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Back in the School Swing...

Natalie at the Big University!!!

snow -1 °C

Well, my first week of big-girl classes is complete! (And the reason for the long break between posts…) I have roughly the equivalent of 16 credit hours, and I already have an impressive amount of work, but I already prefer “la Fac” (la Faculté des lettres, or the College of Letters and Humanities) to the CLA. There is just a new level of independence and feeling grown up when you are the only international student present in a class.

And here, there is NONE of that “roll out of bed ten minutes before class starts and run across campus from your dorm to make it to class on time”. The Fac is in the heart of downtown (whereas the CLA was on the nearest edge of downtown from where I live), so my commute is now a solid 30 minutes. I take a bus from campus to the edge of downtown, and then have about a ten minute walk. Luckily, my earliest classes are at 10am, so if I get up at respectable hour, I can still have a decent chunk of time in the mornings.

So, this semester, I am taking five classes: two of them are “French Perfectionment” specifically for international students (so I already know a good percentage of those classmates a little bit, just from being a part of the International club); another is “Methods and Techniques of Art History” which is going to study iconography and themes of the Old Testament and their modern significance in Europe; another is “Greek and Roman Art: Art and Power” which is a study of the representation of power and influence in Greek and Roman sculpture; and, finally a literature course - “French Drama of the 19th Century”.

One nice thing is that all of the classes are surprisingly small; my largest is maybe 20 students. Which makes it much easier to stop a lecture to ask for clarification. Actually, I haven’t even needed to do that yet, which is kind of awesome! But I know that it’s inevitable… I’ve been recording all of the lectures on my phone for future reference; I find it incredibly difficult to catch everything the first time around when a professor is spelling a German word, or listing off a string of dates. (In the French alphabet, the letter “i” is pronounced “ee” and “j” is pronounced “jee”, so my brain always gets in a knot. And numbers get a bit complicated, because, like in many other languages, “seventy” is really “sixty-ten” and “ninety-eight” is literally “four twenties-ten-eight”.) Enough to make a foreign brain melt. I know for a fact that, if I had started straight away at the University rather than spend a semester at the CLA, it would have been a total train wreck. So I'm very grateful that someone had the presence of mind to suggest the more gentle introduction of the CLA.

And we’re really diving in of the work front – I’m in the process of slowly but steadily reading a play (Lorenzaccio) for Tuesday, and on Feb. 18th, I’ll be delivering a 30 minute presentation on a Greek sculpture (Nike by Paeonius). You’ll definitely be hearing how that goes!

With the new semester has come a new group of students, as well as the departure of others. Nicolle, who accompanied me on many of the adventures that I have written about, is back in New York, and it is definitely strange to not have her here any more. However, I have had the opportunity to meet new people from Italy, Germany, Ireland, Azerbaijan, South Korea, and FRANCE. It is so much easier to meet French people when they are your classmates!

Yesterday, I did a couple of short interviews via Skype with Mom’s eighth graders at Marrs. It was very fun to answer their questions, and to hear some of their reactions. Questions ranged from “So…are French guys cute?!” to topics like food, fashion, and gas prices. It reminded me a bit of when I was in eighth grade, and how inconceivable it would have been to eighth grade Natalie that I would be crazy enough (the good kind!) to spend ten months on another continent, speaking another language.

In current events, the season of the Epiphany is winding down, and with it the season of the Galette des rois (Kings’ Pie). It is a simple but delicious pastryish pie that basically a bunch of puff pastry with a layer of almond paste inside. I only tried it once, and it makes me sad that is has such a short season wherein it is socially acceptable to be eaten!


Another topic of conversation that has been pretty popular is the recent happenings in Paris, with Charlie Hebdo and other events. It’s been just over two weeks, and, though it has really shaken a lot of people, I haven’t observed much of a change. The week following the attack at Charlie Hebdo, they increased their circulation from 60,000 to 5,000,000. And they still sold out by the afternoon.

(Translation: “No more Charlie – You needed to get up earlier!”)

It is also quite common to see the “Je suis Charlie” motto posted on doors or in shop windows, generally as a sign of homage to those killed, and a show of solidarity towards the freedom of expression. In the week following, there were memorial marches and gatherings around France. The march in Besançon had such a big turnout that they couldn’t actually leave the assembly space. I don’t really expose myself to much French news, but I’m sure there is a significant amount of continued coverage and commentary. But it has been refreshing to see that, in general, life continues as normal, with minimal hysteria.

As I write this post, I’m getting my first French snow, so I’m gonna go make myself some German tea and curl up to read a French play that takes place in 16th century Italy…


Posted by NKammerer 07:42 Archived in France Tagged skype cla fac_des_lettres galette_des_rois art_history exposé

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I'm so glad that your "big girl" classes are going so well. You are so much braver than I ever was at your age - you inspire me to "stretch" myself even now.

Your description of how numbers are presented has my brain twisted - I can't imagine what a math class or an accounting class would be like. I'm probably going to have a nightmare about it tonight!

I wasn't expecting you to have snow - we're having temps in the mid 50s for a high. I'm still expecting a couple of blizzards in February since both your mom and Aunt Lara were born during blizzards.

The postcard that you and Eva sent to us on Christmas day arrived on Thursday. I loved the reference to Opa's picture taking being inherited!

Thanks for the highlight of my day.


by Judy Trout

I am still jealous of your being in France, but your classes sound brain-bottlingly difficult, so I'm just going to call it even. I'm very happy you are finally meeting real French people (as apposed to the fake ones) :) Not that I'm counting, but there are slightly more than 100 days until summer...


by Vinnie

Love your picture of first French snow....I think that pastry sounds like something we Americans would eat pretty much all year around...I am still working on getting pretzels dipped...I am planning to make them as a Valentine treat now....(hope that happens)
How great that you can Skype with the students at Marrs. It will plant ideas in the minds of some who have never even thought it is possible to do something like this...you are a great role model.
I really admire your spirit of independence and your zest for trying new experiences....
As far as the French language, last year I tried to learn Polish ...yikes,a slash here or there and a vowel becomes a consonant...too much for my old brain to handle.
Love your posts.

by linda placzek

Hi Nat,

I wonder if any French person is any good at math its almost as bad as working with Roman numerals. No wonder they keep losing World Wars.

I'm so glad your new classes are going well, you are really in the deep end now and it sounds like you are doing swimmingly.

You are really something.

Looking forward to seeing you for the Super Bowl next Sunday.


by Opa

Dear Natalie,
I’m glad your zest for the humanities includes Opa’s love of art, but not his slightly confused take on history. The French have been our allies in major wars from the inception of our country, including aiding our victory during the American Revolution. They lost neither of the World Wars...thank heavens, or we would have too. Nice try, Opa, but French bashing is so gauche.


by Mom

Hi Li,
As I remember it in the first WW we came in when France was up to their asses in Germans (losing the war); in the second they had already lost, remember Vichy, when we came in and saved their bacon.

Now DeGaulle would no doubt agree with you about winning both wars but to me that is a very (too) generous view of history.

by Opa

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