Things I Take, Things I Leave Behind

Due to a complicated checkout procedure at my dorm, I have to leave my dorm tomorrow morning and then take my airplane Friday morning. Since I’m leaving the dorm tomorrow, I have to pack. I probably won’t have internet until I return back to the United States so this might be my last post from France! I promise to write once I’m safely home. Until then, here’s a list of things I take and things I leave behind.

 

Things I Take:

-One giant uni-language dictionary

-A postcard from every city I visited

-One clown nose

-A journal stuffed full of admission tickets and scribbles made with colored pencils

-Lots of pictures, especially of churches

-Three Harry Potter books in French

-A student card from the Université de Nantes, proof that I studied at a foreign university for five months

-A Facebook filled with new friends from across the globe

-A student visa complete with my shiny OFII sticker saying that I was able to stay in France

-A wallet with significantly less euros than when I arrived

-Papers. For everything. I think I have an entire forest in my luggage.

-Confidence to live abroad…in a foreign language!

-Knowledge that I passed my exams (they posted the results early on the wall of our university)

-Memories that will live on in this blog, in my journal and in the minds of everyone who wants to remember

 

Things I Leave Behind:

-Friends. They don’t fit in my suitcase, unfortunately.

-A squeaky clean dorm room – believe me. It’s cleaner than when I got here.

-Autour du Monde, the international student organization which was absolutely amazing

-A heater that was turned off a while ago, even though it is still cold outside

-Two thin sheets that are no protection from the cold weather

-A dozen laundry soaps that the dorm gives us, unused and free to anyone who wants them

-Half a bottle of peach scented laundry detergent that I bought instead of the nasty soaps the dorm gave us

-English café on Tuesday nights

-One Ethernet cable because the dorm doesn’t have Wi-Fi

-Explanations of the great state of Maine, of West Virginia University, of the Honors College, of the USA and about the differences between caribous and moose

-My final exams, in all of their glory, will remain filed away in the IRRFLE office for infinity (they still have copies of exams from 1996)

-Jean-Claude, the tabby cat who lives in front of the university library, and François, the tabby cat who lived in my dorm, wherever he is living now

-French bureaucracy and the headaches associated with the bureaucracy

-The never-ending rain in Nantes (and the French people who say, “It isn’t usually like this. Normally, it’s very nice in France.” I’m convinced this is a lie they tell people to get them to visit France.)

-Quidditch practices on Wednesday nights

-Yummy food at the dining hall, especially the bread!

 

Well. I did my laundry this morning and I’m just waiting for my clothes to dry (they are hung out all over my room as usual because the dryer is awful here). I’ll pack my clothes, clean my room, lock the door and that’ll be that. I’ll take what I can back to the United States, tucked in my suitcase and in my heart. I’ll leave a little bit of me in France, a reminder that I was there once. If only for a brief moment of time.

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The End of the List

I think I’ve done everything I wanted to do in Nantes. I finished my final desire: drink a tea at the Caribou café here in Nantes, since I’m from Caribou, Maine. Today, Kerry and I headed to the café and I drank a very hot cup of tea there. Inside, I realized that the decorator didn’t know the difference between a caribou and a moose. A moose is not a caribou. A caribou is more like a reindeer. It’s smaller and the antlers are much smaller. Not that I’ve ever seen a live caribou in Caribou…they are extinct in Caribou, Maine and live in Canada. Trust me. I’m from Caribou. I’m practically an expert on moose and caribous.

Regardless of the differences between moose and caribous, it was still nice to finally have a cup of tea there before I head back to the real Caribou. Interestingly enough, when I was taking the tram to my dorm the very first day, I looked outside and saw the Caribou café. I knew that it was a sign, a sign that this was where I was meant to be. Where our pasts and our futures cross, that is the present. And my present is to be here, in Nantes, France.

Some people call me "Caribou" - so an appropriate caption for this picture would be: Caribou, from Caribou, Maine, in front of Caribou.

