25 September 2008

Les vrais cours

I’ve successfully completed my first week of classes at a French university. Félicitations à moi! Félicitations might be a bit overkill considering I actually only have two courses this semester at Université Paris VII, and those were the only courses of my four total that started this week, but it seems like a milestone nonetheless.

Monday afternoon, I had my first class. The class is titled “Littérature and Histoire” [Literature and History] and concerns the literature of the Algerian war. I was super-psyched about this course because I’ve already done some coursework in this area and found it to be a troubling but interesting moment in French history. Additionally, I’d already read a couple of the authors on the class’s bibliography and I loved their work. With my expectations high, I entered the classroom, and, somehow, I was not disappointed. The class was not the giant lecture hall that I had been warned against, but an average-sized classroom with rows of tables. And the professor was not the strict, by-the-books menace for which I was prepared. She seems very friendly and open, yet extremely knowledgeable in her field. Although she is presumably not Iranian, she mildly reminds me of actress Shohreh Aghdashloo.

The first class was mostly composed of background and historical foundation for our study of literature in the context of the Algerian war. She also laid out what we would be reading over the semester. Also unlike I’d been told, she plainly stated the three books we will be working on together and even gave us the assignment of reading the first three or four chapters of one of an Assia Djebar novel by next week’s class (a surprisingly easy assignment, which suits my slowness when reading French). She also mentioned a fourth book which we should read because, wait for it, the author, Leïla Sebbar, will be coming to our class! I’ve already read a handful of works by Sebbar and even chose to translate one of her texts for a class last semester. I am so excited – I think I will be star-struck.

At the end of class, after our coffee break (the class is a three hour lecture – upside, it meets only once a week; downside, three hours in one room) and lecturing, she went through all the names of the people in the class to try to begin to get to know us. This is when she realized that nearly half of the class was Anglophone (mostly Americans, but a few Britons). She joked that she might as well be conducting the course in English! It’s somewhat unfortunate that there will be that many Americans in the class – I didn’t come all the way to France to take classes with other Americans – but on the plus side, she will be cognizant of us.

My second class, a course about post-colonial French cinema, was this morning. Starting at 9 a.m., it required me to awake much earlier than the time at which I had been habituating myself to get up. It was worth it though. Again, the subject matter of the course is right up my alley so my hopes for the course were high and were met. This classroom was, as promised, a large amphitheatre, but it was not nearly full. In fact, there were probably around 25 students in the class – the majority, this time, seemed to be French.

This course is a third-year (the final year in France’s three-year university program) course while the other course was a second-year class so I was bit worried about the level. But I feel like my combination of film knowledge, familiarity with French colonial history and experience with post-colonial literature make me an ideal candidate for the course. The professor is very young, and she is prone to speaking much faster than the other. It was a struggle to keep up and take notes, but I enjoyed the challenge as well as her lecture style. For this course, the “assignments” are a little more ambiguous, but I plan to feel things out as I go.

Attending two class sessions over the course of a week didn’t really feel like a true start-of-school experience, but I guess I am in the thick of things now, and glad to be thanks to two amazing classes. The rest of my courses start on Monday, but first, a group trip to the chateaus of the Loire Valley…

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