Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ce que j'ai fait (What I did)

          Aix-en-Provence has about 140,000 residents and a considerable number of these residents are students, so Aix is both youthful and international due to the number of exchange and international students. My dormitory, called Cuques, was made up of both French and international students; for example, there were Canadian, American, French, Czech, and North African students living on my floor, which meant that in my student life I did not have intense interaction with French people. However, this did not mean that I did not use my French, although  I probably spoke more English than I have should have. Among my closest friends, there were students from Germany, Italy, South Africa, the Netherlands, the United States, Canada, Morocco, and Mexico, and for the most part we communicated in French. Of course, when among other Anglophones, it was almost inevitably that we spoke English, though we almost always spoke French when with the other nationalities.
      At the beginning, admittedly, it was tempting and comforting to revert to English, but as the semester progressed I began to enjoy the challenge of explaining something in French and I felt guilty when I would speak English. Small talk is perhaps one of the most difficult things in which to become comfortable when speaking another language. Maybe I was just over thinking common daily interactions, but I sometimes rehearsed what I would say to the cashier at the grocery store before I walked to their till, but gradually it became more habitual and I thought less about what I wanted to say. It made me realize how quickly we speak with each other in our maternal language, and how little we have to think about what we want to say.
      In general, I found it easier to communicate with my professors and older adults than with French kids my own age. As I am sure I do in English, French kids use slang, mumble, and speak hurriedly which makes it hard to keep up as someone who does not know the current trends of a language . Also, it was easier to speak with professors and those in the service industry because it was easier to imagine the context or general topic of that situation, whereas with young French people the conversations were more casual and unfocused--the small talk was difficult. Throughout the semester, as my desire to speak French comfortably and more intuitionally  increased, I began to sacrifice grammatical correctness for the mannerisms I noticed in natural or fluent French speakers. While it did lead me to develop some bad habits when speaking French, I think that overall it is more important to be able to communicate succinctly and swiftly than it is to grammatically speak perfectly; after all, the goal of language is to communicate, and too much time spent paying attention to detail can disrupt that process.

In my next post, I will talk about the places outside of Aix-en-Provence that I visited. Below, some more photos!

The beginning of Springtime in Aix. Whenever there is sun, there are Aix residents sunning themselves at the numerous cafés.

This picture was taken in Marseille, which is about a thirty minute bus ride from Aix. Pictured here, the old port of Marseille, the Mediterranean is directly behind the vantage point of this picture.

à plus!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Le Commencement

       I arrived in Aix-en-Provence, France on the 4th of January at 7 o'clock in the evening after having spent nearly twenty-four hours traveling. This was the realization of a many month process which began earlier that year, when, in the fall, I found out that I was accepted by the exchange organization ISEP to study abroad in France during the coming spring semester. As it happened, I was directly enrolled into a political science college in Aix-en-Provence called the Université de Paul Cézanne.  My classes, which focused specifically upon political science, began a couple of weeks into January and lasted until the end of June. 
        When I stepped off the bus in Aix, there were a couple of French political science students waiting for me who showed me to my new residence, the university dormitories. Having two days between when I arrived and when classes began, I spent time trying to get myself out of my jet-lagged mind frame and planning my walking route to school, which was about a mile from my dorm. It was a bit bizarre for the first couple of days because I literally knew no one in the city, and since Hamline doesn't have an affiliation or an exchange program with the Université de Paul Cézanne there were no other Hamline students or familiar faculty present with whom I could collectively share my isolation. So, you can imagine, I was grateful when classes began at my university because it offered an opportunity to meet kids in a similar position as me, and begin using my French. 
        All of my courses were taught in French and taken mainly by international students. Most exchange students were qualified as second year university students, and we were plentiful, thus many of my classes had only a small population of actual French students. One of my courses, however, a fourth year class about science and society, was filled primarily with French students, save for myself and two other Americans. 
       Courses in France are noticeably different than courses in the United States. French students are diligent note takers, always typing hurriedly. They are like this because the professors do not assign texts to read for out-of-class work as they often do here, so if you did not pick it up in class you most likely won't come across it outside of the classroom. I never made the leap to computer note-taking because I wasn't able to comprehend French quick enough, so many of my notebooks are filled with half English, half French notations that, in same way, were actually useful when it came time to take my final exams! 

In the next posts, I hope to write about my interactions with the community I lived in and how it has shaped my world view in different ways. Also, I would like to touch on the trips I took while living in France. 

Below are some pictures from my first weeks in Aix-en-Provence.

Thanks for reading!
The Université de Paul Cézanne, where I studied political science.

Home sweet home. Small but charming, no?

Fairly representative of the streets in Aix-en-Provence.