Some people call me “Caribou” – so an appropriate caption for this picture would be: Caribou, from Caribou, Maine, in front of Caribou.

I’ve seen all of the major touristic sites in Nantes and have really explored the city. This really was a perfect location for me because it is quite safe, it’s not too big and it’s got a great atmosphere. I’ve traveled to many places in France and I really couldn’t picture myself spending this semester anywhere else but Nantes, the city where three rivers run through it, the city that rains a lot so you can appreciate the sun, the city where I lived abroad for five months, the city where I learned more than a binding of a textbook could ever hold.

In all of the ways that I consider Caribou my home, in all of the ways I consider Morgantown my home…I think Nantes has earned its place. It’s been my home for these past five months. My dorm room, which seemed so small when I arrived, now feels comfortable and familiar. The cat that sits in front of the university library is like my own feline friend. The chefs who work at the dining hall are like worried parents, concerned about me traveling alone and not wearing enough sunscreen. There’s so much that was “foreign” that is now “familiar.” France doesn’t feel like anything other than home.

Last week, Kerry, Kacy and I finished one of our last goals: a picnic inside the chateau. I would like to thank these ladies, and everyone else, who helped me finished my list of things to do in Nantes and France.

Last week, Kerry, Kacy and I finished one of our last goals: a picnic inside the chateau. I would like to thank these ladies, and everyone else, who helped me finish my list of things to do in Nantes and France.

Seeing the rings at night, up close, was one of the things I wanted to do while in Nantes.

Seeing the rings at night, up close, was one of the things I wanted to do while in Nantes.

Rings at night in Nantes

Rings at night in Nantes

La Rochelle

Yesterday, I took my last trip in France. I went to La Rochelle, which is on the Atlantic coast about an hour and a half by train from Nantes. Kerry was my adventure partner for this last big adventure.

 

Kerry in La Rochelle

Kerry in La Rochelle

When we arrived, we sought out a map. We easily found the tourism office and then asked for a map. The man asked us if we wanted one in French or English and we replied that we wanted one in French. After all, we’re in France to speak French! He showed us the map and I reached for it.

 

Twenty cents,” he said.

 

What? In every city that I have travelled to in France, maps have been free. I haven’t had to pay for a map…ever. There was no way I was going to start now. As usual in France, there’s always another way around the system. One thing I’ve learned in France? Don’t take no for an answer. I’m a very assertive person, but in France, it’s not enough to be assertive. You almost have to be bordering on the edge of too assertive, too pushy. If not, they will take you for a weak tourist and take your money and leave you very unhappy. So, I asked the most logical question, “Is there a free map?

 

Non,” he answered.

 

There’s not a free map?” I asked with sincere doubt in my eyes. Really now?

 

Well…” he started. So the truth comes out at last. “There is a free map, but it’s in English. And it’s the map from last year. The information is all wrong.

 

But it’s free?” I asked again.

 

Oui,” he answered.

 

So, that’s the map we took. True, it was only twenty cents. We could have paid the money and been on our way, but it’s the principle. I’d have taken a map in Spanish if it was free!

 

With map in hand, we went to one of the famous towers in La Rochelle. The tower was St. Nicolas which features a double spiral staircase (absolutely amazing) and we had a great view from up top. We could see all around the harbor, where on Saturday they hosted a cliff diving competition which drew worldwide attention. We saw a Ferris wheel, a lighthouse. It really was a charming little town. After the tower, we ate lunch in an open square before heading to the beach.

 

Me in La Rochelle

Me in La Rochelle

Harbor

Harbor

Lighthouse and Ferris Wheel in background

Lighthouse and Ferris Wheel in background

Kerry looking out at the city

Kerry looking out at the city

It was a fantastic beach because it was sand. In Maine, which is just on the other side of the Atlantic, the coast is extremely rocky. I was afraid that the beach at La Rochelle would also be rocky, but it wasn’t. It was sandy and comfortable. We sat down on the beach towel that I bought here in France and then looked at the ocean. When we arrived, the ocean was at low tide, but it came in pretty quickly. Eventually, it was close enough to where we could walk to the edge and walk into the waves. Far away, the water was a beautiful blue green. Unfortunately, when we approached, the water was a dirty, murky brown. We didn’t stay in the water for too long.

