The Whole “Studying” Thing

So you know how approximately half of “studying abroad” includes the word “studying” right? Yes, family and friends, I am in a different country and it’s not a vacation. When you study abroad, you do actually have to learn things, maybe even attend class (read: go to class).

I love school. I always have loved school, and some of my favorite moments have been in the classroom with amazing professors studying something that I found absolutely riveting. Therefore, I was so excited for September 8 to arrive in France, because that’s when I started my classes. I imagined sitting in a European classroom (whatever that means) speaking eloquent French with other students from exotic locales, sharing our insights into historical events and current affairs.

Flash forward into reality, and I am sitting in a European classroom (which has a striking similarity to my American ones), speaking elementary French with other students from around the world, sharing my valiant attempt at completing my grammar exercises. Hardly the dream that I had built up in my head.

While I am learning a lot about the French language in my classes, and I have met some  really smart and interesting people, it is certainly not the picture I had painted in my head. Most of my classes are about learning the French language and learning about France, which means grammar, phonetics, communication (oral and written), geography, and literature. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have different types of classes too, as I get to take a gastronomy class where my “homework” was to find and eat three different types of pastries. Needless to say, I finished that assignment and passed with flying colors.

There are a lot of differences between school in the United States, and school around the world. Some of these differences I have found to be overwhelming and frustrating, while some of these differences seem to make a lot of sense. After the first three weeks, I have compiled a list of the things that I have found to be different about school in France.

The statue on the main quad of the campus. It's a phoenix, as the university and the city of Caen have undergone several reincarnations over the last several hundred years.
The statue on the main quad of the campus. It’s a phoenix, as the university and the city of Caen have undergone several reincarnations over the last several hundred years.

1. Time is not a definitive entity. 

I’m the type of person that thinks that if you don’t show up 15 minutes early… you’re late. So when I thought I was going to be late for my 8:30 am literature class, I was panicking. When I arrived exactly at 8:31, the door to the classroom wasn’t even open yet. Most of my professors may roll into class 10 to 15 minutes later than the time printed on our schedules, and sometimes they let us out early.

I also tend to rely heavily on my syllabi throughout my quarter at DU, but when I tried to ask one of my professors for a syllabus, she just kind of laughed and asked me what it was. The closest thing to a syllabus that I have received in Caen is the dates for my exams… written on the whiteboard.

2. University is not “school,” nor is it “college.” 

In French, “l’école” translates to school, but is used to refer to elementary school. “College” is middle school, and “lycée” is high school. While in the US, I use the words “school” and “college” interchangeably to refer to my studies at the university, but whenever I say “l’école” or “college” to my host parents, they give me a quizzical look and clarify that I mean “université” or university.

3. Backpacks are for tourists.

Most of the students at the university use tote bags or messenger bags for class. For the most part, only men or international students use backpacks. This isn’t just for style (although according to one of my French friends… backpacks are not very stylish) it’s actually practical. Women typically use tote bags that have zippers on them because pickpockets target those who have open bags or backpacks, especially on the crowded public transportation, and it’s easier to hold a totebag in your lap on the tram or hold it close to your body.

4. I’m wrong. A lot.

I spend all day thinking, reading, writing, and speaking in French. All of my classes are in French, and all of my interactions with my host family are in French. It’s only natural that when I’m spending approximately 90% of my day doing everything in a different language that I say something wrong a few times. In my phonetics class, my professor has taken to calling the little things I have trouble with “les peculiarités de Zoé.” While at first this bothered me, and I would actively stop myself from answering questions in class out of fear of being wrong, I’ve realized that it’s actually okay and helpful, so now I can really work on those things I struggle with.

5. Who needs to be hydrated? 

I cannot find a reusable water bottle for the life of me. I have been to basically every grocery store, sporting goods store, and a few random home goods stores, and I cannot find a reusable water bottle. I have yet to find a definitive answer as to why that is… but for the most part I think it just because you don’t really eat or drink anything unless you are at a meal. Students don’t eat in class, and you only drink water in class, or coffee in the morning. We get an hour for lunch every day, and it is actually used for lunch. In the US, when I have lunch with my friends we consider it a date, but in France eating lunch with my friends is just something that we do, and it’s a sacred time. You will not find people finishing homework at the lunch table when they are with their friends and a baguette sandwich.

6. I’ve learned the most outside the classroom.

I have loved learning the language in class, and I have met some seriously awesome people from all over the world. However, I feel like a lot of the things I’ve learned about life and living in a different country haven’t been from my grammar class or trying to figure out the different ways to pronounce the letter “e.” I’ve learned about WWII from visiting museums and going to the actual beaches where the Invasion of Normandy actually happened. I’ve learned about William the Conquerer from walking through the castle that’s older than the United States of America (I just can’t get over that) and I’ve learned about different types of French cuisine from talking to vendors at the market. Instead of reading about all of these things in books, I am living them. To me, that is the most amazing difference, as well as the most overwhelming difference, of them all.

Adjusting to college life in a different country has been an adventure in its own right. I have definitely had my moments of sheer panic, where I didn’t understand anything that was being explained to me, and moments of extreme frustration, where it didn’t seem like anything was going to come together for me, but also moments of excitement, when I finally understood a concept that I had been struggling with (I literally gave myself a high-five in my grammar class the other day). However, I have adjusted and have found that learning in French, while more challenging, is also extremely rewarding.

– Zoe, DUSA Blogger

Kiswaspanglish?

Hamjambo!

Having been living in Zanzibar for over a month now, I’m starting to really use the language and learn a lot more about the Muslim culture here.  But I still constantly screw up with Kiswahili, hence the title of this post.  I guess I’m sort of tri-lingual now with English, Spanish, and Kiswhaili, so it would make sense that I get the three confused sometimes.  It’s been difficult learning the language, especially since I haven’t been truly introduced to a new language since I was about seven years old.

