As I am writing this, my third week of the semester here at the University of Lausanne is coming to a close. What this means is that the first real week of classes has just finished. At UNIL, there is a two week grace period to try out all the classes you’d like. Unlike at UR where you need to register the semester before and classes often fill up, at UNIL, you can go to any course or seminar you want for the first two weeks without signing up for it to decide if you will take it or not. It provides the opportunity for the professor to really go over what the course will be like, present the syllabus, and also present the grading method. There are several different ways that a student can be evaluated here, depending on the format of the course even. There are two different types of courses that students can take at UNIL, or at least in the faculty (school) of political science: courses, or seminars. Courses are generally lecture style with a large number of students, where the professor presents the information, people can ask questions, and there is minimal interaction in many cases. At the end of the course, students take some form of an exam. Like at Richmond, this can be a formal written exam, a written paper that is due on a certain date, or alternatively, an oral exam with the professor. Sometimes, there is no exam but students are just regularly evaluated throughout the semester. In courses, the entire final grade can be based on the exam result. This is something that is very intimidating for me, as I get nervous when a final exam at Richmond is worth thirty percent of my grade, never mind eighty percent or more! Alternatively, students can take seminar courses. Seminars are very similar to the classes at Richmond, where there’s a lot of discussion, group work, presentations, however the only difference is that there’s no final grade at the end. Students get evaluated essentially pass/fail, with an attestation if the student passes, or an “échec” if not.
Going back to the title of this blog post: suivre, meaning “to follow.” In French, one says “je vais suivre ce cours” which technically means I am going to follow this course, rather than how in English we would say “I am taking this course.” For my program, I decided to suivre (take) two courses and two seminars in the Political Science faculty, and two courses in the French as a Foreign Language faculty. Yes, this sounds like a lot since four or five courses is the normal load at Richmond, but typically students can take as many as seven courses here! My classes are all instructed in French. The only difference is that in the political science faculty, the classes are catered to native French speakers. This is definitely where I find the verb choice to be quite ironic. Rather than me saying to myself, “oh yeah I’m taking this course,” I really will start thinking, “oh I’m following this course! Wait, but am I really following what the professor is saying?” I don’t, however, regret for a second taking the courses in French. Because the French I have been learning at Richmond for the past two and a half years is very scholastic French, I can generally follow the professors quite well. They use the same very formal register of the language when instructing that my professors at Richmond use. However, they do speak a bit faster. Luckily as well, many of the terms that are used in a French sociology text for example are very similar to words in English, so I can pretty easily figure things out when doing assignments or just in general listening in class.
So what am I actually taking now that my two week trial period is done? A mix of sociology courses, one political science course, and two French as a foreign language classes. To highlight some of them, my political science class is called Swiss Politics, since I figured it would be a good idea to learn about the country I am studying in while I am here. I also am in a course called Sociology of Work, which I think is going to be absolutely fascinating to learn about all of the trends in history and what it really means to work. I am also really excited about my French Structuration and Production class, one of the French as a foreign language courses, because the professor really teaches it with the goal of helping us develop a more familiar, casual register of the language for our every day interactions. We are constantly telling stories in class of mistakes we may have made with the language in different situations, pointing out what we learned from those mistakes, listening to music in French to see just how different the casual language is compared to the scholarly French, and many other activities to develop a different level of understanding of French. I will say for sure it is going well, and it is definitely helping me to become much more comfortable in the different situations I face, which is after all the goal of the course! Well that’s all for now! As I have learned to say here, à la prochaine! (Until next time!)