 

Art structure of the world at the beach of La Rochelle

Art structure of the world at the beach of La Rochelle

At the beach!

At the beach!

My train ticket was for later that night, but Kerry was tired and left early to return to Nantes. I stayed and checked out the other two towers. The tower Chaîne featured an exhibit on La Rochelle’s history with Quebec, which was particularly interesting to me. I’ve visited Quebec many times with the Caribou High School French club and with my parents. It was interesting to see the history of Quebec from a different perspective.

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The last tower is the oldest medieval lighthouse on the Atlantic coast, the tower Lanterne. At one point in history, it was converted into a prison, making it the third prison I’ve visited in France (and, hopefully, the last). It was the tallest tower, which proved to be a bit difficult for one man. As he followed his girlfriend up the spiral staircase, he looked more and more nervous. Then, when it was time to cross a bridge at the highest peak to enter a room in the opposite tower, he crouched down. His girlfriend turned to find him unable to cross the bridge. “I can’t do it. I can’t,” he said.

 

The woman looked like a cross between amused and embarrassed. “Yes. You’re fine. Just walk across,” she instructed.

 

He remained frozen at the point of the bridge. But love apparently makes you do crazy things. He had to cross that bridge to get to her. So he did. But he couldn’t walk across it. He crawled across the bridge. A grown man in his thirties crawled across a bridge. And then, when it was time to leave, he had to crawl across the bridge again.

 

It was a funny sight, but I also felt for the man. When I was on the Eiffel Tower, I started to feel a little nervous (although I never resorted to crawling). Heights are scary sometimes.

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This was the tower that the man was trying to get into.

This was the tower that the man was trying to get into.

Once on terra firma, I started a new mission. Find a free museum. Free museums are fantastic. They provide free bathrooms and time out of the sun. Although I had put lots of sunscreen on, I started to feel my skin burning. I know that I can’t stay in the sun too long so I went to the modern art museum. According to the free map, all of the museums were still open and I was ready to get in a cool place.

 

Which was closed. I saw a woman who worked there and she explained that the hours had changed and that the museum closed earlier now. Well, so much for that free map. Whoops. All of the museums had changed their times and they were now closed.

 

I had to make a new plan. I actually went into a store just to cool off for a bit before regrouping myself. I decided to head towards a park, which I figured would be in the shade. I went to the park which was shady and cool. As I was walking along, I started to hear some animals. All of a sudden, I found myself in an animal park with donkeys, goats and peacocks (including an albino peacock). If you were wondering, the donkeys do bite…although I was quick to move my hand away from their big teeth.

 

Danger! We bite! ---Yes, they do!

Danger! We bite! —Yes, they do!

Peacock

Peacock

Albino peacock

Albino peacock

Baby goats!

Baby goats!

I walked around the harbor one last time and then boarded my train, the last train I will take in France (until I return, of course). I came back to Nantes tired from my day in the sun and, interestingly enough, without a sunburn…except for one half of my face. Yes, you read that properly. Only one half of my face is sunburned, which makes me looked quite strange (stranger than usual, I mean). I put sunscreen all over my face, but only one half of my face got burned. It’s quite a shock and I’ve had several people comment on it today. When I leave France, the last image people will have of me is a girl who had a half sunburn on her face.

 

So that was La Rochelle, my last trip in France.

I found these shoes, but not the children to whom they belong.

I found these shoes, but not the children to whom they belong.

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Firecracker

Friday was another scary moment in France. Kerry and I headed over to the dining hall to eat dinner…except that it was closed. We thought we were just early so we waited outside. We were peacefully sitting on the benches outside of the dining hall and talking about current news events, which are usually pretty scary. Suddenly, I heard a loud bang.

