I think it’s really interesting that upon news that I will be studying next year in the City of Light, the first thing I thought of was an animated American movie with the coolest villain of all time (is this the time for you to disagree with me by using the “Comments” box? You bet!). Carleton bloggers have a funny habit of pursuing French—when I was hired last year, I promised that wouldn’t be the case. But I certainly wouldn’t be the first to unintentionally succumb to the allure of the Seine and the genius of the Carleton French department. I didn’t really have an opinion on aligning myself with Thomas Jefferson (not to mention, you know, Mark Twain, Gertrude Stein, e.e. cummings…) on this one, but there you go.
I started taking French in the fall of my freshman year because I wanted to speak a new language, access great writing, understand the Enlightenment better, and challenge myself; I had always felt like French was this super-classy language that I would never be able to truly learn. The first time I remembering hearing it was in fourth grade from my friend who was playing Adele, Mr. Rochester’s adorably snooty daughter, in Jane Eyre. The people who took French at my high school wore lipstick and had excellent hair ornamentation; I went to Latin Convention three times, where we wore togas and stollas, rode chariots, and could never quite get our very carefully designed trebuchet to work.
The Carleton French department is awesome. From the first day of school, after a short warning, the professors start speaking only French in class. Classes for the first year meet five days a week and homework involves speaking, reading, and writing. They explain things really well, and are incredibly encouraging as you try to blunder your way through introducing your cousin who is having symptoms of the flu. I should probably mention here that people are pretty much fans of whatever language department they become involved in; Carleton offers ten languages, and I’ve heard good things about all of them.
A brief summary of how study-abroad works (click these these links to the layman's admissions page and intense real website for more information): you can study abroad for a term, or an entire year. You can study abroad on a program that Carleton runs (with other Carleton students and a Carleton professor) or an associated program (Associated Colleges of the Midwest, for example) or a program you find and get approval for. Financial aid transfers and the office of Off-Campus Study (OCS) helps you with the nitty-gritty of extra funding, transferring credits, etc.--basically, they make it as easy as it could possibly be. Which means your options are pretty grand. The official number I’ve heard is that 70% of Carleton students study abroad at least once during their time here. One of my good friends is shooting for thrice.
I knew I wanted to study abroad in college, but I had no idea where I would go. A lot of departments at Carleton run their own programs (English literature and drama in London, economics in Cambridge, linguistics in Japan), but the philosophy department doesn’t; I actually think that’s a good thing, because it means the professors are around more and you don’t need to disavow the material world while you’re trying to figure out how a subway system works. I was briefly considering going abroad for Eastern philosophy and religion, but after I learned more about Carleton’s Paris program, I knew it was what I wanted to do.
So, in the spring of next year, assuming all goes according to plan, I’ll be venturing to Paris with about twenty-five of my peers and professor Cathy Yandell. The theme of the trip is “joie de vivre,” (I know, isn’t this the best?) and we will be staying with families in the city, taking classes in conversation, French life, and the arts. We’ll also be culturally excursing a fair deal, volunteering, travelling, and developing discerning taste in cheese (at least I will).
It’s interesting; as I continue on my Carleton narrative, I find some things that stay really consistent with who I thought I was a few years ago, and some things that surprise me upon introspection. More often than not, I consider wearing my pajamas to breakfast and I’ve recently become aware of how much my posture sucks (hey hey, moving anatomy). I can write cursive backwards really well, but I would want to throw a disco party in a carriage (and totally spook the horses) and make a parachute with handkerchiefs. I keep recalling key details from Mornings on Horseback that discuss Teddy Roosevelt’s European tour and his life at Harvard: his mother furnished his apartment; my mom just sent me some granola. I’m excited for the part of the Paris program that makes me a little more “refined”, but I’m also looking forward to getting rid of some of my stereotypes. I want to visit the Louvre, go to the ballet, and dress to impress, but I also want to hear weird bands, eat cheap snacks, take pictures of people I think my friends should marry, see what other students do at night, have a completely new experience that is simply outside of my expectations, and feed all available birds.
(Note: This picture does not show any available birds. Clearly a good reason to go across the ocean).