Exams at the ENS

Back in December, before my adventures in the British Isles, I had to “validate” my courses. Often in France, there are no mid-term exams or assignments throughout the semester. You only get one mark for the entire course and it is based on your performance for one task.

This system has some obvious pros and cons.
- you only have one assignment/essay/exam/presentation to worry about per course
- you could not attend class all semester and just do the course validation
- you could equally do no work all semester aside from that validation

- you don’t get to know your professor, what they expect from your work or the way that they mark
- you don’t get to choose what that validation will be (you could be terrible at oral presentations or exam taking)
- most of the validations happen in the same week
- if you didn’t attend class all semester and didn’t do any other work for the course, you will most likely not pass
- French professors are notorious for being hard markers

The French students at the ENS are also notorious for having an awe-inspiring work ethic. They are rarely assigned readings on a weekly basis; they direct their own homework based on what they think will be relevant. All of them also had the additional stress of preparing their Masters memoire (between 50-100 page assignment due in June) on top of their regular classes. I admire the autonomy these students have cultivated and wonder why there is such a difference between French students and Canadian students.

At home, I was used to my professors assigning us pages to read for the following class for whatever novel we happened to be studying at the time. In that way, I had become used to reading approximately 25 novels in French per school year in addition to my education classes and French linguistic classes without a problem. I read relevant articles when they were assigned by the prof for that week’s reading and I did extra research when I wrote my final essay or did a presentation.

In France, there was no syllabus at the beginning of the semester (maybe an outline of what each class session would focus on, if I was lucky), and the bibliography of recommended texts for the course was online, if the professor felt like giving one. Many times, I went into the class having no inkling of what we would be covering and no idea how to prepare for it. The course that was the best-prepared was a comparative literature class where half of the texts we read were in English, and the texts themselves ended up having no connection to my final presentation. In another course, we were essentially expected to read a novel a week, most of which were rare and all of which were supposedly found in the library. (I’ll be honest: I never checked to see if they were there).

My course validations consisted of the 20 minute oral presentation mentioned above, exploring the history of African diaspora in Canada through poetry; an essay discussing the presence of anachronism and spectrality in Anne Hébert’s Kamouraska; a transcription of a 40 minute interview in French with a French student who had previously been on exchange and an analysis of her experience based on principles learned in class; a beginner Spanish exam; and an exam consisting of a commentary of a poem that compares and contrasts its poet with the other poets studied in class.

None of the professors gave an outline of what they expected for the assignement or of what would be on the exam and it seemed to be only the international students who went to them after class to clarify the parameters of the tasks. In any case, everything went quite well apart from one small incident.

Let me preface by briefly outlining the process for writing an exam at Brock University. Weeks before the exam, there are posters everywhere reminding us not to bring backpacks or purses or coats (if we can avoid them) to the exam if we can manage without them. Often students bring these things anyway, but they are required to tuck them under their chair or to hang them on the back of their seat until they have turned in the exam. All you are allowed are your writing utensils, your student card and occasionally a dictionary if the professor allows it. For literature exams or other long answer responses, students are giving standard booklets to write in. You are not to talk to anyone except the professor or teaching assistants during the exam period. It is usually held in a gymnasium or a classroom set aside during the exam period.

For my poem commentary exam, we had not been explicitly told where the exam would be held, so we verified and it was going to be held in our regular classroom. The professor also told us we would be allowed a dictionary of our choice (French-English or standard French dictionary, based on what we wanted to bring). I had to borrow mine from the library.. which is not normally allowed, but I promised the librarian I would bring it back immediately following the exam.

I brought my student card, my pencils and my pens to the exam in my coat pocket. I live right next to the building where my classes are held so I felt no need to bring a bag with me. When I arrived, I waited patiently for the professor to distribute the question sheets and the cahiers (as we call them in Canada) out to the students. The exam was meant to start at 9am. It started at 9:20am after all the students who had opted to do a different assignment in place of the exam handed their work in. The professor went around handing out the question sheet. She didn’t tell us when to begin so eventually I recognized that it was time to start (no formal announcement necessary). As I waited for her to hand out the work booklets, I started looking over the poem in question and making notes. After about 15 minutes, I glanced up and noticed she wasn’t distributing them yet. I glanced around and realized all of the other students were writing on their own paper.