It sounded just like the sounds I heard in the woods of Northern Maine during hunting season. A gun. A million thoughts raced through my mind at the same time. Where is the gun? Who has the gun? Why did they fire it? Are they going to fire it again? Random shooting? Targeted shooting? Maybe a car backfiring. Where’s Kerry? Why is she still sitting? We need to get down to the ground…

 

In a split second, I jumped up and put my hand on Kerry’s shoulder as if getting ready to push her down to the ground when I realized that she wasn’t moving. She wasn’t scared. I looked at where the sound was coming from and she had a clear view of the situation, whereas I wasn’t able to see a thing. A loud group of drunk, college boys. With firecrackers.

Great.

They moved towards us. “Do you know where bus 63 is?” one of them asked.

Kerry and I were both standing now. “No. I don’t know. I’m sorry,” I said honestly.

I’d never heard of the bus before. “Well, girls, that was the wrong answer,” another guy said, reaching into his pocket.

In all of the movies, that’s what the bad guy says before he kills the protagonist. I was on high alert at this point. I had no idea what he had in his pocket. My first thought was that he was going to pull out a gun. But this is France. They don’t have guns in France. So…a knife? I judged the distance between us. We would have enough time to escape if it was a knife in his pocket. Maybe.

Within seconds, he pulled out a lighter and lit a firecracker. He threw it at our feet. Luckily, it was a dud and it fizzled out on the ground. “Oh. It didn’t work,” he said disappointed.

For whatever reason, maybe it was the adrenaline, maybe it was the fact that I’ve been very passive in France when people have bothered me, I decided to take my stand. I wasn’t going to let some drunk college boy have his moment. I crossed my arms and said, “C’est dommage.” That’s too bad.

His eyes flashed in anger. Apparently, he wasn’t expecting the five foot blonde with a squeaky voice to say anything back to him. “Yeah. It is,” he said, lighting another one and throwing it close to us.

This time, it went off. Kerry and I didn’t react at all. They stared at us for a moment, then walked away laughing. We heard firecrackers going off in the distance. Then, we turned to each other. We expressed our anger. Those stupid drunk college boys.

We tried to eat dinner…but the dining hall was still closed. After all of that, it never opened and we didn’t know why. We had to go to the grocery store to buy a quick dinner and we talked about the boys with firecrackers.

A Thousand Deaths

To say goodbye to you is to die slightly, a part of me that aches, then withers, and wishes that I could be in your presence for one last moment. And, in my final days of Nantes, I am saying goodbye to many people and places. I am to die a thousand deaths so that I may appreciate the value of life. It is when you say goodbye, that final parting, that you become so utterly aware of what that relationship meant to you. You better understand its value at its absence. And you realize that it may never be the same again.

When I leave a friend in Maine or in West Virginia, my worries don’t last long. I know I will see them again soon. I know that only a few states stand between me and them. But after spending a mere five months in France, a blink in the eye of a lifetime? I am not so sure that I will see these people again. There’s an ocean between us, and many rivers, lakes, and mountains. The other international students, when they return to their homes, may be even further than before. We’ll be scattered across the world and perhaps, I hope, our paths will cross again, if only I should be so lucky. But chance is not in my favor and so I begin to say my final goodbyes.

This I know to be true because I can see it in their eyes. When I say goodbye to someone here, we mutter something about Facebook and staying in touch, but we know. We know that there might not be a chance of reconnecting. We know that this goodbye might really be the last time we ever see each other…and what do you say to someone then? It was great knowing you this semester Sally and we’ll never see each other again but, uh…have a great life!

It is sad, but everything that begins must end. I was always aware that the end would come, but I just had no idea it would come so soon. Since I came to Nantes, I’ve kept a list of things that I’ve wanted to do. I’ve done most of them, but I still have a few things left on my list, which is like a bucket list of things to do before I go from Nantes. Now, I just have a few days to do them.

