May 16th, 2007

long beard

Ste-Anne, part 1 (Sunday, May 13 - arrival)

(J’ai compose document ici dans Dimanche, Mai 13)

Okay, here I am in my room at Sainte-Anne! It’s way too premature for me to attempt blogging in French, and we’re permitted to continue to communicate in English until tomorrow evening, so here goes.

My residence is for older students, which means that everyone is a room singly (and some of the girls are singly in a double room!) and that there’s no one here under 24. I think this will do wonders four our collective sanity over the coming month.

Someone’s got a Linksys access point going here, but it’s got security enabled. So much for that idea. =) It’s rumoured we can get internet service in our rooms, but the rumoured price was $100. I should be more focussed on studying French or socializing anyway, so it sounds like a poor way to spend money. At least I can type blog entries first instead of handwrite, which puts me one better than how things were in Ukraine.

My room is a single, and it’s a hole in the wall, to put it charitably. However, it’s my hole in the wall, and I’m pleased with it. A visit to the cafeteria building earlier this evening revealed that meals are decent, Aramark-free, and “all-you-care-to-eat” (our meal cards are our id cards). On the up side, we have a generous and comfortable common area; on the down side, our bathrooms are shared (but seemingly only at a 2:1 ratio, while showers are 4:1).

My dormmates are out at the bar for the most part, and I suppose I should be with them, but I really need to brush up on some basics before I take the written and oral placement tests tomorrow.

Everyone here has been really friendly so far. My dormmates are all pretty interesting folks, and it should be fun getting to know them. It’s amazing – they’re from all over the country! (I guess that’s the point of a program like this.) Ironically, I feel pretty far removed from my home as well, although I traveled fewer miles than almost anyone else. This is a precious campus, a well-serviced Francophone university in the middle of a tiny Acadian enclave.

It looks like they’re going to be fairly strict about French here, but less so about other things – as long as we go to our classes, we’ll be more than okay. We’re allowed alcohol in the dorms, but not in glass containers (they’re concerned about breakage).

There’s someone else in this dorm who has about the same level of French as I do (that is to say, next to none) – everyone else has at least taken it through Grade 12 and some are French Immersion graduates. It’s a bit cruel of me to think so, but I’m glad I won’t be the only one relying extensively on charades. =)

It’s very quiet and lonely in here now. Perhaps I should have gone to the bar! I was really nervous when I first arrived, and I’m still hesitant to venture out to the rest of campus. Tell me what, I’ll pop out around 11:30 (it’s 10:50pm now) and see who’s out and about.

A bientôt!

Votre ami,
~ William
long beard

Ste-Anne, part 2 (Monday, May 14 - placement tests)

14 Mai, 2007

What this place is doing to my expectations, you have no idea. Nevertheless, I remain optimistic. Last night and this morning I was really freaking out, and I was not exactly looking forward to the placement tests. It was with a keen sense of discomfort that I discovered how far ahead of me most people are. It gets really embarrassing when you’re listening to two dormmates speak in English like this:

“So what do you do to conjugate and subjugate that present past imperfective [French word hitherto unbeknownst to me] in conversation? Are they going to be strict about that?”
“Well, I just usually use the transitory perfective, but sometimes in class the professors would be really strict about that and say that you must use [another French word meaning about as much to me as Paris Hilton to an extraterrestrial].”

And at that point you try not to notice that one girl’s French-English dictionary is a lot newer and shinier than yours, which you grabbed off your bedroom shelf at the last possible moment before leaving, being careful to extract it cleanly from the surrounding cobwebs.

It’s fair to say that I wasn’t totally prepared for an experience like this. I didn’t think the living situation would be a big deal, but I find the huge crowds in the cafeteria to be incredibly awkward – and this is while we’re still speaking English! One reason I never ate much at the Dockside at Saint Mary’s is because I always looked like a noob, and I tended to stand in the middle of the place looking forlornly at other students and wishing I understood things as well as they did. And then you wonder if they wonder if you’re just there to stare at them, and ugh ugh ugh!

Thank God I’m living with other 25-year-olds, though. They’ve been really great so far, and I think if I continue to think carefully and pay attention, I’ll be okay.

