It took me all of my first month in Paris to finalize my schedule—or “emploi de temps”—for the semester. It was definitely a process. It could maybe be divided into stages, but the stages would be blurred, each running indefinitely into the next.
There was the initial dream-esque adjustment period, defined by excitement and a gratitude that has yet to fade. The surreal aspect of this stage continued through the next several days and nights. I spent this time at a hotel with many (then) unfamiliar Brown students in an even more unfamiliar city. We bonded over deliciously cheap but surprisingly good quality baguettes, cheese and wine (only three euros—or around four dollars—a bottle).
Then: into the wild. Think navigating an admirable, incredible, and dizzyingly foreign metro system to find the residences of potential host families in what could easily be likened to an intense round of speed-dating in a language that was so evidently not my own. The eighteen of us on the Brown-in-France program began French lessons at Brown’s Paris office around this time, which served as a friendly reminder of just how much vocabulary (and culture and politics) we had still to learn. Within one week of our arrival we moved into our apartments and moved on to searching for the elusive “amphi-théâtres,” or lecture halls, for our Sorbonne classes.
And so began shopping period. This was a three week process for me. After far too many three-hour-long classes, and several unpleasant days passed sitting through nine hours of half-comprehended lectures, I can say without any question that there is such a thing as too much shopping. The infinite appealing choices combined with a minimal understanding of the language spoken in class left me questioning every decision. The day I finalized my classes was a serious accomplishment. It also marked a closure to my month-long transition process, an end to the happy but crazy unknown, and an establishment of the freedom that comes with defined routine. With a known schedule, I can choose to occasionally plan out my days ahead of time, be it laying out readings for my syllabus-less classes or mapping out new wanderings for an afternoon.
In honor of having finally established a schedule, I thought for my first article I’d describe a typical Tuesday—my most structured day of the week. I spend most of this day at the Paris 8 University campus in the northern suburbs of Paris, with a three hour break between classes. This break is the perfect time to jot down the first half of my day. On y va.
6:45-7:00 : (give or take several snooze buttons) Wake-up. The exercise mat my host mom lent me will go unused today. Actual yoga mats, I’ve discovered, are pretty hard to come by I’m lucky to have the foam square “tapis” and enough space in my bedroom when I occasionally decide to use it.
7:15-8:00 : Make breakfast and lunch and get out the door. Breakfast is included in my homestay. Usually I’ll take a “café allongé” with sugar and milk (ultra-pasteurized and not refrigerated before opening), yogurt “au nature” with a sliced banana, and a toasted baguette with fresh and melty salted butter and honey. I make lunch with my own food—a tomato, cucumber, and spinach salad, and a goat cheese and ham sandwich. I’m able to buy all my veggies from the inexpensive open-air farmer’s market held twice a week less than a block from my house. Meats and cheeses I’ll usually buy at the Monoprix, which is essentially the Parisian version of a Target. My goal is to be out the door by 7:50, but I’ll realistically leave by 8 and arrive just on time. This is okay because my professors at Paris 8 University are generally pretty relaxed (and may actually arrive later than me), particularly compared with my professors at Paris 1 in the Sorbonne.
8-8:50 : Metro. Grab one of the free newspapers on my way into the subway. I ride line 3 for about 25 minutes and then switch to the 12 at Saint Lazare to get all the way to Saint-Denis. This time is spent trying to review the current events for the week (in French) and memorize the map of Africa for the weekly quiz in my journalism class (definitely my hardest for this semester).
9-12 : Journalism class. Although my most difficult, this is also probably my favorite class here. The professor is from the south of France and therefore has a more lilting accent (apparently) that the Parisians sometimes mock, but I find much easier to understand. There are about twelve of us in the class and I am the only foreigner. Today French journalist and author Marika Mathieu joined us as a guest speaker. Our first assignments and quizzes were also returned. Grading is very different here. Scores are typically out of 20 with a 9-10 being a C, 11-13 a B and 14+ an A. This is disorienting, but fits with the French education system. During the mid-class smoke break, the students are super interesting, engaging, and argumentative. I listen and nod for the most part.
12-15:00 : Break. I eat my packed lunch outside on the green with a friend from Brown. Other days this break has given me enough time to take the subway 1 stop to visit the St. Denis Basilica, to get some work done in the surprisingly beautiful Paris 8 library, or to take the metro to a nearby friend’s apartment to cook pizza (all ingredients purchased at the ever-reliable Monoprix, of course).
15-18:00 : Creative writing class. This class is unlike any other class I am taking here or have taken at Brown. We are exploring the OULIPO technique (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle), which is essentially a practice that involves various constraints intended to liberate writing and inspire new ideas. In one exercise of “amplification,” for instance, we are asked to first re-write a simple sentence (and then a more complex sentence and then a paragraph…) such as “The cat walks across the field” and elaborate upon each aspect of the phrase without using any of the original words and without changing the original meaning. This proves extremely difficult, particularly given that I may or may not know all of the French vocabulary in the original sentence, and certainly don’t know enough synonyms to express the same ideas effectively in an entirely unique way. I make a mental note to not forget my pocket French dictionary next class.
18:15-19:00 : Metro home. This is also peak rush hour, but because Paris 8 is at the end of the line, I can usually grab a seat for the first leg of my journey and get some reading done before I switch.
19-19:45 : Chat a bit with my host family and throw together a quick dinner—leftover veggies roasted Monday night and frozen poulet rôti that I purchased at the market—wrap it all in tin foil and stick it in the oven to warm while I clean up and change for the Brown-program trip to the theater.
19:50-20:20 : Direct metro (no switches!) and a bit of walking to arrive at the Comedie Francaise. I don’t know the area well, but the lights glimmering from balconies and small storefronts make the winding side streets seem warm and welcoming despite the chilly night.
20:30-23 : Un Chapeau de Paille d’Italie. Luckily we read this play in the Brown French course at the beginning of the semester or this would have been impossible for me to follow. The show offered an interesting mix of old-time setting and modern humor, and I particularly appreciated witnessing the predominantly French audience’s reactions.
23-23:30 : Metro home.
23:30-00 : Greet my host parents, tell them a little bit about the show, make tea with honey, do a little bit of reading and go to sleep.
À la prochaine!