I panicked. I hadn’t brought any paper with me, because why would I need any? I couldn’t talk to anyone to ask for some or I would get my exam taken away from me. The only thing I could think of was writing my entire commentary on the back side of the question sheet in miniscule handwriting. I was so shocked by my own cultural assumption that I was too humiliated to put my hand up and ask for help and so I sat there continuing to analyse the poem while desperately trying to think of a solution.

Luckily, the professor came around the class to take attendance. I tried to discreetly explain that I had never considered that I would need to bring paper with me to the exam. She looked concerned and asked me if I still hadn’t found any. As if I had been asking around to see if anyone would lend me some. Of course it would permitted to talk to your peers during exams…. what?!?! I could only blush and tell her no, that she had handed out the exam before I realized I would need any. She interrupted the class and explained to them that one of their colleagues didn’t have any paper and asked if anyone had extra. I stared a hole in my desk by the time she handed it to me and then turned redder because I didn’t know who to thank for having given it to me. All in all, it wasn’t the greatest start, but I had exactly the right amount of paper for my commentary and those eight pages ended up being worth my highest mark for the semester.

The moral of this story is that you should establish the expectations of your professor before you hand in an assignment, whether that be what font you should use for your assignment (I have one who required Arial 10) and whether it should be double-spaced or what materials you will need to bring to your exam. I highly recommend using specific questions such as “Will I need to bring my own paper to the exam?” or “Should I use subtitles in my paper?” because the professors are just as likely to have cultural assumptions about what is standard procedure as you do.

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A Dramatic Trip through Barcelona

Danielle is studying at the Alliance Française and acts as an au pair to two girls who live just outside of Lyon. One day she and a new friend decided to eat at the ENS de Lyon cafeteria. They were behind me in line, and I couldn’t help but eavesdrop when Danielle mentioned Toronto. I was in one of those “I want to meet everybody” moods and decided to interrupt. I asked if she was Canadian and she said yes. We exchanged phone numbers and the rest is history!

I liked her instantly. We had lunch twice before we decided we would travel together. She suggested Italy… I suggested Norway.

We planned together for about a month what we do on this trip and added Stockholm to our list of destinations. All of the flights from Lyon to Stockholm were routed through Barcelona and we took this as an added perk, planning to spend 24 hours there before heading north.

October 25, 2012:

The day of our trip, we had almost everything prepared: travel documents, backpacks, directions and contact information for Couchsurfing hosts, flight and hostel information, and lists of places we would ideally liked to have seen. We were ready.

We exchanged our money for Swedish and Norwegian kronar at the Lyon Part-Dieu train station, were right on time for the bus to airport, checked in to our flight and had plenty of time to spare so we sat down for a pizza at Pizza Hut just outside security. Looking back, this was the most expensive slice of pizza I’ve ever had.

When we finished, we mosied over to the airport security and started the process of taking off belts, unpacking our liquids, taking out our electronics, etc etc. Suddenly, we heard our names over the loudspeaker being told that we were requested at our gate. Our tickets said we had to be there 10 minutes before departure. It was still 25 minutes prior to departure.

The woman in front of me was moving so slowly. I tried to go through security quicker, explaining that we had just been called on the loudspeaker but they made us wait. When we got through, we grabbed our stuff without putting it back together and flat out ran to our gate. Our gate was a good 15 minute walk from security. We got there just under the wire — or so we thought. The airline had sealed the gate 15 minutes prior to departure. We were two minutes late.

Having never missed a plane before, I didn’t know how to get out of the secured area. After three treks back and forth between security and our gate (thanks to bad directions from the men at security), we had to wait half an hour for another airport staff member to let us into the arrivals hallway. Seriously exasperated at this point, we turned to bitter humour as our only reprieve. We tried to find the desk for our airline to put us on the next plane or to refund us, but they were closed for the day and the only other flight to Barcelona that night was with Air France for over 300 euro. All the trains were on strike (it’s France!) and none would take us all the way to Barcelona.

We found a flight on Danielle’s iPhone for 9:40am the next morning and booked it. Our pizza cost us each 125 euro. We opted to spend the night in the airport rather than paying to be transported back and forth again, and having to wake up at a ridiculous hour. We bought some chocolate and other munchies to keep us “happy” for a few hours. We slept under the escalators, using towels as blankets and backpacks as pillows.

