It’s a Small World

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my Life of Pi class, my sole English course here. It turns out that there’s really no point in getting a grade for it, since 1 credit doesn’t help the six-hour literature requirement for my minor. So I emailed the professor, and now I don’t have to worry about a presentation, participation grade, or essay.

But I figured I might as well keep attending the class anyways, since it’s the closest thing I have to an R-MC course. As I waited for the class before us to wrap up, the professor appeared. I debated whether I should tell him I was the one who emailed him, because that’s the polite thing to do, but I couldn’t figure out how to start a conversation like that, because I’m shy and socially inept.

Luckily, he solved my dilemma by walking up to me and asking, “What’s your name?” (That’s not as weird as it sounds. This class only happens an hour a week, which is not a lot of time to learn a bunch of names.)

I replied, “Sarena. I’m the one who emailed you.”

“Oh, okay,” he said. “I thought it was you, but I just wanted to make sure.”

After some small talk, he eventually wanted to know what school I was from. That question always makes me pause, because, well, what are the chances of someone in France knowing what a Randolph-Macon College is? (I mean, there are people in Richmond who have no idea what or where it is. To be honest, I hadn’t heard of it before I applied, and I only did so because a) R-MC emailed me a free streamlined application and b) I was rebelling against my parents, who were all “You have to apply and go to UVA because that’s where all the Asians are!”)

I ended up saying, “I’m actually from Virginia, and I go to Randolph-Macon College.”

I was not prepared for his response of “Randolph-Macon? I’ve been there before!”

Turns out he visited it in 1992—he was in Ontario, and then took the train from Michigan to Ashland. (I guess the scholarship exchange between R-MC and the University of Nice goes way back.) He went “around this time of the year,” and said that it was snowing, which doesn’t surprise me because Virginia weather is weird. After enthusing about how gorgeous the campus was, he remarked that we’re lucky to have generous alumni, seeing as the University of Nice is a public school and is lucky to even have electricity. (He’s right, R-MC folks. The entire campus is so much nicer than the school building here.)

Then he informed me that the only thing I’ve missed in Nice is a student strike—according to him, we’re long overdue for one. That’s a bummer. It’d be nice to participate in a movement against school.


A Non-French Class

I’ve been deprived of an actual literature class since May, so on a desperate whim, I decided to sign up for an English literature class, Life of Pi. The course is an hour long and only happens on Thursdays (which means it’ll probably end up giving me a whopping half-a-credit), but it’s free, and it’s actually intriguing, so who’s complaining?

Life of Pi and I have had a tumultuous history. I think I picked it up one summer as a 6th or 7th grader, my mentality being, “Oh hey, look how big this book is! And it’s got a tiger on the cover! I’m going to read it!” Unfortunately, little!me had never read anything past the level of Harry Potter, Redwall, or A Series of Unfortunate Events, so that wasn’t the best life decision. I mean, I understood that the book was weird, but I failed to grasp any of its literary intricacies, so I promptly decided that I hated it.

I like to think that now, nearly a decade later, I’m smarter than middle-school-me. Although the book’s definitely still weird, it’s the sort of story that compels you to step back and reflect. (Being me, I read it in a couple of hours over the span of three days, after skimming over the religion parts—not that I have anything against religion [unless you’re trying to rub it in people’s faces or use it to justify heinous acts like *cough racism and homophobia cough*], but I’m an atheist and it simply doesn’t interest me.)

So it’s a relief to finally be able to sit in a class that reminds me of R-MC, even if it’s only for an hour that flies by way too quickly. The professor’s chill and has a sense of humor, and as a plus, he actually treats us like independent thinkers instead of vessels. To be honest, this class is probably the only reason I’m still sane after half a year of CUEFLE classes.

On the downside, everyone has to give a presentation, but that doesn’t seem nearly as daunting after being forced to sit at the front of a room and talk about a random subject in a language that I can’t even speak fluently. My topic isn’t too bad, either; all I have to do is watch the movie and then compare the cinematic and literary versions. (Side note: I found out today that we’re graded on class participation. Yay. A shy person’s favorite thing.)

