Thursday, May 6, 2010

Study Abroad Advice

Today's words of wisdom go out to all you fresh-faced underclasspersons who wish to follow in the Snark's fashionable Parisian boot-steps and study over here (where I'm sitting). I expect you have a great many questions about Study Abroad, which I will be all too happy to answer for you as soon as I finish partaking of the local culture by watching these attractive men play rugby at the Esplanade des Invalides. Uh, that is, "going to the Louvre." Yes, "going to the Louvre," that is what I meant to say. Hahahaha! Whoops! I am always making that little typographical slipup. Too easy. Mmmmmm ... Louvre.

Anyway, this installment was inspired by the department of study abroad at my home university, which recently sent me the following questionnaire. Their questions are italicized. My answers are bold.*

* Have you gotten involved in your host culture? It is not too late to find activities that will get you out there and mixing more with the people of the country. Are you getting everything you can out of your living experience?

I am lucky enough to be living with some of the finest people I have ever met. Endlessly kind, hospitable and sociable (please note the omission of second comma, per French university regulations), they have assisted me in all those little “foreigner-abroad” matters such as how best to travel around Europe and how best not to blow up their house by using their gas stove incorrectly. Living with them has allowed me to attain more fluency and comfort with French than I ever dreamed possible. For example, many people told me that no matter how comfortable I got in French, when it came to counting, I would still count in English. Whereas now I find that when I count, it is certainly not in English. It is not in French, either; in fact, it is not in ANY known language, but by gum, it is something. Instead, I find I only revert to English for cursing out drivers. On the other hand, on those occasions when I find the family dog has messed around with my garbage, I am heartened to find that I am now increasingly able to erupt in vile French words without a second thought. That was when I knew I had truly “gotten involved.”

* Reflect on the regional course you took in preparation for the semester abroad. How has it shaped your experience? Can you define one or two themes from your regional course that you see “in action” while you have been abroad? Are there other courses you’ve taken that have helped shape your experience?

My “regional course” was the formidable (for-mee-dable: that’s French) French Cultural Workshop, and while this was one of the two best courses I have ever taken in college,** I must say that while our professor imparted volumes on the political, social, and cultural climates of this country*** - on governmental figures, on ethnic unrest, on artistic predilections and educational methods and familial relationships – I do not believe he mentioned on any occasion that the dog would try to eat my trash. So I suppose I will have to chalk this up to an oversight. Next question.

* What are the main differences you see in the educational system abroad? Do the differences in teaching or learning styles tell you anything about the culture as a whole? Who are your classmates? Do they represent a certain socioeconomic segment of society or does education in your host country cut across these boundaries?

I’m glad you asked. This particular Cultural Disparity was perhaps best “driven home” for me by my literature course at Paris IV, for which I had to write a “dissertation.” This is a French word meaning “academic document you have to write for literature courses at Paris IV, pronounced ‘dis-ser-tah-tion.’” Since I’ve been meaning to get this off my chest anyway, je vous hereby prĂ©sente the Official National Structure of a university dissertation:

• Introductory Statement

o Say what you are about to say.
o Say the thing you just said you were about to say.
o Confirm that you have just finished saying the thing which you have just finished saying.
o Now, lay out the following parts of your document as follows: Here is what I will say in Part I. Here is what I will say in Section I of Part I. Here is what I will say in Section II of Part I. Here is what I will say in Section III of Part I.
o Here is what I have just finished saying about Part I.
o Now do the same for Parts II and III.
• Part I
o Here again is what I have just finished saying I will say in Sections I, II, and III of Part I.
o Here again (but just by itself this time) is what I will say in Section I.
o Section I (omitted for reasons of length constraints)
o Here is what I have just finished saying in Section I.

I omit Parts II, III, and the Conclusion because no known student has ever gotten to them, for reasons of death. Depending on length, it can take as long as 87 years to write a single dissertation. So you can understand why I don’t elaborate on who my classmates are: I’d ask them, but they are too busy writing their dissertations. So far they have been in the library since February, betraying no signs of life except for the occasional twitch, which I think I might have been imagining anyway.

Obviously this is very different from the American style of learning, in which we just “compare-n-contrast” everything, including calculus, with 20th-century feminist theory and have done with it already.

Thank you. I hope it was as good for you as it was for me. On which note I close by saying to you, study-abroad hopefuls, from the very bottom of my heart: leave me alone. I am trying to enjoy the Louvre here.

* And dynamic, yet with a touch of girlish charm.
** The other being a psychology class in which I learned the scientific foundations of why people act like Whonko McNutasses.
*** France.

©2010 Nicola McEldowney

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