October 26, 2012:

We felt well-rested and happy grumpy and sore the next morning, but we easily made it onto the plane and effortlessly fell asleep for the duration of the flight to Barcelona. It was raining when we got there, but by the time the bus took us to the city centre, it had stopped. We only had about 6 hours, so we opted to walk around at our own pace and to make sure we had plenty of time to get back to the airport and through security. Barcelona is a seriously beautiful city, and obviously more than four hours are needed to do it justice, but we did the best we could. Every street that we looked down seemed as though it had been built to be photographed.

The one attraction that we knew we had to see was the Sagrada Familia, and so we found it and took all the touristy photos. We ate lunch at McDonald’s (which is Danielle’s self-imposed “International Bingo”… eat McD’s in every city), which was not my greatest decision, and we walked and walked. The area surrounding Las Ramblas (where we found ourselves) is like a maze. The best way to see it is to get lost in it. But not too lost, or you could miss your flight.

We made it back to the airport with plenty of time and it started raining again. We found dinner at the airport, which was authentic Spanish…. or rather, really synthetic guacamole and cheese on stale nacho chips.

While we were eating, we realized we’d been reading the wrong side of the map and that the “Sagrada Familia” we had visited, was in fact, another cathedral. It was still designed by Gaudi and it was still beautiful, but we felt a bit silly.

Our flight was with Ryanair, a really super cheap budget airline, and the crew had a sense of humour. They announced that they would be lowering the lights for take-off, and at the end of the announcement, the captain said in a mock-dramatic voice “Darkness” and the lights dimmed. Epic. We were so tired. When we arrived, a loud trumpet sound announced that we had participated in on-time flight… funny, but disconcerting. It was 11pm. We realized that we were in the middle of nowhere. We had to take an hour and a half bus to get into the city for 125 Swedish kronar. This number is hard to wrap your head around. It was freezing cold, but the air was fresh and we were excited about our trip again.

We got a taxi ride from a lovely Egyptian-French-Swedish man to our hostel, and got our first glimpse of Stockholm at night. We were already in love by the time we arrived at the hostel. We had to pay extra for our reservation since we weren’t “members” of the hostel and one of the girls in the room had stolen my pillow. This didn’t even surprise me. Regardless, we settled in for the night and tried to prepare for the next day with a bit of rest in a real bed.

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Body Language

“Body language is a form of mental and physical ability of human non-verbal communication, which consists of body posture, gestures, facial expressions, and eye movements. Humans send and interpret such signals almost entirely subconsciously.” – Wikipedia, “Body language”

Between 60-70% of all meaning in human communication is derived as a result of body language. And in my opinion, when trying to communicate in a second language, the interpretation of body language is more important than understanding the words that are being said to you.

It’s as if people communicate to you in puzzles. You pick up one or two words that you recognize or that are familiar to words in your own language, and you add those to the body language of the person you are communicating with to try to figure out what they are saying. I still find it incredibly difficult to talk on the phone in French because the exchanges are quick and there’s no opportunity for me to see the person I’m talking to.

For the first few weeks I was here in France, I was completely out of my comfort zone. Language is so linked to culture that English is kind of like a safe-haven where I am able to find myself again, with the use of a well-thought-out sentence. Sarcasm, irony, jokes and ideas are all easily accessed in English. When speaking French, I was stripped of that “insider information” and had to try to be myself in other ways.. mainly through body language. It is much harder having a personality in a second language. All of the sudden, I was using my hands more when I talked, using exaggerated facial expressions to add to the tone of my statements, and physical humour seemed much more accessible to me. Strangely, I felt more like myself; I was acting like the person that I think I am on the inside because I didn’t have the ability to manipulate language into representing that for me.

Living in another language has taught me to appreciate the experience of Canadians who have to learn to speak English. The every day things become just a bit more difficult. For example, Morgane, my collocatrice, and I went to the Part-Dieu shopping centre for lunch we decided to eat at Bagelstein. This is a store centred around bagels because they are so “exotic”. They serve bagels like specialty sandwiches (Tim Horton’s, take note).

I wanted to order an “Isadore” bagel which had marinated bell peppers, cream cheese, lettuce and dried tomatoes on it. I don’t like tomatoes (I know, it’s strange) and so I made it as far as to say sans tomates without the server misunderstanding me. Unfortunately, I had to identify the type of bagel this taste sensation should be served on. Who would have thought that the translation for “plain” would be just as difficult to remember as “whole wheat” or “sesame seed”? There was no posted list of options for me to use as a starting point and I started with “for the bread part….” and the proceeded to point at the choice I wanted. He pointed at the one beside it to verify.

