Posted by: vlibrizzi | March 16, 2009

Hitting the books…

Some of you have been asking me what my daily schedule as a student is like, and what I think of my classes, so I thought I’d dedicate this post to explaining what being a full time student at the Sorbonne’s French language and civilization program is like.

Every day, Monday through Friday, I take a bus from the center of Fontainebleau to the train station (or gare) in Avon, a neighboring town with a train station that is about a 10 minute drive away. Then, I board a train to Paris. The trains come every 30 minutes and only take about 35 minutes to get to Paris, so it’s a very easy commute. I usually spend the time on the train doing homework (of which I have quite a lot), studying for my French tests (I have a lot of those too), or reading a book. 

I have grammar class every day from 4 pm to 6 pm. There are about 25 students in my class from all over the world. Most of the people are in their mid-twenties, but some are exchange students from the US or Asia (and they’re in their teens). The class moves at a pretty quick pace and we have learned, so far, 6 verb tenses and a ton of vocabulary. We also have at least one grammar test a week, in addition to frequent written exams and papers, oral examinations, and reading comprehension quizzes. It’s intense, to say the least.

Then, every other week for an hour (from 1:30-2:30) I have my Phonetique class in a completely separate building and with a different teacher. For the first half of class, we go to a language lab, put on headphones, and repeat French phrases into a microphone. Our teacher listens in on our recitations and corrects our pronunciation. Then, for the second half of class, the teacher escorts us to a classroom where we dissect French sentences to better understand exactly how to pronounce them. French is a very difficult language to learn how to pronounce correctly. So, for me, it was a huge success when my Phonetique teacher told me last week that my French “r”s (which, when pronounced, sound to me like someone has a bit too much phlegm at the back of their mouth) were “tres bien.”

And finally, twice a week, I attend a two hour lecture (or conference, as they say in French) in a huge lecture hall with about 200 other students.

The conference that I attend on Tuesday is called “Great French Names” (or at least that’s how it translates into English) and the teacher teaches us (in French only) about famous French figures. So far we have learned about Joan of Arc (of course), Anne of Brittany, Charles V, Henry IV, Henry VII, and Francios I.

Then, on Fridays, I attend a conference (my favorite so far) on French regions. The teacher, who is very dynamic, concentrates on a particular region of France each week and tells us about the history of the region, the places to visit, the foods to try, what art to see, and what music to listen to. So far we have learned about Corsica, Brittany, Normandy, the Cote d’ Azur (or the southeast of France), and, of course, Paris. The only problem with that course is that after every lecture, I come home with a new place that I want C. and I to visit while we’re here in France. But, alas, too many places to see, too little time, unfortunately. 

So, there you have it. Being a student is like a full time job for me, and if you add the hours of my commute (1.5 hours each way) to the hours of class I have, it actually amounts to the hours of a full time job. 

But, you know what? I only have a year here, and I’ve promised myself that I would learn as much French as I can. I’m on a mission….so I’ve been hitting the books…and having a lot of fun in the process.


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