It’s late March now, and I think I’ve been so preoccupied with making friends and deciphering the French collegiate system that writing my journals simply slipped my mind all together. So, to recount my scholastic adventures here at UCA, I’ll have to go back about three months.
There were some administrative mistakes that I could easily blame for the disaster that was my first week of school here, but maybe I could find some blame for myself if I simply retrace my steps. I am a Letters-International Studies double major at OU, and I originally planned to use this semester to catch up with my International Studies degree, since I added it after my Letters degree was nearly finished. Why would I do such a thing? If I’m being honest, the prospect of graduating with a bachelor’s degree at the age of twenty scared me a little. I mean, what am I supposed to do after that? I’ve been in school my entire life, and suddenly I’m supposed to get a job, learn how to do my taxes? Obviously, I plan to learn those things, but I wasn’t quite prepared to do it so quickly. And, I’ve always had an interest in the interconnectedness of the global community, so I felt it would help shape my focus when I do begin searching for a career.
But I digress. The problem is that I chose classes that I believed would transfer over to the College of International Studies. As it would turn out, that was never even an option.
The Université de Clermont Auvergne gave me a “marriane,” which means “godmother.” Her name is Carole, and she is basically my partner, in a program similar to OU Cousins. She reached out via Facebook and told me that she would show me around to find where my advisors and classes were. We met at my dorm, and once again, the le bis took me by surprise. She is short and curvy, with curly brown hair, light brown skin, and bright red glasses. She told me that she was born in Madagascar, and I felt like an idiot for forgetting that people live in Madagascar. That stupid movie is all I could think of, and I mentioned it to her. She laughed and told me that the lemurs there are like the squirrels everywhere else, just kind of part of the landscape. We found my advisor’s office, but not the actual advisor, as apparently, she didn’t come to work on Thursday afternoons. I took a picture of her office hours, and then Carole asked to see my learning agreement—a list of the classes that I had chosen to take.
Because the university is spread out over the city, we hiked back to the building Gergovia, which wasn’t actually that far from my advisor’s office or the dorms, but I suppose I’m used to considering a university to be one cohesive location. Then we took the stairs to the fourth floor, where the secretaries to some of my classes resided. If you’ve never been to Europe, it will come as an underwhelming shock that the fourth floor actually means the fifth floor, since apparently ground-level is “zero.” After we huffed and puffed to the fourth floor, we found a bulletin board with a schedule for classes. I’d never seen anything like it. It was color-coded and grid-like, and even Carole was a bit confused by it, since she is a psychologie majeur and Gergovia is home to les Classiques, Littérature, et Histoire. But we worked out that my first class should take place on Monday at 8:15 am.
I hung out with Carole for a bit longer before I headed out to do some shopping, not just for food but also for school supplies. I found out that there is no such thing as plain lined paper, just grid paper. I decided that it would have to do. The next day, Carole took me shopping for the last few things I needed for my dorm. It turns out that the huge, Walmart-esque stores are too far to reach on foot or by tram, so Carole asked her father to use the car. They drove me out of the city center and asked polite questions about what music I preferred and how hot it gets in Texas and if I ever drive when I’m in the United States. I informed them that I liked all music, that the hottest it ever got in Texas in my lifetime was 113 degrees (which shocked them, on account my using Fahrenheit. In Celsius, 113 equals 45 degrees, which I am assured, is still scorching) and that you could really only get around by driving in the States. We bought a rug and a laundry basket, food, and shower supplies. I thanked them and felt more prepared for my first class on Monday.
The other thing about France is the people. Even though I’m not in a place as notoriously glamourous as Paris, everyone still makes quite the effort to look fashionable. I know that if I had an 8 am class in America, I would have no shame about arriving in my pajamas. But here, no matter how early or late, people are impeccably dressed. So, I woke up an entire hour earlier than I needed to so that I could prepare for my classes. I walked across the street and up all the stairs and I was surrounded by a sea of people, engulfed in a cacophony of French. I felt small in the crowd, and I felt like I was noticeably out of place, even though no one paid any attention to me. We all stood in front of the doors to the auditorium, some people chatting with their friends and others, like me, simply listening to their headphones and observing.
Ten minutes went by, and the professor didn’t show. Some people began to leave. Alarmed, I went to speak to the secretary to ask if I was in the right place at the right time. I stumbled through my question, and she seemed kind but busy. She hustled through her response but was nice enough to repeat herself more slowly after seeing my puzzled face. She also answered a few of my other questions concerning the times and whereabouts of my other classes. I went back outside to wait with the others. Twenty minutes had gone by and now only half of the original crowd remained. After thirty minutes, I was the only one who remained, and feeling a bit silly, I made my way down the stairs and back to my dormitory. Turns out, the professor simply didn’t feel like coming to class on the first day of school, so he didn’t. And while I can certainly understand that impulse, I wish he’d had the decency to tell someone before I woke up at 7 am and ruined my morning.