No…. I want the plain! I asked Morgane for help with the word but she didn’t know what “plain” meant in English. He then pointed to the muffins and the cookies, in turn, asking if that’s what I meant.

No!! I just want the plain!!!

Finally, he pointed to the plain bagels.

If you are ever attempting to order anything plain in French, here is my bit of wisdom to pass on as a result of this experience: natur is the word you are looking for. (Whole what is complèt and sesame seed is sésame).

The bagel was delicious and I had to laugh at myself a lot, but it was one of those moments where you go “this is what it’s like when you don’t have a good grasp on English; the day-to-day activities in your life are really stressful because you can’t communicate simple things”.

The worst is when the people you’re attempting to communicate with don’t have any patience with you. Thankfully, the gentleman behind the counter was very patient and laughed with me, and not at me. I hope.

Now that I’m getting more comfortable with French (and can feel myself improving), hopefully I can also maintain this self-awareness. Just to be sure that I do, I’ve started Spanish lessons, or as I like to call it “brain gymnastics”!

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Canuck in London!

If someone had told me I would experience culture shock in a commonwealth country such as England I would have laughed at the thought of it. But lo and behold, I am well into my second month and I have learnt a new custom and term nearly everyday, in fact I have a notebook full of little quirky sayings and customs that I write in as I go along. Did you know “tea” is the casual word for supper or that the word “bird” is considered a derogatory term? Slang and dialect aside, the most meaningful lesson I have learnt whilst abroad has been that the way a person handles the transition into a new culture (however different or not) can reflect how they will handle most situations in life.
When I got off the plane at Manchester after a day of schlepping my luggage around, I was so exhausted all I wanted to do was find a restroom and wash my face to freshen up before my ride to campus arrived. I went to the sink and ran the water over my hands and noticed something strange. Two faucets. One for hot water and one for cold water. So there I stood faced with two options: scald my face with piping hot water, or splash it with liquid nitrogen (pardon the exaggeration). It’s one of those things that you have to experience to understand just how frustrating it is to jockey your hands from side to side cupping the water to make it a temperature safe for human skin. I arrived to my dorm room that same evening and noticed the washbasin in my room had the same logistical nightmare of a setup. I dumped the contents of my makeup bag on the counter, turned on the rickety ancient taps and folded my arms with dismay, deciding what to do with myself and laughing at how silly such a small difference could be. This concept continues to be a popular joke among my circle of friends who also shared this frustration. Being international students, we were all in the same boat and could easily relate to each others observations and stories of cultural disjunction.
Reading through my journal I was surprised to find I hadn’t written about all the breathtaking monumental landmarks I had seen in any of the major cities, even though standing in front of the Westminster Abbey had given me goose bumps the first time I saw it. It was interesting to find that my entries typically focused on the small underlying quirks of European life, such as double taps, outlet switches, lecture styles and socio-cultural traditions and practices.
Studying abroad has enriched my collegiate and personal life in so many ways. Most prominently, my sense of balance. Before, my academic life was about sleepless nights, lattés, and beating my 3.8. Now I can juggle academia, societies, sports, volunteering, work, travelling and a social life without having to be hooked up to a caffeine IV everyday. Above all it has made me a more aware, worldly and fulfilled person with a message. It is not enough to simply be tolerant of our cultural differences, but we must accept and embrace them. So every morning I plug the sink, turn on the faucets, let the water mix and remind myself that I am the one who is foreign and have been given the gift to adapt my behaviour and practice around someone else’s.

