My “mini-vacation” has ended, and it’s time to go to class. Unfortunately, the French university system is much different than America’s, and my friends understood it just as much as I did—which is, essentially, not at all. Regardless, I sat down at my computer last week with the website of the emploi du temps and what I thought was clear instructions on how to find my proper courses. After taking a French language level exam for the classes specifically for international students, I waited patiently for the results and picked out a few classes that looked interesting.
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize exactly that there are two types of classes at UVSQ. A CM course began last week, and can possibly be joined with a TD class, which started today. Sometimes, you can take a CM and a TD (and, you must) or, only a CM or only a TD.
I’m still not sure what that means.
At any rate, I had my first grand disaster as I attempted to navigate the university system today. My friend suggested we try out a 20th century French literature course. Of course, I thought it sounded lovely, so I agreed to check it out with her. We walked into the course three minutes early to find the classroom completely empty. Startled, we timidly sat down and wondered if we were in the wrong classroom. When the next students walked in, I made sure it was the right class, and we sat down, relieved. But the horror had just started.
When the professor walked in 10 minutes late, he immediately started talking. Around me, everyone looked completely prepared with novels next to their poised hands that were hovering over their notebooks. The professor (very) briefly introduced the course, handed out a bibliography of a French author I had never heard of, passed around a sheet for us to write down names, and started rattling off a list of dates for an exposé.
I turned to my friend, who was staring at the professor with a look of complete terror on her face. I squinted at the professor, confused. He was explaining how long these exposés needed to be. Quarante minutes. My friend turned to me.
“Did he just give a time? For what?”
It wasn’t until he looked straight at me and asked what subject I would like to talk about that I fully understood what was going on.
“Desolée, monsieur, mais ce n’est pas normale aux Etats-Unis.”
And when he asked my friend the same question, she looked at him, then me, then back at him: “Quoi? Répétez, s’il vous plaît.”
After that, I furiously took notes on the life of a writer who I had never heard of.
It turns out I’m not particularly interested in this author and not quite sure that the struggle to understand the class is worth it. But I’ve never been so terrified of saying the wrong thing or completely failing in a class before in my life. When I got home and retold the story to my host mother, she explained to me the meaning of an exposé in a French university—it’s a very normal part of a final exam of a course where you discuss part of the course for 30-45 minutes.
Certainly an interesting experience…here’s to the remainder of the week being much more successful than today!