As you may remember from a previous blog post, I went to see the rings at night with Kacy. We ate chocolate on a hill and saw them from afar. I wanted to see them up close too. So, last night, I ventured out into the cold. Kacy has already returned to the United States so this was an adventure by myself.

I went at ten o’clock, but it was still light out. By the time I got downtown, it had darkened and by the time I reached the rings, it was night. The rings were larger than I thought they were and they went on for a good distance on the piers. Nantes has a huge history as a port town so it was interesting to walk near the old hangers, turned into nightclubs, and to actually walk on the Loire River (there were grates right over the river along the riverside). I don’t often go for walks alone. I’m usually accompanied by friends, which I appreciate. Yet, there is something about taking a walk by a river late at night by yourself. It was refreshing and the air felt quite pleasant.

After my midnight stroll along the river, I was walking back home across the pedestrian bridge. I looked down at the dark and swirling Loire River. At the peak of bridge, I paused and looked out at the lights of Nantes and then back at the cold river. I had one of those weird realization moments, one of those moments where you say to yourself…I’m here. In France. In Nantes. This is a foreign country. This is real. This really happened. I spent five months in France. And now I’m leaving.

I remember the first moment I had like this in France. It was on my way to school, as I walked past the university theatre. I remember thinking… I’m in France. This isn’t just a university. This is my university. I go to university in France.

I stayed on the bridge for a few minutes, just existing in sudden and overwhelming awareness. It was quiet, dark, away from all of the nightclubs and excitement on the pier. In this moment, I had a chance to say goodbye to the Loire River and to realize that just five months ago I was reading about the Loire River in the textbook and now I was above it.

Today, I went for a walk along the Erdre River with Kerry. I’d been meaning to take more walks along the Erdre, but the weather has been horrible in Nantes. Today, the sun was out and it was quite warm. There’s something about walking along a river with a friend that makes life make sense. The river brings out our dreams, our hopes, our fears…our pasts, our futures and our presents. The Erdre is beautiful. I will miss it.

This evening, I went to a get together with everyone who participated in the cooking project for Autour du Monde (the international student organization). Unfortunately, the other cooking teams weren’t as successful as my cooking team with Valentina, Etienne and Beatrice. I must say, I got quite lucky the day I met them. We didn’t just cook. We created memories and bridges carrying us across cultures and languages. I’ve learned so much about the French culture and language through my many meetings with them. And today was the last time we would meet. I don’t know if I will ever see them again, but I’m so grateful that I met them. I don’t have enough words in English or in French to thank Etienne and Beatrice for their time and complete compassion. This was an experience that I won’t ever forget and I can never repay them for the kindness they have shown me.

It’s Sunday night. I leave on Friday morning. There’s not much time left at all…and there are many more goodbyes to be said. It is sad, of course, but there is also a sense of naturalness to it. I often feel this way at the end of a semester. I feel a sense of fulfillment, that I came, that I tried my best, that I had fun, but now it’s time to move on to the next chapter. I’ve got to keep writing my adventures. I can’t rewrite previous chapters, but I can always reread them if I want to. The best books are always worth rereading. Trust me. I’ve read Harry Potter a million times.

Finals are Finally Finished!

Well, my finals are finally finished. On Thursday, they will post whether or not we passed on the wall of our school. Our success or failure will be public, like a Facebook post. So…let’s hope I passed!

 

I think my exams went okay. My first exam was written comprehension. I felt pretty confident about my answers, except for one. Unfortunately, it was the one question that was worth the most out of the entire exam. I felt like it was a pretty unfair question because it asked us to reword the philosophy of one guy and his quote was virtually impossible to understand. His quote, which we had to explain in our own words, was only three lines long, but it was filled with lots of unknown vocabulary. One of the words?  Décalcomanie. Don’t know what that word means in French? Let me translate it for you. Decalcomania. That’s an English word. I tried to be logical and use the context of the entire text to derive a meaning for this philosophy, but it was tough. After the exam, I looked on Wikipedia and found out that decalcomania is “a decorative technique by which engravings and prints may be transferred to pottery or other materials. It was invented in England about 1750 and imported into the United States at least as early as 1865.” I’ll be honest. That’s not what I wrote on my exam! Especially since the exam was talking about tattoos!

