On a bright Sunday afternoon, I punched in the code to enter through the blue doors at 56 rue de Passy, and quietly pushed open the gate separating the main NYU in France building from the rest of the empty courtyard. The mission was simple – to snap up some shots of the campus without people thinking that I was just getting around to writing just another “goodbye and I had fun at study abroad” post, because that certainly isn’t the intent of this entry.
I’ve spent a total of five semesters studying abroad at this campus – fall 2008, spring 2009, summer 2009, fall 2010, and spring 2011 – and in that time, I’ve watched the program not only develop to meet the number of non-French majors wanting to participate in the study abroad program (at NYU in France), but also encountered some of the the most passionate and down-to-earth professors and staff.
Notably, in a previous entry, I talked briefly about the campus (mostly talking about the general atmosphere), while highlighting the positive qualities I saw in studying abroad during a student’s first year of university, but I don’t feel as though I’ve treated well enough the topic of the program itself.
Apart from my liberal studies and Steinhardt requirements, I haven’t taken any English-taught courses at the campus. With that said, though, there have been several opportunities during my time here in which I’ve been able to listen in on Christina Von Koehler’s brilliance on the arts and history, whether it be during our freshman “orientation” (I put this in quotations since we didn’t have a traditional or “real” orientation), overnight trips, or at the gardens of Versailles. While recanting facts isn’t a particular accomplishment or talent to commend, it is her manner of capturing the audience with enthusiasm that certainly warrants the recognition. And if my words alone don’t suffice as proof, I do believe that the Facebook group titled, “Thanks to Christina von Koehler I am an exponentially better human being,” certainly does. After all, the description reads:
Let’s be honest, if you have ever met Christina von Koehler, you are are a better person for the experience. This applies if you have:
1. Taken her classes
2. Been on a tour/field trip
3. Gone to an opera or ballet
4. Seen a presentation (which most likely included Audrey Hepburn or Bugs Bunny)
Moving on, the French counterpart to Christina Von Koehler’s class “Paris through its museums and monuments” class is taught by Catherine Clot, who is as equally great. Meeting five times a week during the hot Parisian summer is a difficult feat, especially when you have to keep students interested during lectures in the overly warm salle 6, and at museums and in Paris’ various neighbourhoods. Like mentioned about Christina Von Koehler, enthusiasm and passion is key, which is what Catherine Clot possesses, emphatically announcing key points and sharing her knowledge on many well-known and some lesser known artworks. That kind of passion sticks to you; it’s two years later and I can walk into the museums and quartiers we visited, and recite the important facts with the same enthusiasm as my professor years before. That and I find myself wandering into new museums when I notice an exhibit relating to something that I had learned about (e.g. Courbet at the MNAC in Barcelona). Not to mention, she is one incredibly compassionate professor; understanding that my French was incredibly far from being perfect, and that nerves can get to me quite easily (especially in a foreign language), I was given some second chances when it came to the final project – both for essay and presentation – so as to improve and better convey what I knew on my exposé topic, and not embarrassingly fail.
When I came back for my junior year, I loaded up my schedule with the the French major course requirements, and it is perhaps only through that route was I able to meet some of the most terrific professors on the campus. I use the superlative so as to express the fact that these are the ones who not only are incredibly knowledgeable about their fields, like Catherine Clot and Christina Von Koehler, but also push you to try and succeed in the French language (the other two don’t concentrate on that so much, more so the communication of their passion for the arts and history).
If you take a literature course, you’ll probably wind up with Philippe Boyer as your professor. Although he may talk awfully quick at times, and it may take several classes to get used to his mannerism of talking, the man definitely knows his French literature. When dissecting the assigned novel for the week, he picks out all of the small nuances that you may not have noticed and strings them together so easily so as to illustrate the author’s genius that you may wonder as to how you couldn’t have picked up on it. And while literature analysis is important, Philippe Boyer certainly doesn’t forget the importance of context, and properly situates each work, so you end up walking away having read some great works, as well as having a fair idea of French history.