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Marley’s Blog Post #2

I have now been in Edinburgh, Scotland for just over a month and a half. Unfortunately, it’s flying by a little too fast for my liking but I recognize now that choosing to take a year abroad was the best possible decision I could have made for myself. Culturally, Scotland and the rest of the UK for that matter does not seem like a place that would be totally different than North America, and in some ways it’s not but in others it’s a totally different cultural experience. Yes, they speak English. But the accents in combination with all the different word names and slang can be pretty baffling (especially if they’re from Glasgow). I wish I could go into detail at present about my perspective on the Scottish and their cultural similarities and differences to Canadians but I’m still trying to wrap my head around it (topic for future blog posts I guess).
Also on the topic of culture though, a great thing about QMU specifically is that a large population of the student body is actually international students and there are many more internationals at the three other universities in the city. I went to a Halloween event last night that was specifically marketed towards internationals and I met so many people of different nationalities; German, French, American, Spanish, Chinese etc etc etc. This is an experience that I never would have had at home in Canada because I never would have thought to reach out to people of different nationalities, but currently my friend group consists of people from all over the world.
School is going well. I will admit I was at first a bit baffled by the different lecturing styles in my more analytical courses but I’m definitely getting the hang of things now. I am also in rehearsals now for my Performance Project class. I am working with five Scottish people, however we decided to go with a Canadian play, Problem Child by George F. Walker which we are adapting to appeal to a British audience and we will be performing it at the end of November for a final grade. Also, I have been hired by the university to join their team of Student Ambassadors who work for the Recruitment and International Liason Office. Basically, I’ll be giving Campus tours and going to various Open Days and other presentations and speaking engagements to give a student perspective on the university. This is great because I’ve done similar work for Brock’s Dramatic Arts Department, so I’m very comfortable with it.
In very exciting news I spent last week in LONDON! Going to London has been a dream of mine for years, so my American flatmate and I decided to take a trip down to see all the touristy sights that one must see on their first visit to London. I can’t say I recommend taking the bus from Edinburgh to London (the bus ride from hell, take a train instead) but London itself was incredible. Most memorable for me was going to the Globe Theatre as I spent so much time learning about it in first and second year stagecraft classes at Brock. In fact, I was so well taught by Brock about the Globe that I knew almost everything they told us on the tour. In addition to this I saw my first West End show, We Will Rock You, which was absolutely flawless.
I’ve seen quite a bit of theatre in a month and a half, and am very proud to say that I haven’t spent more than twenty pounds on any ticket. I’ve seen Phantom of the Opera, We Will Rock You and yesterday I saw the National UK tour of American Idiot the musical. I also saw a show called Haunting Julia, which was sort of like a horror movie onstage and thus had some really impressive special effects. Edinburgh is such a great place to see theatre, and I look forward to continuing to see shows all year.

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Oot and Aboot- An International Picnic in Lyon

Bonjour ! My name is Tessa and I’m in my fifth year of Concurrent Education for French Studies (Intermediate/Senior). I took an extra year so that I could do some French literature credits in France and am currently attending Ecole Normale Superieure de Lyon, in Lyon.

In early September, I had my first real experience representing Canada (explaining Canada to my British friends isn’t extremely difficult, after all).

I was invited to two separate picnics and got a little confused. I ended up at the one where I didn’t know anybody. I was put into the position of being the only North American in the circle where I found myself. And since I’m not American, no one had any real idea of where I come from. Apparently, in World Geography lessons, the only provinces they learn about are Québec and British Columbia. I was asked repeatedly if Ontario is near the West Coast and had to remind them of Toronto and Niagara Falls before they got the idea.

Really, this wasn’t even slightly annoying. I love Canada and I love talking about it. I especially love being able to set the record straight when there are misconceptions. I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked if it’s really cold in Canada this time of year. Almost no one realizes that the climate where I live, in Southern Ontario, and the climate here are virtually the same. Most Canadians live reasonably close to the U.S. border, and Niagara Falls is at about the same latitude as southern Spain. A very funny Italian, Marta, sarcastically tried to convince my German friend Stefan that Canada is actually part of Europe. It was good fun, but sometimes sarcasm gets lost in translation. He didn’t think we were too bright.

My challenge at this picnic was being asked to bring a “traditional” food. Traditional foods of Canada … maple syrup … tourtière … poutine … Nanaimo bars … nothing that would really work as picnic fare. Or that I could have scrounged up at the grocery store. (In France, AND in Australia, they don’t even know what cheese curds are. I know. I’m still reeling from the shock, too.) In Canada, each region has traditional dishes based on their cultural heritages and Canadian cuisine is more about where the ingredients are grown than which dish is prepared. Indigenous people ate what the land provided them, and that varied by region and climate. As Canada was colonized, the colonies learned that to survive, they also had to make do with what was available, but that they could use local ingredients to make their traditional dishes from the countries of their heritage. Former Prime Minister Joe Clark has been quoted as saying, “Canada has a cuisine of cuisines. Not a stew pot, but a smorgasbord.” If you ask me, Canadians should just be asked to host the picnic and bring the paper plates.

