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Posts Tagged ‘Beginnings’

Today was the big day.

I finally got my PasseNavigo, the easy-to-use and affordable metro monthly user’s card that allows me to freely travel on the extensive Paris Metro without troublesome and expensive paper tickets!

Well, actually, today was also the official start of my classes here at SciencesPo and the real beginning of my term here in Paris, but the Metro pass thing was pretty exciting too. I even rode the metro rather unnecessarily back from a place not too far from the 10th just to use it and try it out — it works.

But the main excitement of my day was that this day, the first of February, was my  first day of class.

The way my schedule here at Sciences Po works is very different from my schedule at UNC. Most classes only meet once a week, for two hours at a time, so well I have at least one class every day and two classes on Tuesdays, I only actually total up to 12 hours of UNC-type class time.

Monday features an early-afternoon lecture on “Media In Transition” by Peter Gumel, the director of my journalism program here and a pretty accomplished journalist in his own right. Today was mostly an introductory lecture, talking about the general scope and themes of the course, his expectations of us and the general plight of the media — read “newspaper” — industry.

We were also introduced to our course Facebook page — rather than Blackboard, we are using Facebook to post assignments — which began the slow descent into eerie familiarity that continued for the rest of the course. Even though I was on the top floor of the main building of one of France’s most renowned and unique  institutions of higher educations, it felt like many other college courses I’ve already taken.

It might have been partly due to the fact that the course was taught in English — Peter is from the UK — but that was only part of it. The structure, the student participation — or lack thereof; it seems that few students bothered to read the four posted articles for the first class, or rather, they didn’t want to make it known that they had done so — and the overall mood of the class felt distinctly like home.

But even in this home-like setting, there were a few noticeable differences. To start with, the international makeup of the class far surpassed the makeup of most UNC classes. Students from France — mais oui — the States, Australia, Canada, Ireland, China, Hong Kong and more lined the large classroom. That, too, was different: the “amphitheater” was like a big classroom where the lecturer just talked at us — despite his own wishes otherwise — making it a weird mix between UNC’s small, personal classrooms and big, impersonal lecture halls. It was too big to be intimate and too small to be anonymous, which had a decidedly unsettling effect.

On another, semi-UNC related note, they too have student elections here in France. And just like at UNC, loud election supporters line main campus buildings and meeting spaces, encouraging passerby to vote for their particular student federation or proposal or initiative. However, it is worth noting that the elections here hinge more on issues like “Listen to us or we’ll strike” and “French and English aren’t the only languages spoken here” rather than on things like, “Don’t Build That Bridge” or “Let’s Get Involved on Campus and Volunteer and Stuff!”

Granted, tomorrow will be different. I have a French language course and another lecture on media — this one on media and politics — a smattering of reporting labs on Wednesday and Thursday and a real, live French-language sociology lecture Friday night, meaning that my term here will probably be a mix of several kinds of pedagogical styles.

Unfortunately, my courses don’t really seem to take up the time commitment that I want them too. I don’t feel obligated to walk across the city to save metro costs anymore, thereby cutting down on time necessary for a visit to campus, but two hours a day isn’t enough. Maybe I’ll have a lot of homework. Maybe I’ll start exploring more. Maybe — and this one is not a maybe, it is a must and a will and I am already planning on doing it this weekend — I’ll start exploring food markets and buying interesting and fresh ingredients and making hearty, tasty meals like last summer.

But one thing is certain. Whatever I do now, I have my Navigo. So I’ll be taking the metro. Which is a good thing.

“You must take the A train
To go to Sugar Hill way up in Harlem

If you miss the A train
You’ll find you missed the quickest way to Harlem

Hurry, get on, now it’s coming
Listen to those rails a-humming

All aboard, get on the A train
Soon you will be on Sugar Hill in Harlem” — Duke Ellington, “Take the A-Train”

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So, if you’ve been following this blog lately, you’ve probably noticed an unsettling downtrend spiral in my life. It’s subtle, of course, but I know you smart cookies out there reading this, so you’ve probably been a little upset by the posts where my grand daily victories included such difficult tasks as ‘buying bread’, ‘making dinner,’ and ‘going for a run.’

While, dear readers, NOT TODAY. Today was the beginning of everything else. Or at least, I think it was.

Today, the journalism program I am enrolled in at Sciences Po finally had its opening meeting — small cookies, soda, juice and awkward mingling in a large and echoing room — which, for all its lack of grandiosity, was still something to do. And as such, this day was just full of minor, but varied, victories of a sort.

I left the house before noon — victory! — walked across the city to school — victory! — spent a few hours in Shakespeare & Company — victory! — didn’t have enough money to buy course packs for my classes — not a victory! — and drank a lot of cheap campus coffee — many small victories in a row! In all, by the time four o’clock rolled around, I was really pretty victorious and accomplished.

The gathering, while awkward, was nice, and the other students are a pretty varied bunch. Graham and I, from UNC, four kids from Missouri-Columbia, a girl from China, a French-Irish girl, a Canadian, an Australian and apparently a Russian, an Israeli and a Thai who were yet to arrive in Paris. We made small talk, got a small tour of l’Ecole de Journalisme, and were encouraged to find questions to ask the officials in charge.  None of us had any, of course, but it was still nice to know that someone cared about our complete and total lack of information regarding our program here.

A quick overview of the course work — sounds interesting and challenging — and then we were let free to wander. A couple of us went out for dinner at a little café in the neighborhood — under 10 Euro for a sandwich, salad and coffee! Victory! — and then I walked home in the semi-rain.

Now, I might read a little and prepare for the equally victorious and purpose-driven day that awaits me tomorrow. A visit back to school to buy course packs! A trip to the Musée d’Orsay with a French friend! An evening with Victoria, cooking dinner and seeing a movie! — La Princesse et la Grenouille? Un film français? Qui sait? — Running! Eating! Sleeping! So many victories!

I guess, the real message of this snarky post is that, yes, things are starting to happen more in my life. I am figuring out how much money I can spend each day, if any, and how to stock my cupboard, and where things are, and CLASSES ARE ABOUT TO START!, so hopefully I will have more fun and exciting days of work ahead.

I have never wanted something to start so urgently as I want these classes to start.

Stay tuned for more victories! Art museums? Dinner? French birthday parties? All in good time, dear readers, all in good time…

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