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Michelle: First week of classes

January 25, 2011

Every year, I await with anticipation the first day of school. Like a kid before Christmas, I can’t wait to get up in the morning and go to class. This year was no different. After a week of orientation to the city of Montpellier and falling into step with my host family’s life, I was sad to see my vacation go but at the same time, I was ready.

Monday started off great. My first class was on the world of work in France and is a class specific for Minnesota students. Everyone who does an internship has to take it. We spent the whole lesson learning vocabulary for the workplace (words like bosser, entretien d’embauche, engager, and licencier)  Despite the class being exclusively in French, I understood pretty much everything.

The second two classes that day are for the same course. One is a three hour lecture on developmental psychology, the other is another three hour lecture on social psychology. Both lectures have an emphasis on child/adolescent psychology. It’s hard enough having to learn in another language. However, when there’s a class of 300 students, some of whom are talking constantly while the professors talk in a lecture hall that echoes, comprehension is near impossible. The blatant disrespect for the professors in both classes astounded me. I sat in the front for both classes and people all around me chattered incessantly from the time they sat down to the time we were dismissed. In my classes in the US, this would never happen, especially not in the front row. Fortunately, during the first class, both professors simply laid down the basics and discussed a little bit of history and fundamentals in each topic. As a psychology major/enthusiast, I was familiar with most of what was discussed. There are many terms that are similar in French and English. For example “l’erreur d’attribution fondamentale” is the “fundamental attribution error.” Also, obviously all the names are the same (but with a French accent). Plato becomes Platon; Aristotle becomes Aristote; Erikson is still Erikson.

After both classes, another American girl in the class with me and I introduced ourselves to the professors. They asked how it was and we answered honestly. “Quand je vous entends, je peux vous comprendre, mais il y a beaucoup de bruit alors je ne peux pas toujours vous entendre” (When I hear you, I can understand, but there’s a lot of noise, so I can’t always hear you.) The social psychology professor responded, “It’s not like this in other universities, but what can you do?” I was so tired after that day. I just came home, ate dinner, and slept. I actually fell asleep without intending to. My host mother was so nice. She came in, put a blanket over me, and turned off the light.  This was not a great start to my first day of courses.

Today was my second day. My only course on Tuesdays is Civilization du Sud de la France. It’s a course for international students, but like the courses the U offers, it’s taught in French. One thing I’ve noticed is I’m not used to three hour lectures. Halfway through, I already find my attention waning. In the US, the longest lecture I have ever had to sit through has been two hours. After class, the combination of the length and the language makes my head feel like it’s about to explode.

Talking to other Americans, it’s reassuring to hear that some other students struggling too (although, I don’t think I’ve heard anyone have trouble with other students talking). It sounds mean, but I think you all understand. Going through something difficult is a lot easier when you know others are doing the same thing.

I still have the rest of the week to get through and after that the rest of the semester. Tomorrow I have Grammar and the day after is Phonetics. Once I get used to the language, I’m sure everything will go much more smoothly. Until then, I’m just going to have to bear through it. To anyone who plans on studying abroad in the future, voice recorder = best Christmas present ever. Thanks Dad.

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