Sunday, September 4, 2011

Les partiels*

* Final exams

I got two exams out of the way on Saturday - Études Socio-Culturelles and translation. For translation, let me give you a little taste of what we had to translate: "The shepherds observed the stars in their inexorable course." I think most of us ended up putting a French spin on some English words and hoping for the best. It was such a great course though that I can forgive our prof for the ridiculous exam. I've learnt so much. 

On Saturday night I joined the students from Notre Dame University on a scavenger hunt. We had to jump into the fountain in the Jardin du Mail (which I can now check off my bucket list!), buy a chocolate panini, and get a shot from one of the bars, among other things. Perhaps going out on the town mid-exams was not exceptionally responsible, but hey, carpe diem. And doing a scavenger hunt was on my bucket list as well! Two birds with one stone. 

My host family had told me that they wanted to hold a barbecue for me and any two friends I wished to invite on Sunday. That morning I went for one last mass at the Cathedral and then came home to welcome Matt and Élise over. We had a nice conversation with the family, and of course my host parents took well to them. Unfortunately, my host family had very little contact with my Korean roommate Miseon. She speaks very little French and is quite shy, which caused my host family to eventually stop their efforts at communication. It breaks my heart, because she's an absolute gem. She speaks a little more English than she does French, but our relationship is proof that a friendship can be built on laughter and mutual good-will. Our family didn't invite her to the barbecue, which appalled me, Matt, and Élise, who is Miseon's oral expression teacher at CIDEF. Not feeling it was our place, none of us said anything, but her absence was a thorn in the side of an otherwise lovely meal. 

Tuesday was the day of my soutenance de mémoire, the defense of my term paper. Each student's paper was marked by two profs to whom we then had to present our arguments for why we wrote it the way we did, what we learned, what we would have done differently, etc. The two women who marked mine were highly interested in my subject (France = secular country, Catholic roots), and we ended up having a great conversation about religion and culture. That paper was a huge part of my life this semester. I don't know that I've ever put so much effort into an essay before. It certainly helped that it's a subject that I find fascinating. I just wanted so much to do it well and thoroughly. When it was assigned to us, the idea of writing 3000 words in French was horrifying, but in the end I had to take out a few parts in order to cap myself off at 3500. 

None of the students had an exam on Thursday because it was a jour férié (public holiday). France, thank you for your vacation-respecting population. Therefore, Wednesday night seemed a natural time to do a little exam stress relieving. A huge CIDEF-wide picnic was organised. I think at the height of the evening, there were seven countries represented, French and foreign. Around midnight the temperature drop forced those of us who were left to make our way to Soft. As soon as the dance floor was empty, we flooded on and started shimmying away all the blues of finals week. We danced like a bande de fous (group of crazies) until closing at 2am. 

My friend Bénédicte had already given up her apartment in Angers and had moved back in with her parents outside the city. My host family had left for a week of holiday that morning, so after the picnic Béné came and stayed over chez moi. First time I'd had a friend over other than the lunch the weekend before. She was to start her summer job at a campground on Thursday, so we had to say goodbye first thing the next morning. She and I had started out as conversation partners but after a couple months of regularly seeing each other she became a dear friend. It was awful to watch her bike away down my street. 

Thursday afternoon was not particularly strenuous. I was invited to my friend Alessandro's apartment for a Brazilian lunch. There were about fifteen people there, some of whom I knew. Everyone brought something to eat and drink. Matt and I ended up staying until 4pm, when we finally decided it was time to get our rears in gear and get some studying done. We had to say goodbye to Élise, our monitrice de vie (life coach - teacher of all things we don't learn in class). A blubbering mess, I got back on my bike and went home. When I got there, the last thing I wanted was to be alone, so I texted my friends to come over and benefit from my (absent) host family's pool. Adrien and Matthieu brought their computers over so they could get some work done (it was the day before Matthieu's masters thesis was due!). We soaked up the sunshine and the pool water for a couple hours before settling down to any real work. Laura and Aurélien came over after dinner with a case of beer, and the five of us sat enjoying each others company until way past nightfall. Mamie et papi (grandma and grandpa, aka Laura and Aurélien) called it a night around 11. Matthieu and Adrien stayed for another couple hours. It was so incredibly, impossibly wonderful to have friends over at my house. Just to be there, relaxed, together, and sans souci (without worries) was special. I struggled that evening with a combination of joy at having them over mixed with sadness at how soon the end was coming. When they finally took their leave, it was with a full heart that I said goodnight. 

I started Friday off productively, making my way through a series of useful wikipedia articles (what better way to study). Our final exam was History of France the following morning, so I started trying to remind myself of the various important moments of the French Revolution, the wars, the presidents, etc. Laura came over around noon to study. We didn't even crack open our binders until around 2, when Matt arrived to join the 'study session'. It was a sweltering day and we could hardly focus in the heat... well, the heat wasn't the only cause of procrastination, but I'd rather blame something other than my own lack of motivation. By 6pm, we had gotten as far as Napoleon (the second topic of the semester). At that point, Laura went home and Adrien, Matthieu and Hélène came over. Matthieu had now handed in all 138 pages of his thesis on socio-linguistics and was feeling light as air. He and I floated around my pool for a while having a beautiful conversation. By dinner time I had still not moved beyond Napoleon. I had promised some classmates to meet up with them at Soft at 9, so I whipped myself up a quick meal and headed into town. I stopped in for a brief chat and some hugs there, then went to say goodbye to my friend Josh, and then on to Élise's for one last bisou. By the time I got home, it was near midnight and all efforts at studying seemed entirely futile. Packing appeared somehow more practical... Once my suitcase was half full, I set my alarm for several hours before my exam (had to study at some point!) and went to sleep. 

I think I was the first person at the school that Saturday morning. It was another scorching day. My friend Bridget came and joined my last-minute cramming, and at 10am on s'est retrouvées (we met up) with the rest of our class to write our very last exam. When it was done, that was it. I was officially on holiday!

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