A student from Williams College with a major in Psychology and French, Aanya Kapur ’20 has joined the Hamilton in France program for Spring 2019. Here, she answers a few questions about her experience in Paris.
It has been a month since you arrived in Paris. How is it going so far, generally?
It’s going very well, I’m very much enjoying being culturally immersed in my host family. I’m slowly getting used to classes, and the difference between classes in the US and classes in France. I made some good friends through the program, and I’ve made some French friends in class, so overall it’s going very well.
Has there been a transition period for you, to get used to life in France?
I would say that the first two weeks were very much positive because you’re getting used to everything, and you’re making friends, and everything’s new and exciting. And after that period, there’s a period when you really realize where you are, and that you’re far away from things that you’re familiar with. But now I think I’m in a stage where I’m starting to get used to my surroundings as everyday things, and everything is less shocking. So, there was an adjustment period, but now I feel pretty good.
Where do you live in Paris?
I live in the 8th arrondissement, which is a great location because there are lots of shops and restaurants, and it’s very close to the metro.
Can you describe your neighborhood?
It’s a pretty well-to-do area I think, and it’s mostly urban, but there are a couple of residential buildings. I live right near the Saint-Lazare train station, which has lots of metro lines attached to it. My family is very big, two parents and then six kids, one of the kids has two grand-kids, and they are very family-oriented, so they all come around for dinner.
What classes do you take here?
With Hamilton, I take two classes: French Theater, and Secularism in France. Both those classes are going really well. They are small classes, which is nice because that’s what I’m used to at Williams, and the professors are from the French universities. So, it’s lucky that we get a mix of both the professional teaching but also the smaller classes. And then I take one class at Paris 3 called Sociolinguistics, which has been also interesting, but I would say harder because I’m learning about Sociolinguistics in a language that I don’t speak fluently. I’m also taking it with two friends from the Hamilton program so it’s been nice to have their company. Then another thing about Sociolinguistics is that I get both a seminar and a lecture, so I get a picture of both types of teaching. And then the last class I take is at École de Psychologues Praticiens, which is a specialist Psychology school, where I’m taking a class called the Psychology of Work and Organisations.
What were your first impressions when you started your classes in Paris?
With Paris 3, the course is very different to what I am used to, but quite similar to what I was expecting. It’s a huge class; probably two hundred plus people. I think it’s the sort of true public French university experience, but people are a lot friendlier than I had thought. We were told during orientation that you always have to make the first step when making friends as an international student in a French university, and that is true, I always have to make the first step. But there have been many people that once I’ve approached them and said, like “hey I don’t understand everything that’s been said, can I have a look at your notes?” (in French, of course) they have been so happy to share the notes with me and add me on Facebook. Also it’s nice because we have the same professor for the lecture and the seminar so he has gotten to know the international students a little bit better, and he’ll sort of keep an extra eye for me when we’re doing group discussions to make sure that I’m having a chance to speak. So yeah it was sort of what I was expecting, and better.
Do you feel that your level of French has already improved?
Yes, for sure. Through the readings for class I would say less so, because they’re so complicated that I can’t look everything up. But in everyday life, definitely, like simple things, I now know how to say “frying pan” for example, and just words that people use every day but you don’t think to deliberately learn. I do think that my French has definitely improved over the past month, and I also think that I’m sort of reaching a plateau where I need to put in a lot more work to advance because I’ve got the everyday language down. But maybe it will take a couple weeks to get over that and then I will keep improving. But for sure, the cultural immersion has helped.
What do you like to do outside of classes?
So, the orientation was really helpful because the Hamilton in France staff helped us find different activities that would allow us to meet new French people and integrate ourselves in the culture. I tried salsa dancing with Paris 3, I’ll try to join some of their sporting activities, and I’d also like to do some charity work on the week-ends.
Can you tell us about the language exchange workshops in which you participate?
That’s been a very good experience. I was paired with someone who studies at Paris 1 to participate in bi-lingual conversations, and she’s very nice. She speaks English very well, so we have great conversations. We either do half the meeting in English and then the other half in French, or what we’ve been doing more recently while texting is that she’ll always write in English and I’ll always write in French because then we get the most amount of practice. But yeah, not only is it a great way to practice the language, but she’s also my age so I’m sure we’ll be hanging out loads, and I’ll meet some of her friends, and she’ll meet some of mine.
Do you have any goals for the semester?
I think improving my French is an obvious one, but I want to take it to the point where I can work in France at a professional level, because right now I think my French is enough to get me by day to day but not enough to be employed by a French company, so that. And then, in terms of personal goals, I’d like to join to some of the salsa dancers who go on the side of the Seine when it gets warmer. And I’d also really like to visit other areas in France, so that I can get to know the countryside as well as the city.
Finally, do you have a favorite French word?
I really like the word “rassasié” (“je suis rassasié” means “I’m full”, as in no longer hungry) because at the beginning of the trip I kept on saying “je suis plein” [“plein” means “full”, but not in this context], which doesn’t really mean anything, and then I learnt after a couple of times that it was “rassasié”, and now I use that a lot, so that would be my favorite word.