It was through Philippe Boyer, though, that I met Patrick Guédon. While he’s been at the school for ten years, I only had the opportunity to really get to know him this year. You see, I was advised to see Patrick for my French writing after Philippe Boyer noted that he couldn’t understand anything I’ve written and after Christelle Taraud scrawled a B- on my first paper for her. So with that said, I don’t think any professor has actually tried that hard to help me improve myself – he spent time with me during tutorat hours at least once or twice a week to correct my work, which in itself was a feat what with my convoluted thought process. To add, there were the moments in which Patrick tried to inspire some spark in me to absorb more of the French culture and language. Recalling an anecdote, with Patrick’s telling me to talk more with French people, I interpreted it as the following: while my friends left for spring break in the first week, I decided to head onto OkCupid (online dating) and set up three dates during the week with native French speakers so as to fulfill this speaking-more-French obligation. And no, nothing went anywhere with these dates.
And if you want to add the two cents of the French department, in talking with Henriette Goldwyn, she explicitly stated that the tutorat was certainly not like that at the Washington Square campus, the tutorat was merely for homework help from the graduate students, not writing improvement, and that Patrick was merely doing me a favour. Somehow that only seems to reinforce what I have to say in the following paragraphs.
On another note, admittedly Christelle Taraud is a tough professor, but a lot of the time, those are perhaps the best people from whom to learn. I took her course (on feminism) for another second semester simply because I wanted to prove myself, not particularly because I was interested in the topic – that I was better than the work that I had produced in the first semester (on French-African relations). It is through the returned assignments that greatly aided my development in my French language skills. Each text commentary is marked up with grammatical changes, as well as noted with needs for clarification or contextualization. Taking the time to do so for each student, admittedly, easily consumes a whole weekend, so it is really to our own benefit that she does this. And for the record, my writing has definitely gotten better – at least some of what I write, as opposed to none, is comprehensible
With all of that said about the professors mentioned above, you can probably see why I enjoyed the academic program here so much. It is an incredibly nurturing environment, in terms of language and the arts. To be honest, I was never meant to be a French major, and probably still not (which makes some laugh when I say I am writing an honours thesis for the department) even after taking all of these courses here, but I do like learning. I enjoy accumulating cultural knowledge and learning in a very conducive environment, such as this one, which is perhaps one of the many reasons why I had stayed the whole year. Pretty much everyone here is approachable and available – something that you may not be able to find at your regular CAS department.
It’s rather difficult to qualify my perceptions of the administrative staff since my interaction is so much more limited with them than with my (former) professors. With that said, I will gladly dispute this past semester’s reviews of the student life office, which are for the large part, negative (don’t ask how I know). I’ve seen the staff changes in the student life office over the past two years – much of the people you see now upstairs, such as Raissa Lahcine, Morwena L’Henoret, and Melanie Satterwhite used to work in the office before moving onto more administrative things, or simply into their own offices. Those three, along with Bryan Pirolli, did a great job in planning activities and trips when I was a freshman, so I was just as excited when I came back for my junior year to see what the new staff, Laura Tallent, Ivy Vo, and Heather Simon, were capable of. I think, for those three having been students through the program, they have a better understanding of what it is we want in terms of trips, whether it be more free time to explore the city, or excursions that interest us (such as the beer factories in Strasbourg and Lille).
In terms of day-to-day activities at the office, they’ve always been helpful and quick to respond by email, even when busy or making deadlines for OFII forms or wrestling with Albert. I’m not entirely sure what the negative reviews could have to complain about, aside from the fact that those who do work in the office are human and have lives outside of the university (though that may be hard to believe with some of them staying past 20h00, not counting guest speaker nights). Albeit, they may not know everything visa- or France-related, but no one does, especially when one is coming fresh into the position. But hey, they try their best with a smile, what more could you ask for?
There are probably some negative things that I could say about the program and campus, but there is no real point in doing so, as they are only slightly irksome (that and I did mention it a while back). When you spend two years on such a small campus, it is so much better to focus on the positive aspects of it, which include a great administrative staff and faculty, along with a nurturing academic program. After all, had it been that negative an experience, why would I have bothered with more than a year (or for others, a semester)?