A Travellerspoint blog

Classes, Work, Meetings (and a bit of fun on the side!)

All of those stupid movies where kids go to study abroad but just spend the whole time partying are a LIE!

semi-overcast 3 °C

Whew. So much for a post a week! I’ve been keeping incredibly busy, but mostly just with work. I’ve spent a good part of the last few days pulling together the last of my presentation for Wednesday. Events took a happy turn when another exchange student (from Moscow) joined the class last and teamed up with me. We’ve actually had a lot of fun putting it together, and now I won’t be alone floundering about in front of everyone making lots of hand gestures. The stakes have been set pretty high after two weeks of watching our classmates present their research. It’s interesting how incredibly different Art History education is here compared to my experience in the US (at least at UNL). Until now, my classes have been the stereotypical dark room with an endless flicker of notable works, and taking notes on whatever information the professor has deemed important for us to know about them. I know that sounds like torture to most people, but I actually find these classes really interesting, and get quite a lot out of them most of the time. But here (though there are still lots of powerpoints and very fast talking), the courses tend to be focused on themes rather than time periods (for instance, my presentation is for a class on the relationship between art and power in Ancient Greece and Rome, and I have another course that focuses on the nuances of the representations of men vs. women on Greek ceramics). And though it is important to be able to identify the works that are evoked, they are presented more as illustrations of the larger points that are being discussed. And about half of the class is professor-led lecture, and the other half is left for student presentations of in-depth research. I definitely have a warm fuzzy feeling for the dark lecture room model, but I feel like this technique is perhaps a bit more applicable to the things that we will be doing with our educations.

That being said, I am looking forward to getting past this presentation so I can start work on my next one! (For the ceramics class.) I’ve also read approximately 700 pages of 19th century French theatre. I’d say I’m definitely getting the full experience.

But I am also making a noble attempt at a social life. A couple of weeks ago, the university had an “Open Doors” day for high school students in the area, and ESN put up a big tent with all kinds of study abroad info, including tables representing a bunch of the countries that we are from this semester. So I printed off some pictures of Omaha and UNL and other cool stuff and had a little US table. It was fun to evangelize about studying abroad!


And last week, I went to a party organized by the Languages department. I figured I’d get to speak a bit of French, but I mostly went because so many students here study English and I thought it’d be fun to chat with them a bit. I met a few really nice students who were very enthusiastic about practicing with an Anglophone. So much so, that we exchanged numbers at the end of the night and met up yesterday for coffee and the first of what I think will become a regular language exchange.

This morning, I went on a little outing with ESN to the small town of Pontarlier, about 50km southeast of Besançon, very close to the Swiss border. The town is famous for having been the biggest producer of absinthe (up until its abolition in 1915). It is no longer illegal, and there is one distillery (La Distillerie Pierre Guy) that survived the period of prohibition, and they started reproducing in 2001. So we went for a little tour and taste-test. It was a really small operation, only a few rooms, and our tour guide was the great-great grandson of the man who opened the place in 1890.


We got to watch the whole old-school fountain-drip process, then test pretty much all of their products (the way they stayed in business through the 20th century was by manufacturing a huge line of eaux de vies which they still make today). It was a little strange to be doing this at 10:45 in the morning, but whatever. I of course tasted the absinthe, and was a bit disappointed. It pretty much tasted like spicy dust. Not sure if I’ll be revisiting that one. But I also tried a few of the eaux de vies – cherry, peach, and pine (which was even more green than the absinthe…And very strong.) They were all quite good, and I took the opportunity to support the local economy.


After the tour, we had a couple of hours of free time to explore and grab some lunch (which was becoming rather crucial for some of us by this time…they were really generous with their sampling…). So a few of us grabbed a nice lunch in a restaurant, and then went exploring a bit. It really is a pretty small town, about 18,500. There was a pretty little church near the city centre, and a fair share of cool monuments and old buildings. And it was a much higher elevation than Besancon, so there was actually measurable snow!


Next, we went up a bit farther into the mountains, for a tour of the Chateau de Joux. It turned out that there had been a mini avalanche on the road earlier in the day, so we had to abandon the bus and walk up the last kilometer or two.


The Chateau is actually a military fort, and it is a mere thousand years old. Construction started in the 11th century, and continued up through the 19th. It housed prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars and the French Revolution, and served as a fortress during the two World Wars. And, at an even higher altitude than Pontarlier, it was cold. But also quite beautiful; there were some wonderful views of the village below, and the surrounding mountains.


It was an interesting structure, with lots of windy hallways that just led to one big room after another. Some of them were used as food storage space, some as prison cells, and others as soldiers’ quarters. And they haven’t touched the structure at all since it became a museum – the refrozen drips from melting snow that seeps into the dungeons, in the words of our guide, adds to the beauty of a winter visit. And he was right, it is pretty cool!


In other fun news, I learned that the tickets have been bought for Mom, Dad, Eva, and Ben and Chelsea to come check out Besançon in May (they’ll get in on my birthday!). I can’t wait to share Besançon with others!!!

Posted by NKammerer 13:26 Archived in France Tagged snow eau_de_vie classes study_abroad conversations absinthe presentations art_history pontarlier chateau_de_joux kammerers_take_besançon_2015

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Ma Cherie Sœur,
Un cheval ne conduit pas. Le garçon nage. L'homme boit du lait et lit un journal.

Yeah, I've been practicing my French, but your studies sound cool too.

I'm so glad you manage find time to travel with ESN and socialize with all your schoolwork. Wonder woman! I'm taking classes in English with a light workload and can't quite find time for much else...

by Vinnie

Glad you switched from food to booze; you'll probably pass out before you consume too many calories.

Glad you are still finding time to visit other areas and make more friends.

Are we going to get you to come back home.

by Opa

As usual, your photos are outstanding. It was fun reading this blog after getting to SKYPE with you today. I'll be thinking about you Wednesday - I can't wait to hear about your presentation. I loved hearing a little bit of it in French during the SKYPE this morning - it sounded great (very authentic)even though I didn't understand a single word!

Love, Oma

by Judy Trout

Bonne chance à toi et Olga sur la grande présentation. Nous penserons à vous!

by Maman

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