[ Otherwise known as “well, this sucks.” ]
photo credit: transitionsabroad.com
Well, it’s that time of year again. For those of you not versed in the French language, “la rentrée” (literally, “the return”) refers to the beginning of school, specifically after summer vacation. But you probably got my drift already.
The glorious part of being abroad at NYU Paris is that the semester doesn’t start until late September, at least two weeks after our New York cohorts have begun. Granted, there is a two-week-long preliminary course beforehand, but it isn’t too homework-heavy and is only four hours per day, leaving you plenty of time to enjoy Paris. Knowing this, it’s no shock that after a few weeks living such a lifestyle, la rentrée is jolting.
I personally just began classes last week and am in the midst of adjusting after five weeks of hanging around Paris. I will be the first person to recommend coming a few weeks before anything program related starts, but five weeks of ultimate vacation (no work or internships, just Paris) is hard to come down from. And as I’ve been slowly coming to terms with my own academic reality, I thought that I would share some of the bright sides that I’m discovering about classes beginning abroad… after all, it’s not all papers and homework.
TRIPS. Classes starting also marks the beginning of the semester, which marks the beginning of cultural activities often provided by study away programs… including trips! Most abroad programs plan at least one trip per semester, either free or for very little payment (especially in comparison to if you booked everything yourself). NYU Paris, for example, has us put down 30 euros as a deposit and then we get it back on the train on the way there (like free money!).
For an idea of all the awesome things these programs can do, the overnight trips around France offered by my program this fall include: a Bourgogne trip to “study” food culture (AKA eat everything), Tours and the Loire Valley, Lille, and Grenoble. We are guaranteed one, and if you’re really motivated to go on another you can always show up at the train station the morning of and take the ticket of someone who overslept and missed the train! And then there’s the program-wide daytrip to Provins, which involves a massive feast fit for a king and a bird spectacular (complete with owls, vultures, hawks, and medieval costumes!).
Cultural Opportunities. Another perk of the semester beginning is the chance to go out in the city and get involved in the arts scene that is so prevalent in Europe, all provided by your program. In Paris, ballet and opera are popular cultural pastimes. And as students at NYU Paris, we get the opportunity to see at least one for FREE. And, like the trips, if you’re motivated enough to see more, you can always show up at the office and take the ticket of someone who didn’t want it. Having just gone to see the Tales of Hoffman opera on Monday, I can speak for how spectacular it is to see these performances. And if you’re not a ballet or opera person, there are always the play options!
To give you a taste, this semester’s offerings for ballets include: A Night of George Balanchine ballets, Don Quichotte, and William Forsythe & Trisha Brown. Operas include: Tales of Hoffman and Tosca. And then there are various French plays.
Class Visits. Chances are, at least one of your classes will incorporate visits outside of the classroom (even if it’s “only” a day excursion to Versailles), truly making you interact with the city you’re in. Sometimes, like my Monuments class, you’ll go to famous monuments and learn their history while standing in front of them, able to analyze the architecture and feel their true significance – something textbooks can’t do. Sometimes, like my Museums class, you’ll go to some of the world’s great museums, like the Louvre, and get in-depth descriptions of the art you see. These are the kinds of experiences you would never get back home in the states, and you also get to see such places in a way that makes you appreciate them for not only their aesthetics but for their historical context as well. Yes, everything abroad tends to be pretty, but there’s so much more to it!
Ok, actual classes. These programs are meant to engulf you in the culture. And they succeed in doing so with you taking a handful of classes mostly focusing on the history, language, politics, literature, arts, and culture of the country you’re in. You’d be surprised how much information you take from class and use in daily abroad life. Especially in countries that have so much more deep-seated history than the US (so, basically everywhere else) that still infiltrates modern life and attitudes, you understand the people, culture, and things you find odd so much more!
THE POINT: taking classes abroad doesn’t have to be a complete drag. Just like you live differently abroad as you do in the US, you go to school differently. And whenever you’re stressed about a paper or something, you always know you have something to look forward to… either right out your door or in a couple weeks.