Canadian culture is also really hard to define. Someone at the picnic told me that all they knew of Canada were the jokes on How I Met Your Mother. She also asked if we really pronounced about “aboot”. At the 2010 Winter Olympics, the culture section played on Canadian stereotypes. Catherine O’Hara, for example, talked about our tendency to be too polite and apologetic. I think on a meta-level, the culture section was meant to demonstrate that a huge part of Canadian culture is to laugh, good-naturedly, at ourselves. We know we’re not a “big” country (in terms of population and political influence). We know that there is a lot to know about Canada, but that it isn’t always a priority for citizens of other countries. Personally, I find the How I Met Your Mother jokes about Canada hilarious. However, they’re maybe not the greatest source of information about Canadian culture. Instead of scoffing, I tried to look for the truth in the stereotype and to show that there are many different Canadian identities and that maybe some people do say aboot. I definitely say “eh” way more than I realize.

The more you discuss with people, the more you and they come to realize that language challenges faced in Canada, challenges concerning the identity of the country, etc, happen everywhere. An Italian friend, Samiha, was explaining to me that Italy had absorbed a city from Austria and the Austrian city revolted by refusing to speak Italian. That region became equally German and Italian and there was a choice of schools based on language. She explained that the region of South Tyrol in Italy has officially adopted German as a second language. As a Canadian, this sounds extremely familiar. It also sounded extremely familiar to my Flemish-speaking friend, Valérie, from Belgium. Her country is also bilingual between Flemish and French. Because Flemish is the minority language (in terms of its use outside of Belgium), it needs to be protected, the same way that the Québecois try to protect their language in Canada in the face of a Anglophone-dominated continent.

To explain Canadian culture as something distinct from the cultures of other countries, I would compare it to our “traditional” dish. Just like its cuisine, Canadian culture is the blend and the overlap of the Native cultures and the cultures that were brought here by immigrants: originally British and French, but also Scottish, Polish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Pakistani, Saudi Arabian, Congolese, South African, Dutch, German, and so on. I would say that Canadian culture is the culture of cultures. It is also a smorgasbord; being Canadian is not just about O Canada, the maple leaf and ice hockey. Those things bring Canadians together at the Olympics, but I think what sets us a part from other countries was our effort to create a culture of acceptance — a “mixed salad” of culture — rather than a melting pot before the world became so globalized.

Leaving home gives you a mirror to look back at your own cultural identity and to see what it really means to be Canadian. I’m excited to continue the learning process!

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Marley’s Blog Post #1

Hello! My name is Marley Kajan and I am a third year at Brock University in both the Dramatic Arts and the Music Department. My concentration in Dramatic Arts is Theatre Performance, while in Music my focus is on Voice. However, I decided to go on exchange for my third year and I am currently at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland.

As of right now I’ve been in Scotland for two and half weeks and I’ve finally started to settle in to living away from home and living in a different time zone. The weather here is never too extreme in terms of temperature (though it rains quite a bit), however it is colder then it was in Canada when I left, so I’ve been sick on and off for a couple weeks which as a theatre student is of course very annoying.

On the topic of being a theatre student this semester I am taking four classes and I am split between two programs of study. The first two classes are from the Acting for Stage and Screen program (a program run jointly through Queen Margaret University and Edinburgh Napier University) which is more like a conservatory acting program, while the other two are from the Drama and Performance program which is a little more theory based and analytical. Together they sort of form the type of experience that one would receive in Brock’s Dramatic Arts Performance Concentration (so it might be kind of cliché but Brock’s “both sides of the brain” slogan is very relevant in this situation).

Within Acting for Stage and Screen I am taking a movement class, which is similar to the scene study type course I did in my second year at Brock and I am also taking a voice class. The voice class is immensely fun, our current class assignment is a group number from the musical Avenue Q and we are also each individually responsible for performing a solo musical theatre song (from prior to 1960) as well as a Disney song. My songs are Johnny One Note (from the 1937 musical Babes in Arms) and Waiting for This Moment from Tarzan (the Musical). I’ve found this class to be so valuable because we are getting into the physiology of the voice and how to project it as well as the more fun performance aspects.

