Published 27 January
And so begins another semester, but this time, in Paris. My hope for this on-going column is to provide a weekly “bubble-burst” for you, my beloved Reedies. I am currently a student of the University of Paris IV, the infamous Sorbonne, through CUPA. It’s still orientation here, and, lucky as I am, classes don’t start until 8 February. For the three-week orientation period, however, all 31 CUPA students have to do a slightly tedious but generally very helpful methodology and language course, in order to better prepare us for integration into the French university system. As much as I may groan after a day of said course, I’m really grateful for it. The university system here is so different from what I’m used to, particularly as a Reedie that has, for a year and half now, been spoiled with first-name-basis profs, brilliant, motivated peers, and a beautiful, all-encompassing-never-have-to-leave campus. This, my friends, is not the case in the City of Lights.
Case-in-point: a professor giving out his or her personal email addresses is still an up-and-coming trend.
I am constantly being reminded of one fact throughout my methodology classes: I am now in a socialist system. The University of Paris is a free institution, and any French student that has passed the baccalaureate exam is eligible to attend. As such, the schools and the classes are enormous, the smallest school having about 9, 000 students, the largest, 30, 000. Another consequence of the socialist system is that a lot of the students are simply going to school because they can, and it’s just another few years to put off getting a real job. I’m not quite sure how this is going to affect my experience, but I have my predictions. There is only one University of Paris that actually has a campus, and the rest of the schools are spread out around the city. This is really cool in one way, but I know it won’t be long before I miss sitting on the steps of the Paradox and knowing everyone that walks by.
However—and this is a big however—there are some incredible benefits to the socialist system (preaching to the choir?). I was simply astounded the other day when my methodology professor, Michel, handed us a sample introductory handout for a class on the history of immigration, complete with bibliography of about fifteen books. He then went on to explain that hypothetically, if we were enrolled in this class, we would be expected to buy maybe three or four of the books. “We are in a socialist system,” he went on to explain, “where people go to school for free. A professor would never expect someone to spend money on a book that they would only need once or twice.” I was just stunned. Memories of hauling those technicolor bookstore bags full of books through the quad flooded my mind, and I realized that this semester is going to be a lot easier on my wallet and on my back.
Other benefits of the social system… Oh, did I mention it’s free? How about the fact that all university students have nearly unlimited access to all of the municipal and national libraries and museums in the city? Or, perhaps, that there are special restaurants all around the city for university students wherein you can have an entire meal for about $3?
All of the course listings just went up on the website on Friday night, and I’m getting that Same Old Feeling of excitement mixed with anxiety over the fact that there’s no way I’m going to be able to take all of the classes I want.
To put it frankly and succinctly, I miss you, Reed, but not too much. The city is amazing, and the food and the people are incredible, but there aren’t any free bagels, and I can’t go hang out with Pancho in his office way more than he wants me to every week. So, until next time, happy spring semester, my Reedies. Take care of each other, and feel free to live vicariously through me as I sip my Bordeaux and eat my body’s weight in bread and cheese.