There’s a growing consensus afoot that we’ll be taking our showers in the evenings instead of the mornings. I was up and in the shower at 6:45 to avoid the rush, but it wasn’t enough – reportedly, at 6:30 there was still hot water and some water pressure – for me, there was a little bit to begin with, and by the end of things I was cupping my hands underneath the tub faucet (there wasn’t enough pressure for anything to come out of the showerhead), and throwing little splashes over me in an attempt to rinse off the soap. We’re wondering what the heck students do here in the fall and winter.

Anyway, the tests today were a humbling experience. The written test was the worst, because we had a whole hour to do it, and it took me about that long to figure out how to narrate a picture story about a man who sinks his ship and is rescued by a woman walking along the beach when the only relevant words you know are “young woman,” “water,” “sea,” “beach,” “boat,” “help,” and “in.”

The oral test was slightly more encouraging, as I felt I understood as much as 15% of it. They had a fairly sophisticated language lab set up, with a recording, a headset with a microphone, and a keypad. I felt like I was participating in some kind of experiment. But where’s my informed consent form?

But even many of the French immersion grads aren’t completely sure which way is up (especially in conversation), and we’re telling ourselves that we wouldn’t be here if we knew everything already.

I’m not too worried about what workshop I’ll get, although the video workshop requires you to be at the level of “Intermédiaire 2,” – they say they can be flexible about it since I have the technical skills, but it’ll be hard to make a case if I’m two levels back (Débutant 2) instead of just one (Intermédiaire 1, which would be a huge confidence boost to get, but let’s not start dreaming just yet!). Heck, I could even be Débutant 1! I know I did better than a lot of people who just looked at the written test, stayed for maybe five minutes, and handed it in mostly blank; but the question is: how much better?

If I get Débutant 1, I have no choice in the matter: my “workshop” will be conversation. If that happens to me, I won’t complain – I will never worry about having made a poor choice of workshop (it’s a big commitment – it’s what you’ll be doing every weekday afternoon for over a month!), and I certainly need the practise anyway. If I make it to Débutant 2, I can choose most of the basic workshops – art, scrapbooking, tree planting, outdoor fitness training, “mega social dancing” (what lovely Frenglish!) and even Cape Breton (Acadian) dancing! There are probably a few more that I’m forgetting.

I’m hearing lots of screams from my open window. Right now we’re sharing the campus with a large group of Grade 7 students who will be going into late-start French Immersion. I saw them playing soccer-baseball last night.

The plan for tonight is to meet in our common room at 6:30, when Alaa (our animateur, which is like an RA except that the animateurs I’ve met so far aren’t lazy sods), will go over all the rules and regulations in English, after which we will join the whole field and meet to sign our contracts (the ones that say, among other things, that we will only speak French). After that, we’ll have a wine-and-cheese (pur fromage, just like my French!) and after that I’ll go to bed crying I’ll put on a brave face. I’ll think about the even greater time I’ll have tomorrow!
long beard

Ste-Anne, part 3 (May 14, continued - internet limitations)

May 14, continued:

Since I essentially live on the internet, some information from Crystal, a third-time participant, about what I will and will not be allowed to do comes in a most timely fashion. I’d rather get over my indignation among friends before I hear about what will ruffle my feathers from some authority.

Essentially, as far as the internet in English goes, I’m allowed to use e-mail, and that’s it.

Obviously, I don’t need Facebook or LiveJournal to socialize here. Nevertheless, being barred from the former and severely curtailed on the latter (I must change the user interface to French, then figure out how to post entries by e-mail (will they let me use the French interface even though I’m posting in English?), and that’s it), is a bit of a pain and necessitates my doing some additional legwork. I’m not even going to sign onto Facebook – people will get the message by the lack of activity, and these entries will continue to be imported for people to read.

So what does all this mean to you? Well, it means the best way to get in touch with me is by e-mail; if you’ve sent me a Facebook message, I can’t easily reply since I’m not permitted to access Facebook. If you comment on my LiveJournal, I can reply through my e-mail, but that has a few annoying limitations. Naturally, I can’t read my Friends page. Sorry, guys!

I see the reasons for all these rules; speaking only for myself, I certainly have a tendency to spend hours on end aimlessly surfing without any reference to the outside world, and it’s hardly conducive to learning French (or Ukrainian, for that matter! I probably spent wayyy too much energy on my blog then).