Second Semester Classes

It’s hard to believe, but here I am, an older, jaded junior who’s already entered the final half of her classes in France: (Am I actually jaded? I don’t know. I just liked the alliteration effect when paired with junior.) Here’s my schedule:

  • Mondays consist of Grammar from 10-12 (eh) and Europe and the EU from 6-7 (promising).
  • On Tuesdays, I have Reading Comprehension from 10-12 (eh) and Cinema from 5-7 every other week. (Sort of eh, but holy crap, the class is massive.)
  • I have just one class on Wednesdays, Economic and Social Geography, from 4-6 every other week (promising).
  • On Thursdays, I have Literary Genres and History from 2-5. (This class is such a lie. It’s probably the reason I have trust issues now. You’d think the course title is pretty self-explanatory, right? I thought so too; being a nerd, I was so excited about novels and poetry and theater. Instead, we’re writing “dissertations,” AKA a propagandist word for strictly-structured “opinion essays.” In case you didn’t know, I despise opinion essays.)
  • Finally, on Fridays, I have Oral Language from 9-11 (eh), Written Language from 11-1, (eh), and Commentary on Literary Texts from 2:30 to 4:30 (sort of eh).

My second betrayal arrived in the form of my first actual homework assignment since arriving in France: looking for a topic that relates to French culture or society so that I can write a ten-page presentation on it for my oral final. But believe it or not, I’m kind of enthusiastic about it, because it means that we get to talk about a topic that we’re actually interested in for once. So other than the overwhelming urge to either stab myself with a pencil or fall asleep during my “eh” classes, thanks to the professor’s monotonous voice and bland teaching style, I don’t think this semester will be too difficult.


Week 3

Monday afternoon, it rained for the first time since I arrived in Nice, which was actually kind of nice because the weather cooled down for a bit. But earlier that day, I bought a bottle of water and a “Sandwich américain” for lunch, only to discover that the so-called sandwich consisted of nothing but a piece of beef and some fries. Like, who puts fries inside the hamburger bread?


Tuesday was a bit bumpy. I froze up during class, because the professor called on me and wanted me to choose a subject and spontaneously talk about it. As a shy person, extemporaneously talking is the very last thing I want to do in front of an entire class. Fortunately for me, someone else volunteered to go, and after most of the class went, thus giving me time to think, I felt more prepared when it was finally my turn. I chose to talk about one of my favorite books, Unwind, and the experience wasn’t too bad. The professor looked impressed when I used the term “au fur et à mesure,” and when I finished, she said that my presentation had been interesting and thanked me.

Here comes the worst part of the week: while I was walking back to my dorm, two boys passed me, and one of them put his hands together, bowed mockingly, and said something that sounded like “chienne.” I had a pretty good sense of the word, though I wasn’t sure whether he was insulting me for being Asian or for being a woman, so I looked it up online. He’d called me a bitch. Great. Thanks. I hate misogynistic men.


Fortunately, things went uphill from there. On Saturday, the Czech girl and I went out for breakfast at 9am. (Way too early for me, but hey, it’s lonely here in the dorms. I’ll take what I can get.) We forgot that most places, except touristy areas, are closed during the weekend, so we ended up buying random food from the supermarket and eating at the beach for maybe an hour or so.

At 2:30, I met four of the Marylanders at Place Pierre Gautier to visit museums with them. (I felt bad for intruding, but the Czech girl’s basically the only person I know in the dorms, and she doesn’t speak French… But they’re all really nice, so I don’t think they minded? At least, I hope not.) Anyways, we looked at some books—which I resisted the temptation to buy, even the gorgeous old hardcovers—and then visited the Masséna Museum. Although the architecture was pretty, I didn’t think the museum was all that special; there were just a bunch of random paintings and artifacts, though I guess the stole that Josephine wore to Napoleon’s coronation was pretty cool.

Some of the architecture:

I must have been on my feet for about five hours, so around 5:30, I took the bus back to the dorm. There was no way I was going to walk for another hour, especially up those three hills, when I was tired and starving. But even though my feet hurt, the exhaustion was worth it, because I’d almost forgotten how nice it is, to be able to just socialize with and be around people from your country and culture.


Sunday, I met two of the Marylanders at Place Garibaldi at 2 to visit the crypt. (It still takes a lot of courage to message them on Facebook and ask if I can come along, because I feel like I’m being clingy, but I don’t know who else I’d travel with, and I’m afraid to go alone?) Except, this weekend was Heritage Days, meaning that a bunch of museums and historical sites are free of charge, and there was a long line to get into the crypt.

After moving maybe half a foot in an hour, one of the other Marylanders and the nephew of her host family walked by, and we abandoned the line to go to the Grotto of Lazaret with them. Unfortunately, after at least an hour and a half of waiting, we were in the cave for all of five minutes, listening to some dude talk while we stared down at a bunch of rocks and theoretical mandibles that nobody could see from the platform. All five of us had thought that we’d be able to walk around, but nope. I mean, I’m grateful for the experience, but in the end, it wasn’t really worth the ninety minutes of standing.

