Saturday, February 20, 2010

Reed, Wherever I May Be

Two weeks into the Parisian semester, and I’ve already learned so much. Yes, I’ve learned about Baudelaire and Gauthier, about Poincaré and Millerand, about the difference between rococo and neoclassicist painting, but above all, I’ve learned about myself, and my relationship to my education. As thrilling as it is to walk through the courtyard of the Sorbonne and find myself surrounded by classical-inspired marble architecture, I find myself yearning for the glow of the blue bridge at night and the ever-familiar bricks of the Hauser Fun Dome. My first two weeks of school in Paris have been wonderful and difficult, and have reminded me exactly why I chose Reed in the first place.

Reed seems to be following me everywhere I go. I sat down in my first class of the semester, nineteenth century French art history, and as I listened to the professor go through his slides and talk about each painting, I found myself keeping count of how many times my knowledge from Hum 110 came in handy: out of the 29 paintings we studied in our first day of class, 19 of them were thematically related to the Hum material. My literature classes and history course followed in a similar fashion, despite the fact that they’re all nineteenth and twentieth century classes. It turns out that there actually is a really good reason we all take Hum.

But I started to really think about Reed later in the week in one of my lit classes, as I spent my Wednesday afternoon sitting through three hours of lecture. Three solid hours of the professor talking, and all sixty of us students listening and taking notes. And then realizing that this was the “conference” section of the course, and that immediately after, I’d be going to the two-hour lecture section with all 250 students.

Needless to say, I was fairly horrified and irritated, and missing Reed for everything it is: the small classes, the encouragement to be opinionated and vocal, and the constant emphasis on learning through discussion. I left feeling like I had gotten myself into something that I had specifically applied to Reed to avoid for the rest of my life: the necessity of shutting up and taking notes for hours on end.

I became even more Reed-sick the next day in my other literature class when my incredibly française professor, Madame Lavaud, looked up over her red, half-moon glasses and told us all to write down the password for the course’s “meu-del”: To my extreme nostalgic pleasure, the Sorbonne uses the exact same interface as the beloved Moodle, except with a great French accent.

Trudging to my next class, the last of the week, a final, one-hour lecture on Samuel Beckett, I missed the Paradox between classes and my bi-weekly tummy-scratching dates with Prefix in the hall of Vollum 1. Taking my seat in the admittedly beautiful Amphithéâtre Milne Edwards, I pulled my notebook out, readying myself for more slavish note taking, and saw the image you see above: a boredom-induced etching of, “REED COLLEGE I GOTTA GO NOW,” and I just about burst into simultaneous tears and hysterical laughter. Reed was following me everywhere, and I’m oh so glad it was.

Week two was better. I had a grip on things, and I’m coming to terms with the French educational system. It’s different, and definitely not what I want from my college experience, but it just makes me appreciate what I have coming for the next two years even more. I also know that it’s an opportunity that I’m incredibly lucky to have, three-hour lectures notwithstanding.

Taking the bad with the good, I had my first class taught in the Sully wing of the Louvre on a rainy Wednesday morning, and later in the day studied an excerpt of de Beauvoir in a room that she had likely walked past, if not studied in, herself. My professors are brilliant, and I am slowly forcing myself into bilingualism every day. And while there is no Paradox or Prefix to be seen, I carry them with me all the time, along with the rest of Reed.

For Jack V. Booch, ’57, who took Reed with him ‘til the end.

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