Well, we have our meeting in 10 minutes; time to get ready for the French onslaught! Aieeeeeeee; someone rescue me, please! I’m looking forward to classroom activities in French, but I’m dreading workshops and socializing. It’s too unstructured, and I’m uncomfortable in those environments by default. I think I’ll need to pretend I’m in a foreign country if I want this to work. And, in a way, I am.
long beard

Ste-Anne, part 4 (Tuesday, May 15 - test results; first night of speaking French)

Compose sur le matin dans Mai 15

I guess this should wait, but it can’t. I’d better hurry; class is in 45 minutes!

I got Débutant 1 after all. It was a bit of a surprise to me, but after living for one evening in French, I see why. Many people I’ve talked to, both before and after the contract-signing, say I should be Débutant 2. However, I think what’s going on is that my cross-cultural communication skills and my knack for remembering odd little trivia-like bits of the language make me appear more capable than I am. The tests were meant to test my general comprehension, and in that I could not lie. If I were just allowed to show off, I could have been at a higher level, but once there I wouldn’t really be able to understand anything! So I think I’m at the right level.

What’s more, they’ve arranged the four Débutant 1 classes according to test score. I’m in the highest one, which probably means we won’t start with “zero, un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six, sept, huit, neuf, dix…” But the Débutant 1 classes (I told a few people last night, “Débutant 1 ces’t numero 1!” as a joke) have one thing in common: they’re for people who don’t really speak French, and the classes and activities will be conducted accordingly. So being in the best Débutant 1 class is sort of like… well, as John Flansburgh put it when asked about They Might Be Giants being the number one independent rock band in the United States, “That’s sort of like being the world’s tallest midget.”

Another good part about being in Débutant 1 is the variety of activities. We won’t be locked into any one thing for the entire session, and we’ll get to travel the countryside a bit and meet lots of different people. Just before we signed the contract, the staff members assigned to us explained what we’d be doing in English, and it was cause for excitement on our part.

Further, the different levels of proficiency have staggered starting times, and since I’m the only one on my floor starting at the earliest – 8:30am – I won’t have a problem getting a shower in the morning, as I’ve just done; and this time, the water worked fine.

I’ve got to hurry now; it’s 7:55 and I need to shave and eat before class. Um, yes, we had a wine and cheese last night. It was a great success. I was chatting up a storm, especially if you consider my limited practical vocabulary (Latinate mouthfuls are no problem, as they’re almost exactly the same in both languages – thank you, William the Conqueror!), and the wine was an excellent aide d’memoire. I met some new people and had some great chats with my dormmates. I can’t even begin to describe how much fun it was; it was like setting foot on another planet (“Maintenant, nous vivons sur le monde Français!”) and so far I’m enjoying the company of the citizens. The staff have been extraordinarily nice too, although I’m wondering if I might be attracting a little too much attention for my own good.

8:01, gtg!

Votre ami,
~ William
long beard

Ste-Anne, part 5 (May 15 continued - first day of classes)

Heh. Going to the language lab today was a humbling experience. It’s there I discovered that the way I’d been taught to pronounce many French sounds was all wrong! The woman in charge of the lab is a phonetics professor.

Hmm… sitting down just to type this kind of took the wind out of my sails. I’ll publish what I have so far, and see how it goes from there. I’m going to pick up a conjugation book today; if I hurry, I might be able to get it before my conversation workshop.

I must mention the information session. It was the funniest thing ever. They keep it at a level where we can get the jokes, and it makes the experience go a lot more smoothly. In general, they do an excellent job here of making French fun.

Time to go get my photo ID. That’ll be a nice souvenir!
long beard

Ste-Anne, part 6 (neighbour arrives, silly olympics, first attempt to post in French)

(Mardi, Mai 15)

Moi voisin arriva finalement. Il est très « cool » homme, et il vient cela Ille du Cap Breton. Il parlait avec moi quand il marcherait par. Je n’est veux pas écris en Anglais ce soir, parce que ferais moi ressentir chagrin.

Avant maintenant, nous discutâmes le « Olympique Comique. » Normalement, Je déteste non-sens et absurdité comme ça. Mais ce soir, je fus bon. Nous avons résidence fait un équipe. Nous fîmes honorablement, et nous gagnâmes un premier jeu!

C’est un difficile et tardif pour moi. Je vais me coucher. A bientôt! Bon nuit!

Votre ami,
~ William