 

My second exam was oral comprehension and that was alright. I usually don’t have a problem understanding French and I felt like I answered most of the questions correctly. However, there was one question that had three answers to it…and I didn’t hear any of them at all. We’re allowed to listen to the document twice and I thought I just missed it the first time around, but I missed it the second time too. Oh well. I couldn’t leave the answers blank so I just wrote random guesses down. You never know, right?

 

My third exam was my written expression. Throughout the semester, my grammar teacher has been dropping strange hints like, “You might want to know synonyms for this word” or “It’s very important to know the difference between active and passive voices.” She always would say these things in a strange voice and I actually starred them in my notes. When I was studying for finals, I looked at these things and I’m glad I did! She actually gave us hints throughout the entire semester! She must have written the exam. I felt very confident in my answers for that exam.

 

All of those three exams were on the same day: Tuesday. It was an extremely long day and my brain was essentially fried after that. My final exam was my oral expression and that was yesterday.

 

I was pretty nervous because you pick a random topic and then have to develop a scholarly argument on it. You have fifteen minutes of preparation and fifteen minutes to speak, with questions from the professor afterwards. And you could get any professor. I got to the classroom early and waited outside of the door. At my time, the professor opened the door and I was immediately relieved. It was my theatre professor.

 

A quick words on professors in France. In the United States, I feel quite close to my professors. I feel like I can go to them if I have a question or a problem. But in France? My professors are reluctant to give you their university e-mail address and they don’t have office hours. They show up for the class and then leave. You don’t really develop a relationship with them as people, although this could be because we are international students and we usually leave after the semester.

 

However, one professor was a bit different from the others. My theatre professor. She helped me pick out my monologue for the cabaret. She definitely encouraged me during class and I always felt very comfortable around her, compared to other professors where I was scared to make a mistake when speaking for fear of a severe reprimand. So, when I saw it was my theatre professor, I felt much better.

 

I picked my topic at random and ended up having to talk about food scandals. At first, I panicked and couldn’t think of how to develop a two part argument with three argumentations and examples for each part. To make things tougher, someone is giving their oral exam at the same time you are preparing. So, you’re listening to that, but trying to think and it was a little stressful. But then I remembered something. Didn’t I learn about GMO’s in a French culture class at WVU? Didn’t I talk about the difference between local foods and commercial foods in my oral expression class just last semester? Suddenly, I had a million ideas and I scribbled those down on paper.

 

Then it was time to talk. When talking to professors, I usually make a fool of myself because I’m so nervous to speak. When speaking to French students or on the street, I’m much more relaxed and I definitely speak better than when I’m in a classroom. So, I should have been scared, but it was my theatre professor. I treated it like a performance and, suddenly, I realized I gave the best argumentative speech in French in my life. I was pleasantly surprised. Then, it was my professor’s turn. I expected the professors to grill us on our structure and our arguments, but she wasn’t too bad. I actually found out something important about France. I was talking about the scandal of food in Europe where horse meat was being sold as beef and I said that in the western world, it is a taboo to eat horse meat. My professor corrected me and told me that it is only a taboo in Anglo-Saxon countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. Apparently, in France, it is possible to go to a specialty shop and buy horse meat. When my professor was in school, she actually ate horse meat in the cafeteria. I was pretty surprised by that. So, my oral expression was also a learning opportunity for me.

 

And then, I was done. I’m done with school. I’m Kellene O’Hara and I completed a semester of university in France. Now, all I have to do is wait for the results.

