Friday, September 28, 2012

"Major Policy Address"

Now that I'm back in the United States (I actually have been all summer) and back at school, I'm going to keep this blog going, posting as interesting things happen.

Something interesting happened when I got this email on Wednesday:

Famous speakers parade in and out of Princeton. Before I was even a full student, I saw Ban Ki Moon speak at Princeton Preview, and during my freshman fall Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke to a packed house. But rarely does an email specify a "major policy address," as most of these politicians are practiced in the art of talking for an hour without saying anything.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

From the US - linkages

I'm in the U.S. for the summer, in Connecticut, and going crazy from France withdrawal.
I've been passing a patisserie/boulangerie all summer and haven't gone in yet. I expected it to be kitchsy and fake and way overpriced because it was 'French'... like the 'French' restaurant I went to where the entire staff spoke with heavy Spanish accents.

BUT! It turns out that the owners are French, they're actually Rémois.  Reims, the city they're from, is home of the Franco-American campus of Sciences Po., one of our biggest rivals at Minicrit.  I had to stop myself from judging them poorly for it.  (kidding)

It felt soooo nice to speak French again, not just type French on Facebook chats. It's also always a lovely ego boost to hear people compliment my French. :-)  We talked for a while about if their daughter should consider Sciences Po. for college, compared to an Ivy League school in the U.S. Cost is a big issue that doesn't play in quite the same way when deciding between two American schools.  It also matters what she wants to do after school--stay in France or come back to the U.S.?  But it was great to chat with them about it.

ANNNNNDD I bought some delicious pains au chocolat.  I would post pictures, but I ate them already.  Don't worry, I'm sure I'll be going back soon, and this time I'll remember to take pictures.

In the meantime, I will tide you over with the website of their establishment:
Isabelle et Vincent

Friday, May 11, 2012

Des fois... il faut bosser

Oh that's right... I have classes.

This is going to be a long, rather boring post without pictures, but let's not forget that I am in school here...

Figured I should give a little academic run-down on the sitch here.  It's very different--much more so than I expected it to be.

My courses are as follows:

  • Arabic Level 3+ (en français et bien sûr en arabe, avec 3 étudiants arabophones de 1ère année, et deux étudiantes non-arabophone de 2ème année, enseigné par professeur Farid ABABOU)
  • Islam et Mondialisation (en français, avec les étudiants de 2ème années programme français, enseigné par professeur Jean-Pierre FILIU)
  • Wars of Memory (in English, with 2nd year English and French program students, taught by professor Christian DEVOOGD)
  • Moyen-Orient Entre Crise et Espoir (en français, avec les 1ère années programme français, enseigné par professeur Stéphane LACROIX)
  • Sociology of the Arab State (in English, with the 2nd year English and French program students, also taught by professor Stéphane LACROIX)

Exchange students are capped at this sized course load, but full time students here take somewhere between 8 and 12 courses each semester.  That seems impossible, until you realize that some of these classes only met for 6 or 7 2-hour sessions throughout the semester.  Furthermore, students also include in their courses some things like painting, or soccer, or theater, that are more atelier courses than academic work.

Nevertheless, I have less work here than I would at home, by far.  Fortunately that means that I can spend time travelling, spend time going to all of the talks here and getting involved in extra-curriculars, and putting more time into the classes I am taking... which is most important for me for Arabic.  It's a fascinating dynamic in the class, because I much more need to work on vocabulary (you know, so I understand the words we're reading...) whereas the Arab students know all of the vocabulary, but don't know some of the grammar I learned in my first year.  Things like case endings in iDaafas, or after haruf al-jarr, or that nominal sentences are divided up into the khabar and the mubtada.  I was surprised to see the simplifications they used for these sentences like "after 'inna' the first word is monsoob and the second word is marfu3..."  I'm sorry, I know that doesn't make any sense to the people who don't speak Arabic, but it's basically just an oversimplification of the grammatical concept there.

That said, I was definitely struggling with the texts we read.  Fortunately, I had the time to go through and translate, and take notes on, texts that would take them ten minutes to read.  And I was always able to ask the Arabic speakers on campus for help.  Not to play favorites, but if we're talking about who's closest to fuSha, I found that it was the Saudis, Yemenis, and Iraqis... followed by the Lebanese/Palestinians.  As much as I love the Moroccan dialect (darija), I still have problems understanding it, even after studying in Morocco.  But I liked that the professor, Ababou, was Moroccan, because it meant that even though we were in a fuSha course, he smiled every time I replied "wakha" for "ok."

