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Courses Begin, Feeling Mildly In-Nantes-dated

October 1, 2018

Coucou! It’s been a while since I last posted, but things are starting to settle down now! I’ve gotten some time to explore Nantes and surrounding cities in the region of Bretagne with IES Abroad trips to Vannes during the week of orientation, Clisson, Saint-Malo and Mont-Saint-Michel.

Some impressions from the first few weeks:

The second week of the program (the week just before classes), we had academic orientation with regularly structured days of grammar exercises, conversation, and language instruction. We finalized our registration the Friday before classes at IES Abroad, and it was minorly stressful to not have any clue what my classes were going to be just three days before they started (compared to the Claremont Colleges, where we register for the next semester’s courses about a month before the end of the semester!). I registered for the mandatory French language course of the program, French Cooking and Gastronomy, History of French Cinema, and the Teaching Internship at IES Abroad, and a Psychology course at the University of Nantes. The schedules for the courses in the Psychology department didn’t come out until Thursday the week after, so I waited until then to choose which specific class I’d be taking.

Some of my findings so far of courses at IES Abroad:

  • Courses are organized similar to universities in the U.S. Most of my courses have at the very least an oral presentation, papers or other graded written work, a midterm, and a final. We also get a syllabus at the beginning of the semester, so it is very similar to universities in the US.
  • IES professors know that you are American students. The professors speak clearly and remind you to let them know if you need anything repeated or if they’re speaking too fast/not clearly enough. Often, they will also try to explain words that you don’t understand, help you when you don’t have the vocabulary to express everything you want to say, or correct your vocabulary if you use a loanword from English (calque).
    • However, keep in mind that this can also be a double-edged sword (un arme à double trenchant!), because you will be compared with other American students and professors have a good understanding of what to expect from you. In courses at the University, you may be one of few (or the only) American student in the course, but you are one of many American students at the courses at IES Abroad.

My courses at the University of Nantes started the week after (which was two weeks ago now – time flies!), and I tried out 4 different Psychology classes that week, to decide upon one to definitively add to my schedule. I tried out courses that fit my schedule and were Licence 1 (L1) or Licence 2 (L2), which corresponds to the first and second year of university.

Some of my findings so far of courses at the University:

  • The courses are either Cours Magistral (CM) or Travaux Dirigés (TD).

    • The CMs are essentially lectures with hundreds of students in an amphitheater, furiously taking notes as the professor speaks. So far, these have been hard to follow along, because the professors are speaking at a pace that French students can understand, some professors speak more softly than others, the PowerPoints may not contain all the information, and it’s expected that students understand and take notes on what the professor is saying, etc.
    • On the flip side, TDs are much smaller, with about 40 students. More discussion, independent reading and responding to questions, and additional lecture occurs in the TD, and the pace is much more manageable than the CM. That being said, it is definitely still a challenge.
  • If you can swing it, take a class at the University with friends from IES Abroad! I felt really overwhelmed the first week when I tried out different CMs and TDs, and I felt especially lost and confused when I was trying to go about it alone. Though the feeling is not fun, it really helps to feel validated by other American students who are just as confused as you are…
    • …That being said, it is not ideal to be lost! Try to make friends with (or at least reach out to) French students in your class. Making French friends who are willing to help you is incredibly helpful to assist you in understanding what is happening in class, keep you filled in on course updates, and also to socialize and hang out with and meet other French students!
  • French students have less graded work, but they are expected to do more independent work. There is not much graded work outside of the final, and even written work in TDs aren’t necessarily graded. It’s expected that students keep up and study regularly to do well.
  • The difference between courses that are L1, L2, and L3 is significant. In France, if a student chooses to major in Psychology at the University, pretty much all of their courses will be psychology courses. This is a little different than what I’m used to at a liberal arts college like Pomona, where I’m not only encouraged to take courses that aren’t strictly for my major, but also because many of the courses for my major naturally involve taking courses in different departments. I really felt this when I tried out Psychophysiology (L2) and then Psychophysiology (L1) the same afternoon. In the L2 course, the professor jumped right in and discussed the specialization of cells into different parts of the brain and their purposes, but in the L1 course, the professor talked about atoms, molecules, and ions, and the formation of organs and systems. Therefore, it’s really important to try out courses before you decide on them and take advantage of the Add period (2 weeks after courses at IES Abroad begin) before committing to your courses for the semester.

Bon courage (good luck) with courses, and until next time!

P.S. The photo was taken before the semester started, and contrary to what this post and the photo may suggest, I am really enjoying my time abroad! I am eating more cheese than I’ve had in the past 20 years of my life, I joined the choir at the University, and I visited a cat café!!! Stay tuned for more next time!

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