Salut! In less than a month, I will depart from Nantes; that idea feels incredibly bizarre, especially because the rhythm I've found myself in coupled with the many new things I learn about and from the city every day make it feel like such a constant in my life. The last two weeks after spring break have been research paper season at IES Abroad Nantes, with all of us crammed in the small biblioteque, alternating between moments of silence and breaks eating spoonfuls of speculous, researching the cheapest ways to fly home, tasting an array of pastries from the boulangerie down the street, or applying for summer internship grants (that last one happens less frequently than the others). This, too, feels like a constant; these people that I feel so comfortable around despite having only spent three months together, who I am constantly reminding myself to stay present with and treasure because merde, there's only a month left! Apparently, in France, most students spend their entire semester working on their final papers, which is a stark difference from the week-before scramble I am used to at home, given that there is so much other work to do in a semester. Nevertheless, it's fun to see how I have come from forgetting basic introductions to writing a 10 page paper in French, and the weather has been supportive of our endeavors by raining every day to make us feel okay staying inside.
One class that I am having an especially hard time writing for is my course at the Université de Nantes. It's not a particularly difficult paper, but I have only had five classes of it so far due to the manifestations, or strikes, that have been happening at the Fac since we arrived in Nantes. Manifestations in France have become pretty much a part of everyday life, and the sight of police with riot shields has gotten less and less concerning the more times I've had to walk past them. I'm not always sure what people are protesting, but the most common ones from the center of town are transportation workers opposing the policies of the government. The most recent one was against all evictions of migrant people, maybe related to the protests surrounding the construction of the new airport? To be honest, while I would love to explain and understand more, the language, cultural, and safety barriers have made it difficult to really know what's going on. I did find a news story here if you are at all interested!
At the Fac, student protests have mostly been against the reforms proposed by Macron and his government to the University system in France. As it stands right now, most universities are open to any student who passes their BAC, the national exam taken by the equivalent of seniors in high school. University costs around 150 euros a year for most students (I found this out just as my university announced yet another tuition hike from the 2018-19 school year to over $70,000...), with scholarships available for those who need financial assistance. Because of this, the facilities of the universities and the classes are working at maximum capacity, and the proposed solution is to implement an application, or maybe to raise the cost and make universities more selective? Again, I've had a bit of difficulty fulling understanding, given my lack of basic comprehension in the French education system as a whole, but here's a bit more about the reform (called the 'Plan Étudiants') as well as a news story about the manifs. Due to these protests, classes have been canceled and the university closed for much of the time we've been here. Sometimes we don't get a warning in time, and I arrive at the University to see the door physically barricaded with tables, chairs, street cones, and other objects, often with a large sign in front announcing that days protest.
It's been interesting to see the other students and professors reactions to it. One day, we were told that three students who wanted to continue their classes had beat up a fellow student for continuing to block the building; everyone is very divided, and apparently, there may be a referendum on the subject of whether or not students want the blockages to continue. In my Philosophy course, which has been incredible and thought-provoking the five times I've had it, one student stood up and announced a new strike. He didn't receive much enthusiasm from the rest of the class, and the professor went on to say that while he appreciated and respected the cause and the right to protest, barricading a building was one of the least effective ways to achieve a solution. I don't feel like I know enough to have an opinion, but it is a little bizarre that in protesting the inaccessibility of education, these students are effectively shutting down the place which makes education accessible.
I was also thinking about the difference between these protests and the ones I've seen back at home, particularly with the March for our Lives protest happening last weekend (if you haven't yet, definitely check out these speeches and this song that I've been listening to on repeat) (also you've probably already seen them, but it's been weird to feel so disconnected from the US news while being here). Personally, I have felt safer in France walking among protestors, into class buildings, and through large areas of demonstrations because I'm not checking the bag of the person next to me, or because I can be surer that others are probably not hiding large semi-automatic weapons in their jackets. I've also felt safe at the university despite the protests because of the lack of school shooting in France's history- 1 that I could find on the internet in the last two years, versus the US's 18 since the beginning of 2018. And yes, there are some different things that do freak me out sometimes about being in France, like news of the recent terrorist attack in Trèbes, but that feels so far away from this city on the west coast. The right to strike, march, and demonstrate is such a fundamental part of French culture that people exercise far more frequently than in the US. I'm not sure exactly what effect this has on the differences that exist in other aspects of life, but it is something I've noted since coming here and I continue to think about as the barricades continue.
There's supposed to be manifestations by more of the major transportation industry workers over the next two months, but hopefully, we will be able to squeeze in one or two more university courses before the month is through. Happy Easter and Passover weekend to all, watch out for those April fools, and à bientôt!
Update: a new student referendum just voted to 'block the fac unlimitedly', which our profs says could be reversed in a second so we're all just waiting to see how that goes- stay tuned!
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<p class="MsoBodyText" style="margin-top:2.35pt; margin-right:23.95pt; margin-bottom:.0001pt; margin-left:5.0pt"><span style="line-height:115%">I am currently a junior at Tufts University studying Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Computer Science, and Food Systems and Nutrition. When not at Tufts, I am either at home in Vermont, hiking in the Adirondack mountains, or searching for a good gluten-free bagel. I also enjoy skiing, making smoothies out of pretty much anything, climbing, and reading in the back of used book stores.</span></p>