07 May 2008

May Day

To celebrate the closing of winter and the coming of spring is really a wonderful and important thing. At Manchester, this transition is celebrated with copious amounts of alcohol, lots of noise (including an air-band concert), silly games (at least silly if you have consumed said-copious amounts of alcohol), and general (and sometimes frightening) public drunkenness. Maybe my reaction is a bit extreme, but I’ve always enjoyed standing (sober) on the sidewalk watching the hordes of drunken revelers make their (never straight) way to the concert, shaking my head, returning to my room—and locking the door.

May Day weekend this year was much more tempered, full of activities you didn’t have to be drunk to enjoy, and thus enjoyable. It started with a day of Thursday (French Labor Day), which I spent working like a fool for a presentation the next day. Except for the evening, when I was invited chez Hélène, one of my friends from dance class. We spent the beautiful late afternoon walking around downtown Strasbourg, then had dinner with her mom at their house, eating à la grècque (see feta, moussaka, Greek coffee and money below), because Hélène is French-Greek.

Friday, with my presentation finally over and all the tension flowing dissipating leaving me like a popsicle in the sun, I did just that: read and napped in the sun on the terrace of my apartment. It’s a perfect place to be, and is becoming dangerously tempting in this warm weather when I should be studying. After resting up, I went to my couples’ dance class and giggled with Hélène while we learned the swing, waltz, and el paso. Dancing continued later that night at le Snooker, a place in town that has “all dance” nights every other Friday, including tango, swing, waltz, salsa, chacha…you name it, there are people to dance it. I was there with my (best French) friend Julien and a couple others from class. I managed to get a couple films of the dance, because I suspect none of you believe me when I say I can do it. I don’t know if these are post-able, but I’ll try.

Saturday slipped away from me between going to market, lunching with a friend, sitting on the terrace of a café with others (for the purpose of getting to know the French student who will be at Manchester next year), attempting to fix my bike, and a last-minute crêpe dinner chez Leslie. I can’t complain—all of it was fantastic!

And the crêpe dinner went late, devolved into dancing, and ended with a very tired group of four BCAers watching the sunrise. Sometimes life is just great. And sometimes it takes riding your bike home in a foreign country watching the sunrise over the European Parliament to realize that you cannot let who you are be wrapped up in other people, because then you will never become who you want to be.


Nor can you let your self-worth be determined by French university.

I HATE French University

What follows is an untempered rant concerning my academic well-being. It makes no claims to be well-thought-out, weighed-out, or correct. But here goes...

I may very well fail some of my classes this year. This is not normal, and I don't say it with a sense of resignation. Just a matter-of-fact tone acknowledging what is possible. Let me explain:

I have eight hours of courses at the foreigners' university. These classes are a joke. My grammar block, though providing me with a steady year-long group of acquaintances (it was unbelievably comforting to see the same faces every day at the beginning of the year when everything else was changing), has done little to improve my French. It sounds haughty and ungrateful, I know, because I speak French a thousand times better now than when I arrived, but I'm not trying to say it was all through my own effort. Simply, it was just not by virtue of the work we did in class, which consisted of Monday: review mistakes made in previous written expressions; Wednesday: work on oral comprehension; and Thursday: written expression. It sounds logical, but there was a sense of lethargy that dominated, especially this semester. The bar was never raised. All I ever got back was "c'est excellent" and "tres bien," which does a lot for my confidence but nothing for my skill. I produced nothing of worth in my grammar block, just a lot of BS written expressions responding to prompts I could care less about (subjects like "cell phones and adolescents" and "dietary supplements"). My two elective courses, Translation and Linguistic Diversity, were somewhat redeeming. Translation always frustrated me because we always worked from English to French and the professor would always respond "But what you've written doesn't SOUND French!" Linguistic Diversity, while the material was interesting, the class pace was too slow and the last three weeks of class were cancelled (ok, legit: the prof was quite ill). But LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT THE EXAM: a semester's worth of class = 15 fill-in-the-blank questions it took a half-hour to complete. One question (no kidding): What explains the spread of latin starting in the third century BC in Italy and Mediterranean Europe? Another (again, not kidding): What historical event explains the spread of these languages around the world: French, Spanish, English, Portuguese. Uh, the Roman Empire? Uh, the colonial system? It's just like that, too: you end up second-guessing yourself. And the best part? The exam for the year-students and those having taken the course only the semester--same exam.

I have eight hours of courses at the real university, thank God. At least there I knew I wouldn't shoot myself from boredom...just frustration. I got to study real, live, linguistic change under the tutelage of some very experienced professors: sociolinguistics, regional language and culture, linguistic educational policy, history of Germanic languages. The content is enthralling (again, I know you don’t believe me)! There does not exist, however, the concept of the undergraduate professor, someone who retains a bit of teacher-ness while being extremely well-versed in the field. What do I do this semester? I go to class, I sit there for two hours, I contribute nothing, and I’m treated like I have and will never have anything to contribute. The professor basically ignores the presence of the students: it’s a lecture. I kept justifying it to myself: Well, but it is in French, it is interesting. But it just wasn’t enough, and I was frustrated about being a sponge and having information deposited into my brain, and in the end not producing anything. Then, two weeks before exams, I found out I would be producing something (golly, would’ve been nice to know): a presentation on the educational linguistic policy of the US and surveys and an analysis of the linguistic behavior of three Alsatians. In two other classes, I had exams, which were/will be challenging. I did a darn good presentation and I’ll be proud of the paper when it’s finished, but I would’ve liked to have known the expectations before going to an entire semester’s worth of lecture about educational linguistic policy in Europe. You know? And what frustrated me the most was that, when asked how I would like to be evaluated, nothing was specified: a presentation, a dossier, or a “traditional oral exam.” What are these things? What were they expecting? Luckily I chose the presentation and was able to watch others and learn from them. Who knew we had to hand in a 100-page dossier of our research after presenting? And I still don’t know what a “traditional oral exam” is.

In short, I will be glad to get back to a system I at least understand, with professors who know my name and who encourage me to think on my own. Who knew it was so rare?

And now…

Leaving this afternoon for Grenoble with the family whose girls I teach English to. They’ll be moving there in July, and the oldest girl is taking her English exam to get into the international school, so they wanted to have an “all-English weekend.” I don’t think the family thinks I actually want to come (which I do!), so they keep proposing more and more extravagant activities to occupy our time. I’ll let you know how it goes.

1 comment:

Nico said...

You do us injustice. I have never spent a May Day under the influence of alcohol and have always enjoyed it and its events nonetheless.

Also, the games are silly no matter what.