Later that day, I went to speak with my advisor—Madame Marie France-Yang. She asked me if I preferred French or English, and when I hesitated she used both. The system was so unfamiliar to me that I didn’t know what she was talking about half of the time. She went on about Learning Agreements and student cards and signing up for exams—which apparently you have to do, you don’t just get an exam for being in the class. She gave me several instructions, which included somehow getting a 2 inch photo of myself for the student card as well as a five euro fee for processing my application and student dossier.
It took the rest of the week to do all that she’d asked, and it required a fair amount of running around Clermont. Madison, another student from OU went with me more often than not, since she had roughly the same laundry list of tasks. Three different offices passed us around to each other so often we wondered if we’d ever get fully enrolled. Meanwhile, I was taking history classes and literature classes at Gergovia, struggling to keep up with one my professors but the others were rather easily understood and their subject matter quite interesting. The classes had days in between, so for Tuesday and Thursday I had nowhere to be but at someone’s office, asking for help to officially enroll in classes. Finally, we returned to Madame Yang and she informed me that I wasn’t even permitted to take history and literature classes under the bilateral agreement that they had with OU. I was to take a French placement test and would only be allowed to take French foreign language classes.
I couldn’t tell if I was upset or relieved. I was having difficulties in some of my classes—one of which required an oral presentation that I was in no way mentally or physically prepared for; but I had planned out all my credits that would still need to be satisfied when I returned to the States, and I’m not a fan of changing plans once I’m already knee-deep. But I figured that I could at least finish my French minor, and that way I could take the Letters and International Studies classes that truly interested me in English, thus eliminating the need to translate before brandishing my critical thinking skills.
The very next week I took the placement tests with Madison and Kylie—another OU student, who was actually in my French classes but who I fear never liked me that much, as well as other international students that I’d met: Maybrit and Laurin, both German, and Fernando, who was born in Haiti but came from a university in New Jersey. I was placed in Niveau B2 (Level B2), which means that I can express myself clearly (sometimes) and understand when someone is speaking to me (mostly). It could’ve been better, but also certainly could’ve been much worse—and regardless, I like B2.
We take General French, three times a week, each class is at least two hours long. I also take Civilisation—which is a class about French society, government, culture, etc., and Histoire Culturelle—which is a class about French history and its effect on French culture. There is a writing class called Argumentation, where we learn to formulate constructive arguments about various issues. If you’ve ever seen or participated in a Lincoln-Douglas debate, that’s basically the gist of it, except it’s written down instead of spoken. Finally, there is a class called MVU. It’s been two and half months, and I’m still not entirely sure what MVU stands for, but I believe it’s Module pour la Vie Universitaire, which means they teach us how to participate meaningfully in the French collegiate system, how it’s organized, and how to use it to procure jobs in the future. It basically teaches you how to be a student in France. Lots of my new Chinese friends are very studious about that class. I’m not really enthused about it, it requires a lot of group work even though we don’t have a clear project to work on, and none of the things we learn really apply to me. Despite the fact I’m going right back to America this summer, it’s still required that I take the class.
Another class that was required was FOS. I definitely couldn’t tell you what that stands for, but it’s a class where you learn vocabulary for various fields. We were given a choice between Commerce, Letters, and Sciences. Madison and I chose to drop this class from our 18-hour per week course load. Instead, we signed up for a class called UE Star, wherein we learn about the history and culture of Auvergne, the region we’re in. It was another uphill battle and a game of pass the buck, but we finally were able to forgo the FOS classes, which were Friday morning, for the Star class, which is Tuesday evening. If it were up to me, I’d probably drop MVU as well, if the credits wouldn’t be lost when I transferred them back to the University of Oklahoma. But I need it to be fully enrolled, I’ve made new friends in the class, and it’s much better to have a three-day weekend when you’re travelling abroad.
In summation, I don’t believe I deserve any of the blame for the original mix up of classes. But I can admit that, while worth it, the rigmarole that plagued me once I tried to switch FOS for Star was entirely initiated by yours truly. But that doesn’t matter, because I’ve found a way to make my study abroad experience work for me in every way that matters and if that’s not a qualified success, I don’t know what is. I can honestly say that I know my French has improved since my time here, and so even if not all of my credits transfer back or I have to take a class that in no way applies to me, my cup runneth over.