Hello all! First: Thanks for all the comments, they make me feel so loved. It’s a bummer to be missing YL and my small group. Hold strong, friends! BUT… I am absolutely loving it here! Rennes is the most fun and beautiful town, and there are tons of students. It has a feel like East Lansing – students make up about 25% of the town. There is so much to tell you… I think I’ll try to go chronologically.
This first week has been alternatively a tremendous amount of work and a lot of sitting around. The university has an international student relations department that has been taking care of us really well. In fact, there is an entire team of student volunteers that have been working all week giving us tours, helping us get official documents and just generally being incredibly nice and understanding. On Tuesday all of the exchange students had a meeting in which they informed us how to register for classes. Let me start by explaining that at North Park, registering for classes entails going online, finding the class you want, and clicking on it. This happens about 3 months before the actual classes begin.
By contrast, in France, or at least in Rennes, it works like this:
1) It is first important to know that there are two types of classes: “Cours Magistral” (CM)—a big lecture and “Travaux Diriges” (TD), smaller classes like seminars that usually accompany a CM.
2) It is also good to know that there are UEF classes (you could equate these to a major course) and UED courses (like minor courses; in essence they are open to everyone)
3) Step one is deciding what discipline to study. Once you have the discipline established, you find the course catalog and look for classes that meet second semester. You may want also to consult the department’s individual book, which has better class descriptions and often vital information like teacher’s names.
4) Once you have decided on a number of classes you would like to take, you find the building in which the department is located, and then must find one of many, many corkboards on which are posted the meeting times of each class in that department. For me, this was a terrific amount of work because I’m taking classes in a number of different disciplines because I am taking both UEFs and UEDs. Usually, you’re looking at a huge schematic of all the classes in that department. What’s worse, there can be up to 8 sections of one class ….
….at this point I am realizing that I have begun to sound like one of my “how to study in France booklets”, and it’s probably kind of boring to read. What you need to know is that the amount of paper and foot work you have to go through just to DECIDE on your courses is ridiculous. THEN you get to go to class for about a month just to decide if you want to take it yet… (for me, depending on how fast the prof speaks) and finally, around the end of February you bring your desired class schedule to registration and you’re “enrolled.”
Of course, this becomes difficult when, like today, the professors didn’t show up for the two classes I wanted to check out. Since the classes only meet once a week, it was a bit frustrating because I’m going to have to wait to find out if I can handle them or not.
But outside of all that, which is not as bad as I am making it, things have been great. On Monday last week, Marissa and I met Sara and Ryan, American students who are studying here all year, and already have a handle on everything. We went out to dinner with them and I had my first glass of French wine – a red Bordeaux that was tremendous! We made sure to speak French the whole time, and it was really fun! Also, they had a lot of stuff left over from students that left at the semester and couldn’t fit stuff in their bags. I got a free hairdryer, silverware, square pillow and a box of couscous (yes!)
I also have met a fantastically nice French girl named Noémie – after the international student meeting on Tuesday. We were to meet up with French student “partners”…unfortunately I wasn’t on the list so I didn’t have a partner. Noémie came up looking for an American girl named Catherine, her supposed partner, but Catherine didn’t show—so we became partners. She met up with me again yesterday and took me downtown and helped me get a cell phone (tremendous) and took me to a little pub-type place where we had coffee because it was FREEEZING outside. We talked for quite a while, actually, about our families, the different school structures between France and the States, and even religion for a long time. (It’s way different here). Then she invited me to a birthday party for her friend Nicolas on Saturday. I’m so excited! I’ve really been trying to meet French students, but it seems I’ve only been able to meet Brits and Americans. The two people I had courage enough to introduce myself on our floor turned out both to be English. You should have heard me, timidly introducing myself in French, explaining that I am American and then having them say “Oh Brilliant. I’m British.” Great. It’s been good though, there’s a girl named Becky, who studied in Spain last semester and lives across the hall (she’s a Christian, which is cool) and Bradley, who lives at the end of the hall by the kitchen who has been here since the beginning of the year.
Last night Marissa and I also met a boy named Julian (Julienne?) in the kitchen, and it turned out that he lives next door to me! He has an English class he had an assignment for, so he asked if he could come over and see if he had any big faults. We had a really great time talking about French and English differences and he said that he would be willing to correct any French homework that I had. He said he knew a little bit about the geography of the US because he read Sur La Route by Jack Kerouac. That was kind of fun. I think the best part was trying to explain to him why I had a sign that said “Your teeth look like freshly shaved goats coming up from a washing” on my wall (note: it was posted at my surprise party as a joke relating to Song of Solomon).
So all in all things are going well. I absolutely love the language, and I’m doing really well with it. I can understand most everything I hear, and sometimes I talk TOO much!
One thing I’ve learned is that being an exchange student is as much knowing things about your own country as it is knowing things about your host country. I talk a lot about the US not only when I talk with French people, but other international students I meet as well (quite a few Germans so far, who have all been really fun to meet, they’re so nice). It’s been a little bizarre being in this position, because in high school I had a lot of friends that were exchange students...I have gained a new kind of respect for them. I’m now realizing how much easier it is to be the host than the visitor, especially when it takes work to talk about anything ANY time you want to!
Tonight I think I’m going to watch Grey’s Anatomy with Sara, whose grandparents send her a copy every week…
Here’s hoping I find a class schedule!
A plus tard.