OCTOBER 2011- MIDTERMS
I have already been in France for two months! The time seems to pass very quickly out here because there is so much to do and almost every experience is new. During the last month, I have successfully combated essays, midterms, and a little bit of homesickness, and I have really started to get comfortable with the language and my day-to-day life in France. Some things have been good, some bad, and some just okay, but everything is helping me improve my language and my understanding of French culture in general.
October was much more academically intensive than September; I just finished with my midterms last week and I wrote several small essays over the course of the month. I was initially shocked when I got back my first essays in France because my grades were noticeably lower than at home in the United States but soon after one my professors explained to me that the grading system in France is quite a bit harsher than the one in the United States and I should not be upset by my grades. To be honest, this did not really make me feel any better. In fact, it was not until I spent some time reading the comments written on my essays that I started to feel better; the comments were, for the most part, very positive and encouraging and what would have seemed like a mediocre or even shameful grade at home was actually quite respectable in France. And then there were midterms. All of the midterms were essay tests, which is fairly intimidating in a foreign language; I found that the best way to study was simply to re-read my notes and as much of the in class reading as possible to make sure I had a full understanding of the subject matter of each class so that I could organize my ideas about the subject matter.
Since I have now been in France for about two months, my everyday life is becoming, well, my everyday life and now a little bit of time for homesickness. I’ve begun to realize that there are certain things about the United States that are so much a part of my everyday life that I never thought about them until they weren’t there anymore. Simple things, like certain music (Led Zeppelin and Heart) and foods (Slurpees and cheeseburgers), or giving and receiving hugs are all things that I miss because they either do not exist or are not popular in France. And, of course, people like my family, my close friends, certain professors, and pets are all missed too. One weekend I was feeling pretty down because I was thinking of what I used to do on the weekends with my friends in the United States; my host mom noticed I was a little homesick so she bought me a coffee macaroon (my favorite) and had tea with me and we talked a lot about the United States and other, unrelated, subjects. Her kindness reminded me that I am in France to make a connection with the French people and I should take advantage of my time here instead of losing myself in thoughts of home.
Keeping busy is one of the best ways to prevent homesickness and at the AUCP there are many different ways to stay occupied during the week. Homework assignments tend to take a lot of extra time since they are in my second language, but the AUCP also requires students to do some kind of volunteer work during their time abroad for at least two hours per week. The volunteer work is a great way to meet and connect with French people in a nonacademic setting, and it is truly rewarding. My volunteer position is at an Alzheimer’s clinic where I go to play informal concerts for the patients. I play my guitar and sing but I also talk with the patients a lot and over the past few weeks I feel that I’ve developed a meaningful connection with the people at the clinic. On my first day there I played “Landslide” by Stevie Nicks and one of the patients was so moved that he cried; at first I was really concerned that I made someone cry but I talked to him afterwards and he told me that he spent some time in the United States when he was young and I brought back some good memories and he was really happy about it. My work at Aix Alzheimer continues to be as rewarding as on that first day; it makes me feel connected to the community and helps me improve my conversational French as well.