For the Drama and Performance programme I am taking a British Drama course, discussing British texts from 1945 onward. I am finding this class a bit difficult because there is so much politically that affected the playwriting of this time period and I am not very familiar with British politics, but I am hoping the more I research the more it will become clear. The second class from this program I am taking is Performance Project 3 which is basically where we formed several smaller groups (mine has six people) with other students who shared similar interests and we spend the entire semester adapting and creating a professional level performance. My group actually ended up choosing a Canadian play that I studied at Brock last year and performed scenes from, so though we are only in the early stages of development I am really excited to see how we can adapt it and make it relevant in a more Scottish context.

Aside from classes I’ve been enjoying the city of Edinburgh and since my last blog post I’ve never been to:

The Edinburgh Castle (where I saw the crown jewels)

The Royal Botanical Gardens

The Edinburgh Playhouse to see The Phantom of the Opera (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfU-UqVLiAE)

Holyrood Palace

The Royal Mile

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“Never say never”, right?

Looking back on less than a year ago, I would’ve never thought that I would be just getting out of class in France (yes, I am going to class!). The application process, as tedious as it may have been, was well worth it. I am sitting here in a city that is beautiful beyond words and I find myself getting lost in the scenery and quaint atmosphere of Normandy. I was worried about that “culture shock” that I was told so much about but it doesn’t seem to have hit me yet and I’ve been here for 3 weeks. I don’t know why that is but it may be because I am constantly surrounded by absolutely beautiful people who are not as different from us as some make the French out to be. Yes, they do things very differently but it’s not at all incomprehensible. Yeah, they like to take long breaks for lunch, but who wouldn’t want to do that? (Especially when you have a pastry shop at every turn of your head) Although it is very frustrating at times when you cannot do things when you would like to, you need to remember that you are in France and there is no rush to do most things. You have time to take a breath in the open-air market, eat a baguette and heck, why don’t you throw some wine in there too.

Putting aside all of the serious stuff (since it is very hard to be too serious for too long here), I have dreamed about studying in France for a countless number of years and I have witnesses of this! The fact that I am actually here puts me at a loss for words. I am able to walk 5 minutes from the front of the campus and I am at the front gates of a castle that overlooks the most stunning church that I have ever seen. Everywhere you turn, you can see a new castle or church or abbey. Definitely something you wouldn’t see in the GTA. It is, without a doubt, a sight for sore eyes. I have yet to become accustomed to all of this, and I don’t think that it will ever happen. Even after everyone is sick of seeing very similar pictures of the same building taken at only slightly different angles a hundred times over…I’m sorry, but they are still going to get posted and those photos will never do this city or country justice. There is still so much to see that I might go into sensory overload trying to take everything in during the short school year that I am here in Caen.

Do I miss home? Of course I do. I miss my family and my friends and my school but I have a new home for now and I am taking full advantage of what it has to offer my academics as well as my growth as a person. I have been pushed off of the plank into a foreign culture with only so much as a brief knowledge of the language and one suitcase of clothes. Although it is a challenge, this experience will always be well worth the effort that I have put into it.



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Liechtenstein? Really?

Liechtenstein. Liechtenstein has been a fixation of mine and that of my flat mates since we landed in Switzerland. It’s not the most popular travel destination, we knew that, but somewhere to the East of Switzerland there was (and still remains) a 25 km by 12 km country that we just had to see.

“Enough with the big countries” we said. “We’ll get to those eventually. What we really need to see is Liechtenstein!”

After this past weekend, I can officially say, “I’ve been to Liechtenstein.” And because I’ve been to Liechtenstein, I can tell you that there’s really not all that much to see there.

Besides the cool 12th century castle, which the royal family of Liechtenstein still calls home, Vaduz, the capital city, doesn’t have much to offer. Outside of its free stamp museum, an art gallery and a few kebab shops, the tiny country of Liechtenstein can easily be seen in a few hours.

With that being said, I shouldn’t play down the country too much. Like our tour book stated before we left, “Most people go to Liechtenstein simply to say they’ve been there.” After arriving in Vaduz by bus (Liechtenstein does not have rail travel), we trekked to the city’s tourism office to have our passports stamped. Three Swiss Francs later (3 CHF, the Swiss currency used in both Switzerland and, as it turns out, Liechtenstein), we were well equipped with proof of our visit.

