The study part of abroad

The day begins precisely at 8:15 each morning. It’s the shrill of my phone’s alarm that gets me out of bed, a necessary given I have just over an hour to come to my senses, loosening the grips of my seven hours of slumber to awaken to the fresh start of a new day.

I aim to leave the apartment each morning by 9:30. Which, of course, actually means I leave ten minutes later. Because, really, it wouldn't be the same if I weren't late leaving for anything I ever need to do. 

French Grammar, my daily, two- hour-long morning class, is a ten-minute walk from where I live, a true stroke of luck given the majority of my friends have about a 30- minute metro commute. It’s a pleasurable walk, one that passes through the strip of my arrondissement’s theater district. I love the walk, reveling in the feel of being a part of the stir of the Parisian morning.

As of now, I’m presently taking French Grammar and Paris and Civilization. My French Phonetics course begins tomorrow and L’Histoire d’Art begins either this Tuesday or the following. That I need to double check.

French Grammar
The school's courtyard.
I placed into elementaire—the second level among the four levels on offer. I had placed into intermediate when I had taken my placement exam freshman year of college, but three years without French instruction has placed me behind.

Madame Morio, my French teacher, is a four- foot something, middle- aged woman, with piercing blue eyes. Her gray roots run a jagged line along the top of the ruffled curls of her short, dyed copper hair. Her baggy clothes swallow her small figure, yet the eccentricity and exaggeration of her movements, the exuberance to her mannerisms and her surprising, yet refreshing level of energy for a 10 am class, makes her anything but little. She’s an adorable woman; whatever the lady is missing in height is certainly made up for in personality. Madame is not a fan of those that are late, and likely not a fan of those in need of a bathroom break halfway through class. The French, apparently, don’t believe in quick restroom breaks in between a two- hour block.

Her lessons are a streamed jumble of ideas. Like how we can go from “my tart is better than your tart” to “she is my best friend,” with absolute no explanation behind the verbs used, the tense implied, the pronouns incorporated, I’m unsure. There’s no structure to her two- hour lesson plan—her jotted notes on the chalkboard serving as our main form of visual guidance for the maze of her thoughts. Day one of class (and the week to follow) covered all I learned in four years of my high school French education. Covered, that is, without review. We’re just sort of expected to know it.

The class, instructed completely in French, is one of my courses taught through the Sorbonne (one of the oldest universities established in Europe). It's a part of the university’s international program, evident by the mix of ethnicities in my class; As for Americans, we’re represented by just five, myself included. There are a few Swedes, a large number of Asians from China, Korea, Vietnam and Korea, a few from Spanish- speaking countries, a girl from India and a boy from Turkey. My classmates are of all ages, several of whom have already completed their undergraduate studies.

I enter the door on the far right to get to the hallway to my class.
Class is held in a lycée (secondary school) as the main area of the Sorbonne is presently undergoing renovation. (That being said, however, the Sorbonne is made up of buildings spread across the city. So while there is the historic central building, classes are always held across Paris. Mine just happens to be in rented room as a result of the work on the international program’s usual building.)

The classroom is spacious; a tinge of peach shades the cream coloring of the walls, likely a result of the rose translucent colored sheets covering a part of the large windows on the room's right wall. Given the morning’s natural light floods the interior of our class, no artificial lights light the room, a reflection of the French’s constant push for conservation of energy. Or just that their energy bill are expensive. Regardless, I like the atmosphere created by the natural lighting—it, somehow, creates a peaceful, serene mood within the class.

A good balance, I believe, to the chaotic “structure” of Madame’s lessons. 
    
I like French Grammar, always a fan of classes that don’t involve a lecture. It’s not a course for my major, yet I take it seriously given I am here to improve my French. The unorganized manner in which Madame presents her lessons, however, makes it difficult to pick up on information in class. I am, as a result, attempting to teach myself with the French grammar book I had purchased prior to leaving.

Paris: Civilization and Culture
Paris Civ, held twice weekly (two hours on Mondays and an hour and a half on Wednesdays) is essentially the history of the city 101 with the added bonus of onsite trips. We’ll be studying our way through Paris and its surrounding areas through the semester, continuing with the end of the month’s visit to Versailles and a weekend excursion to Chartres.

Christina is my professor (way easier than attempting to pronounce her last name, so she said). She’s a lively, amiable woman: tall and lean with gray streaks lining her shoulder- length blonde hair. Her eyebrows arch her wide, round eyes, hidden behind the rectangular frames of glasses. There’s a smoothness to the steadiness of her voice, a wave in intonation as her excitement increases throughout our lessons.

We took a trip to the Louvre a few days ago, spending just under two hours examining the exterior of the building. Minus the freezing temperatures resulting in a lack of feeling in all parts of my extremities, I particularly appreciated Christina’s decision to focus on the outside of the historic structure. It was an opportunity to analyze the significance of the structure itself, rather than my immediate urge to awe at the beauties within (which of course I did after class. Because no way was I going on a field trip to the Louvre without actually peaking into an exhibit). The front façade of the building is composed of a sturdy, symmetrical design, one in which reflects the Louvre’s physical representation of power. It amazes me how even a building, its placement, the angle at which it faces holds some level of symbolic meaning. Christina possesses a fascination and passion for her topic, a subject of no particular connection to her Germanic- American roots. The amount she knows off hand is fascinating, notably evident during our onsite visit. That is, in between her cigarette breaks. Because the woman went through three cigarettes during the time we were outside. And it’s not like she’s French, so really, there’s no explanation.

French Phonetics and Art History
French Phonetics, an hour- long class that meets weekly every other week, begins tomorrow. I’m looking forward to it, hoping I’ll continue improving my ability to mimic the intonation of the French. Art History, a conference course taught completely in French and attended by a few hundred students, begins sometime in the next two weeks. The two are also taught by the Sorbonne.



____________
With two of my classes presently on hold, I’ve had a significant amount of free time. But my days are busy, the free time I fill with the lunch visit to the boulangerie and the afternoon trip the city’s buffet selection of art galleries. I enjoy that class isn’t on a campus, that I’m required to navigate the city, jump abroad the metro to reach my first lesson in time for the second. And through it all, I enjoy the sense of structure the mandated blocks of class add to my routine of weekly life while abroad.

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