The Actual Courses are Good (So I Have That At Least)

You don’t begin to realize the depth of how many preconceived notions you have until you begin to question what someone’s voice is going to sound like. Back in the States, I already know most of the dialects and potential accents of my country. I know the twang of a Spanish speaker as intimately as I know the nasal lilt of someone who comes from East Asia. Further still, I know how those sounds are different from the intonations of Hebrew speakers, or a descendant of a family of Western European immigrants.
All of that is utterly useless here in Paris. Citizens here are truly global, and Sciences Po’s students even more so. In my classes, French students are sometimes few and far between, especially when the course is administered in English. The moment a person begins to speak, it’s often jarringly different from my expectations. I might think someone is American, but when they open their mouth they say they’re from Beijing. I might think someone is Chinese, but when they speak, the twangs of a New Zealander come out. I may think someone is French, or even Spanish, but then they reveal they’re actually from Brazil or Quebec. Maybe for the first time in my life, I understand a little better why people all over the world try so hard to find out my ethnic background. When you have no grasp on a person’s origins, when you have no information, life is disorienting.
It’s also a bit frustrating that in a French university I’m still speaking English about two-thirds of the time. I split my courses half and half in French and English and I almost wish I would have favored more French courses. French is in the “back pocket” of most students’ spoken languages here, but it’s not necessarily always reached for first. English has become ubiquitous. It’s made me consider that perhaps I reap stranger and stranger fruit with every trip out of the United States, but I don’t regret my decision to leave. I accidentally skipped the coldest winter in Chicago history and left a country in the middle of a government shutdown.
For whatever else I might say about Parisian snobbery, I can’t deny, either, that I think I’m having one of the most intellectually enriching moments of my college experience. I feel motivated about my courses, and this has increased my productivity when it comes to readings. However, I’m also experiencing an integration of materials, readings, and authors in my courses that I haven’t gotten before. Three of my courses are overlapping each other in subject matter. I have Sociology of Work, Sociology of Organizations, and Surveillance Studies. These three courses take different approaches to examining the intersections of organizational structure, work modalities, and the effects of those on the human psyche. It’s become almost like an orchestra of different discussions that are all interconnected. My other courses aren’t as well related, but they’re equally as interesting in their own rights. So, even when I’m down about Paris, or further developing my French language skills, I can rest comfortable that my studies (the reason I’m here, after all) have at least worked out alright.