Capture7

Luckily I don’t need the language to see the fish!

Probably the most fun we’ve had with Kiswahili are the mistakes we’ve made.  In my Kiswahili oral exam, I spoke a full sentence of Spanish to my mwalimu (teacher) before I realized I wasn’t in either English or Kiswahili.  I gasped, covered my mouth, and apologized over and over again.  My mwalimu thought it was absolutely hilarious, and I still passed, so that’s a good thing!  I’ve made many other not-so-great mistakes though, and so have the rest of the wanafunzi.  See below:

Trying to say: I’ve had a good day (responding to a greeting)
Actually said: Banana

Trying to say: I’m drinking coffee
Actually said: I’m taking a poop

Trying to say: Brush your teeth before you go to bed
Actually said: Brush your teeth before sex

Friend trying to say: Hold him back
Friend actually said: Grab his butt

Friend understood: My husband is doing laundry
What was actually said: My husband is dead

Whoops!

I love the strong emphasis on language learning with my program, it really allows so much more to open up to you versus just relying on someone else to speak English, which is completely possible in Stone Town, but I feel so much like a tourist that I want to use Kiswahili whenever I can.  People tend to really open up to you when they see that you’re really trying to learn the language.  Combine that with dressing appropriately (long skirt or pants, loose-fitting, shoulders covered), and conversations will carry on until the sun sets.  That’s definitely a defining part of Zanzibari culture, always taking the time to greet people.  This is what is meant by “pole pole” culture (pronounced pol-ay.  In Kiswahili, all letters are pronounced).  Learning more about culture leads to religion, which has huge influences on the daily lives of the Zanzibaris.  Muslim culture is not as well known in America, so I thought I’d break a bit of it down.

Clothing: 

One of the first cultural differences I noticed getting off the plane in Zanzibar was all the headscarves that women wear.  The only time I saw someone’s hair in public was if she was white (aka not Zanzibari).  Women are generally covered from neckline to ankles in loose-fitting clothing with a headscarf to top it all off.  Depending on how religious the woman is, she will either just wear her headscarf when she leaves the house or she will add a baibui to it, which is the face covering with a slit for her eyes (just don’t call it a buibui, that’s a spider, and side note: the spiders in Zanzibar are MASSIVE OH MY GOD).

When women leave the house, many wear a black overcoat, so walking around outside, you wouldn’t think that these women have much style or care too much about what they wear.  But once you’re inside a home or office, everything changes.  The baibui comes off, the overcoat comes off, and the most beautiful, colorful, fun fabrics are revealed.  Women have such an amazing choice of fabric in Zanzibar – I recently had my first experience at the market which if I were to describe it in one word, that word would be “balaa”.  Go look that one up.  But that’s a story for another day.

Anyway, I love the fabric choices women can have here – and women are very proud of their clothes (I mean, I would be too).  They’re also very loose-fitting and flowy, one part because women aren’t supposed to show the shape of their bodies, and one part because it’s too effing hot in Africa to wear tight clothes.  Your body is only for your husband, and he’s the only one who needs to see it.  And by covering most of your body, you also protect yourself from the harsh African sun.  Some of the wanafunzi (students) have taken to wearing them in public, and we’ve gotten comments on how beautiful we look, another indicator of how much headscarves are respected here.  And I kind of like the look on me too…

IMG_1609

Prayer: 

I consider myself lucky that I’m not studying abroad in Saudi Arabia, where the call to prayer is so loud it wakes you up at 5:30 am every day to make sure you don’t miss your morning prayers.  In Stone Town, I usually hear the call to prayer while I’m awake, but it’s not so loud that it would disturb any non-Muslim.  My new favorite study spot is this rooftop bar that overlooks the ocean, and the call to prayer is a bit louder there since the tower is about 200 feet away from the bar.  But the sunset over the ocean is totally worth it.

IMG_1606

Yup.  I win for best study spot, sorry Colorado

Hajj:

Last week I was able to see the beginning of a big part of Islam – making the hajj.  The hajj is something that every Muslim must do if he or she is financially and physically able, and that is to make a pilgrimage to Mecca.  The trip is full of religious understanding  and Muslims are considered very pure when they return.  Our group of wanafunzi visited a director of our program who left for hajj a few days later.  She invited us all to her home and we presented her with a new headscarf she can wear on her journey.  While excited, she knows that there is a small chance she will never come back from hajj.  Every year, with the massive crowds at Mecca, people, especially smaller people, are trampled to death, and it is recommended that before making hajj you get your affairs in order just in case something were to happen.  When she told me this, I thought about how morbid it was and why anyone would want to risk a terrible death in the name of Islam.  Then I caught myself.  This same kind of thing happens at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican when a new pope is elected.  This same thing happens every year at Walmart during Black Friday, a “holiday” that celebrates the accumulation of material goods.  I later was very upset with myself for mentally criticizing someone’s way of life before thinking about how my culture views similar things.

Food:

The only part of Islam I’m not the biggest fan of is the restriction on eating or drinking things that are considered “dirty”.  This includes consuming alcohol or drugs as well as consuming pork.  And with the population of Zanzibar being more than 99% Muslim, pork is a rarity on the island.  So yes, I sincerely miss pulled pork, pork in the crockpot, pork on the grill, and I definitely miss bacon.

Also, y’all seemed to like my dolphin video, so here’s another video of our group of wanafunzi painting the side wall of one of our accommodations in Mangapwani, Zanzibar.  Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bq0BbxG89gA

Asante sana kwa kusoma!

(Thanks for reading!)

Kim, DUSA Blogger