With that in mind, Liechtenstein successfully delivered exactly what we were after. Everyone got a huge kick of telling his or her family and friends that they were in Liechtenstein (of all places). Not ones to easily fall into tourist traps, we turned out to be suckers for Liechtenstein memorabilia and much of our short visit was spent in the tourism office purchasing postcards, stamps and miniature cuckoo clocks. We even eyed a game of Liechtenstein Monopoly, but in the end, decided against it.

In any case, we were happy we had the chance to see the country. We even had the opportunity to take in a few Liechtenstein facts:

1) Liechtenstein is the largest exporter of false teeth (who knew, right?)
2) People who live in Liechtenstein are called “Liechtensteiners”
3) The country is run by a monarchy. Prince Alois and his family live in their family’s original 12 century castle atop a hill, which can be seen from anywhere in the city of Vaduz
4) Although Vaduz is the country’s capital with just over 5,000 inhabitants, the largest city in Liechtenstein is actually Schaan with 5,700 inhabitants
5) Liechtensteiners speak German and accept both the Swiss Franc as well as the Euro as currency

At the very least, should you ever venture to Liechtenstein, I can guarantee that you will never misspell the country name again.

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“Paris is always a good idea”

Hello again! Long time, no talk! You’ll have to excuse me for not writing, October was an eventful month to say the least. Just to get you up to speed, last month I hosted Canadian Thanksgiving at my flat here in Fribourg and I’m happy to say that it was a big success! We had it all: turkey, mashed potatoes, peas, stuffing, gravy and even homemade pumpkin pie (which is not an easy feat in Switzerland as pumpkins are not usually sold in grocery stores here). Needless to say, my guests were extremely happy to eat a big homemade meal as opposed to the regular stir-fries and frozen chicken nuggets that have become daily staples.

Since Thanksgiving, I’ve really started to feel at home here in Switzerland. It’s surprising how long it takes to fully settle in. By the end of the first month I felt comfortable enough in Fribourg, however looking back on that time, I can say now that I hadn’t fully established myself in my new surroundings. You can always tell you feel at home in a place when you travel outside of it and are happy to return ‘home.’ And recently, I’ve been doing just that. In mid-October, I spent a long weekend in Nuremberg, Germany visiting a family friend and just yesterday I arrived back from a five-day stint in Paris.

Having heard a lot about Paris before I went, I had built up some pretty high expectations of the city. But, just as everyone says, Paris is spectacular! I absolutely fell in love with the French capital and by day five, I wasn’t ready to leave. My friend Julia and I took in all the sights and then some walking through the different arrondissements.

I was happy to learn that it’s relatively easy for students to ‘experience’ all that Paris has to offer even if on a limited budget. Reasonably priced restaurants can be found all over the city and the quality of the food is always up to par. During our travels, I picked up a few tips that could be helpful to future Brock exchange students visiting Paris:

1)  Don’t splurge on hostels. If you’re there to see Paris, then you’ll really only be in your hostel at night for the sole purpose of sleeping. With this thought in mind, a hostel really doesn’t need any more than the basic comforts and amenities. Plus, you’ll save money on lodging that you can put towards other things.

2)  On the first Sunday of every month, many of the main Parisian attractions are free. This includes the Louvre, Versailles, Le Musée d’Orsay, etc. so if you have the flexibility of planning your trip the first week of the month, it could save you from some entrance fees. And I mean, who doesn’t like free stuff?

3)  My friend and I were walking past the National Opera of Paris and decided to pop in and check it out. While asking for the ticket price of a ballet that was being shown that evening, we were thrilled to learn that the Opera sells reduced visibility tickets for 9 Euro apiece! Knowing that, we finalized our evening plans for that night and were lucky enough to secure the last remaining tickets of Jean-Guillaume Bart’s La Source. It was a really cool experience and well worth the expense so if you’re ever there, check it out!

Essentially, our trip to Paris was one devoted to architecture, culture and food – I cannot forget the food. Each morning was not complete without a trip to the nearest bakery for a pain au chocolat or a croissant… or both. One sunny afternoon, we did what every tourist should and bought a warm baguette, three different kinds of cheese and salami and parked ourselves in a park beneath the Eiffel Tower. Needless to say, it wasn’t a shabby view or a shabby meal!

Now back in Fribourg, I’ve just drawn out a long to-do list of things I need to do for school. November is really picking up and it’s hard to believe that in a month’s time students will be leaving on Christmas holidays! My time in Paris was great, but the plan now is to get cracking on some final essays!

À bientôt,


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