared to be more than some of my classmates could say.

We finished the course, and I went straight back to my apartment. I was grateful for the summer I spent in Morocco, because before that point I’d only been able to concentrate on French for an hour before my mind turned off. The hour and a half-long French classes last semester hadn’t hurt either. Even so, four hours where my mind needed to be constantly engaged in a foreign language was rough. But I’d known that, if I stopped paying attention, I might miss something important. So I really hadn’t had a choice.

Later that evening, I pulled out my notebook to try and find the professor’s website. And I stopped and just stared at my page of notes. I’d written it. Obviously I’d written it. It was a notebook in my bag, covered with handwriting too small to belong to practically anyone else. But the idea that I’d gone to a math class at Pierre and Marie Curie University that afternoon, that I was enrolled for a semester of math classes there… it felt almost insane. I was in an apartment (my apartment) in France staring at my first page of notes. This was my life.

And now it was time to find the professor’s website.

Tags: analysis, cheap, math, university

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