Preparing for Finals

I freely admit that, after five months, I still do not understand the French university system. I attend the Université de Nantes, but each section of the university runs completely separate from another part of the university. The dorm that I live in is not part of the university. This means that when I need something, I must go through many administrative hoops as there is no one central administration.

 

There is no such thing as a syllabus in France. This word is completely foreign to French students. Without a syllabus, I have no idea how my grades function, how many tests and projects I will have during a semester and I do not know their weight. Therefore, I have no idea how much these finals count towards my grade. My professors have been talking about them all semester, so they sound important, but I have no clue how important they actually are. All I can do is assume that all of my grades are vitally important and try to do my very best on all of them.

 

And is my very best the same in France and in the United States? Absolutely. Is it graded the same way? Nope. Not at all. I’ve thought about this for a long time. Why is it that in America I can get a 100 (out of 100) on a test, but in France only get a 17 (out of 20) on a test? Even when my answers are “correct,” my professor will still find some tiny error to deduct points or, worse, I’ve had a professor tell me that my work was “too perfect” and “too good” so she took off points! I think that it’s cultural. In America, we subscribe to the American Dream. We believe that if we work hard enough, we will be rewarded. Our school system reflects this. It is possible to get a 100 on a test if you work really hard. But in France? Students and faculty have accepted the fact that it is “impossible” to get a 20 (out of 20) on any assignment or test. The grading appears to be entirely subjective in France (as it is many times in the United States too). I have gotten a 19/20 from one professor while another professor takes half a point off for every mistake, every misplaced comma, every misspelling. So, I have to ask myself, what am I working towards? Am I working towards being a communicative being? Or a perfectionist in search of the unachievable, of a dream that cannot be?

 

All I’ve ever wanted to do was to learn. Yet, there’s a part of me that wants to do well. I want to get that 20 out of 20, even if they say it’s not possible. I guess that’s the Honors student in me. Yet, I am facing a system where I don’t know the rules, where I don’t know how to study.

 

There are four parts to my finals: written comprehension, oral comprehension, written expression and oral expression. Tomorrow, I take the first three exams in what can only be described as an academic marathon that starts at 8 AM and finishes at 4 PM. It’s a day crammed with exams…and I have no way of studying. The topics are given at random. They could be on anything. I will be expected to read, listen and write about virtually any topic in the universe. The only thing I know? It’ll be in French.

 

In many ways, I’ve been preparing for this since second grade. I’ve listened to French. I’ve spoken French. I’ve read French. I’ve written French. But at the same time…what if I have a bad day tomorrow? What if I fall upon a topic that I don’t know much about (I swear, if I get anything about France’s involvement with some scientific important thing, I’m going to have a rough time)? Only my oral exam is on another day. In addition, we are taking the tests in an amphitheater with all of the kids in the IRFFLE program. All of them. In one giant room. Our tests will be collected and graded at random. Remember that professor that gave me a 19/20 and the professor that takes half a point of for every potential error? Either could grade my test. Obviously, I’m hoping for someone who will grade on content, not on grammatical perfection/imperfection.

 

Nothing here is any harder than what I’ve been expected to do in the past. I had a teacher in high school who would make us pick speaking topics out of a hat and we’d had to give a minute speech right then and there. That’s essentially the same as the oral expression exam here, except that I have to build an argument and that argument will be fifteen minutes, with a question and answer period at the end (with three examples for two opposing arguments, preferably with quotes, facts, statistics, and these examples should demonstrate knowledge of French culture/history, although I’ve heard we get bonus points for making comparisons between French and our native cultures/histories). All of this is nothing new, it’s just a test in France.

 

At this point, either I know French…or I don’t. My days of studying were at Quidditch practice…my days of studying were in a kitchen learning to make chocolate mousse…my days of studying were at an Easter egg hunt…my days of studying were at the beach in Nice…

 

Fourteen years of studying, hundreds of experiences…

 

And one big exam day.