This was legitimately all you could see:

The walk to and from the grotto was far more interesting:

I don’t think I’ve ever done so much walking in my life: I basically walked from one end of the city to the other, and I was on my feet from 1:15 to 6:30. Even though I all but inhaled my dinner when I got back to my room, and don’t want to move from my chair for the next few hours, I think this weekend went pretty well—I got to talk to people and explore the city, although I’ve realized there’s still so much of Nice that I haven’t yet seen.

The First Week of Classes

Tuesday’s class was…adventurous, to say the least. I had Oral Language from 1-4, which consisted of listening comprehension and speaking. The professor, is, uh, very interesting? I’m not sure that I’m going to learn a lot in that class, and it felt like I’d spent all day in the classroom rather than just three hours. We all had to go up and introduce ourselves in front of the class, and talk about where we’re from, and she expected me to know why R-MC’s mascot is the yellow jacket. Uh, I have no idea? And then she wanted me to talk for two minutes about Virginia’s climate, and I thought, “I can’t even talk about the weather in English for two minutes!” All the other students were also totally befuddled by that class.

The Czech girl I met helped me with finally getting Internet in my room, which I’m still ridiculously excited about! Now I don’t have to go to the computer room every time I want to use the Internet.

On Wednesday, I had my second Written Language class from 2-4. Then, I was supposed to have French Society Through the Media for an hour, from 4-5, except there was this whole mess about incorrect scheduling or something. So I ended up sitting for an hour in a class that I didn’t even sign up for, because I didn’t want to risk being impolite by standing up and leaving. Oops? But afterwards, I talked a bit with a Taiwanese girl in my main classes, and she asked if she could speak in Chinese to me. So we spoke in Chinese and French, which was quite an experience.

As for Thursday, I was supposed to have 7-8 hours of class today, but luckily I ended up only having 5 hours of literature, from 10-12 and then 1-4. While the professor seems nice, frankly, I thought that the classes were pretty boring. The first class, Literary Themes and Courants (I’m not really sure what that last word translates to), was basically history, which is supposed to complement the periods of literature we’re learning about—but I’ve already learned the history in Professor deGraff’s Civilization class. In the second class, Literary Texts, there’s practically no interaction or conversation; the professor basically just lectured the entire time and I could feel myself starting to lose focus. (It’s not my fault that the classroom windows offered a gorgeous view of the Mediterranean coast.) But at least I met two other people from the University of Maryland, which was nice, especially since one of them is also staying for a year! I ate lunch with them—we all had chicken sandwiches from the pub that’s near the university, and although the chicken wasn’t amazing or terrible, the bread was delicious. After class, I went to the library and borrowed two Les Adventures de Tintin books, which are sort of like graphic novels for children, and hopefully I’ll be able to work my way through those. Always start small, I guess?

The Start of Classes

Monday marked a bunch of firsts: my first day of classes as a junior, and my first day of classes in another country. As I was leaving my room, I ran into an English speaking student, which was awesome, except I was rushing to leave the dorm and she was going into the kitchen.

Admittedly, when I walked into the university, I was overwhelmed before I even began classes; there were just so many students, and they were all speaking French, so I just sort of wandered around in a daze. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more like a foreigner, which is saying something, considering the fact that I’m frequently mistaken for an international student at R-MC.

I had Grammar Practice from 12-1, which wasn’t too bad, especially because I met three Americans from the University of Maryland. (Two of them had even heard of R-MC!) So the four of us, along with a Swiss girl and another European girl (I forgot where she’s from) went off to get lunch together. So for the first time since arriving in France, I had a French meal that wasn’t supermarket-purchased—a chicken panini, which wasn’t superb, but was definitely better than Estes/Commons food. Then, we went to our next class, Written Language, from 2-4. This class was more confusing, since the professor thrust a worksheet at us, and we were supposed to fill in all the missing prepositions, but everyone ended up being confused together.

The students from Maryland, though, all live with host families, so I had yet to meet someone from my dorm. When I got back to the dorm and sat down in the computer room, I met a girl from the Czech Republic. She was very excited to meet another English speaker, since she says that her French is awful, so I guess I can say that I’ve made my first international friend! Later, I met a girl from Spain who also speaks English, and since she said she didn’t know where to buy food and had been living off of cookies, I took her to the supermarket so that she could get some actual sustenance. After another random dinner, I ran into another international student, a girl from China, who was actually hoping that I spoke fluent Chinese. (I’m sorry my Chinese isn’t that great.)

So all in all, today was actually a pretty good day. I don’t have that much homework (yet), and although I’m still living off of random meals from the supermarket, I’ve finally made some friends!