The Library

Well, the library is pretty much non-existent.  It's been slowly getting better this semester, since they've just moved into the building.  But still, the library is probably around 2000-3000 books, and is about the size of around 4 Frist classrooms put together.  It also closes every day no later than 8 pm, and often earlier if there isn't someone there to work the book check-out desk.  The entire campus is closed on the weekends and on national holidays (which included the day before finals started).  Also, while you can order books from the other campuses, even the Paris library isn't anywhere close to what you would get at Princeton.  The good thing is that pretty much all of the books are on politics/law/religion/economics/the Middle East and the Mediterranean/Europe, so the percentage of books that you may find relevant is probably higher.  Also, don't assume that because the book is assigned for a class, they'll have a copy in the library... nope.  There are quite a few beautiful tomes in Arabic.  Too bad my Arabic isn't anywhere near good enough for me to slog through them.

Honestly, the lack of academic resources such as the library has been my least favorite part about being here.  If you're studying here DO NOT FORGET TO SET UP THE PRINCETON VPN before you leave.  Having access to those online resources saved my life and my sanity.  People here haven't ever heard of JSTOR. They have some kind of French equivalent for it, but the selection (especially in English, of course) was far more limited.

French Courses

The courses here, especially for first-year students, are much more of the style where the professor stands at the front of the class and lectures at you.  These lectures are occasionally interrupted by indignant students from whatever country is being discussed vocalizing their beliefs that ______ isn't actually the reality in _____ country.  (In Lacroix's Crise et Espoir class, I don't think the Moroccans ever agreed with him).  The thing is, it's not really clear who is right.  This is partly because the lecture isn't based on studies or readings, but is a synthesis of the professor's understanding of the situation/region.  Which is great when you're overwhelmed by a lot of information, but also forces you to take the professor at his word.  On the other hand, the students' experiences are often not much more representative of the situation in the entire country.  Most of the students, particularly from the Arab world, come from affluent backgrounds, live in nice areas of the biggest cities, grew up going to very Western schools, and often have families involved in politics (ambassadors, ministers, etc).  So when they say that "no one feels tribal affiliations anymore," I take it with a grain of salt.  Especially when they go on to say that well, maybe there are "family" affiliations, and say that these families can vary in size up to thousands of members.

So... few readings in the course.

Then there's the grading.  Depending on the course, I've had between 2 and 3 graded assessments (paper, "fiche", exposé, test, etc.) per course.  All grades are given out of 20.  A 20 is impossible to get--they're just not given.  These students, the cream of the French system crop, have told me that they never even got 20s in high school.  You can imagine how thrilled I was to get an 18 on an Arabic final essay. (hint: suuuuuper thrilled)  Generally anything about about a 15 is an "A".  But here it seems like grades are given much less value as long as you're passing--because with 10ish courses per semester and only one or two grades in each one, people do fail courses.  I think if they fail 2 they have to repeat the year.  Passing is a 10/20, so right now, during finals period, the end goal for most people is just to "valider" the class.  People are going around saying "I need a 4 to validate," or "I need a 6 to validate." It's a very strange concept.

Then there's this whole issue of form versus function... the French looooove things to look pretty.  As I was making an outline handout for Wars of Memory*, my partner stopped me and said "No, you have to have two bullet points under this heading, because you had two bullet points under the other heading."  I just stared at him.  Also, I've seen people turn in 10 pages papers where I swear to God half of the pages were taken up with headings.  They also like when you put pictures in your essay.  I don't understand.  I really just dont understand.

Also, don't expect very much discussion in your classes.  As I said, mostly just lectures, some discussions among the more American-style professors.

Ok now I've complained about classes here for long enough, let's talk about the good aspects of the school...

1) A whole different viewpoint: the authors they read here are different, the things they expect you to know are different.  I'd never read Weber before, but he's been cited repeatedly in every class I've taken here. Ghassan Salamé has also been cited repeatedly, and he's pretty impressive: he was Director of Research at the Centre nationale d'études scientifiques, and now he's Director of Studies at Sciences Po.  He was also Minister of Culture, Education, and "Enseignement supérieur" (which I guess translates to something like university-level teaching) in Lebanon.  Anyway, reading all of these different authors (because even if they're not all assigned, I had to go read them to get all the references) very much broadened my academic foundations.

Similarly, the history that most people know off the top of their heads is very different from what we know.  We can talk to you all about the Civil War and the American founding fathers, but here the history of the Caliphates and the Roman Empire is really widespread.  The Italians, unsurprisingly, have a particularly strong affinity and appreciation for history.  I say that with some bias, because it was one of the first things that attracted me about my boyfriend... he started throwing out the names of Roman senators and emperors like they were days of the week.

2) Language and code-switching.  Professors are much more  comfortable throwing in cultural and language references from English, French, and Arabic here.  So when we're talking about Yemen, they'll note that the main square of the protests was "Taghayir" (تغيير) Square, which means "change." Or while they'll also note the king of Morocco as the "Commander of the Faithful," he's also caller "Commandeur des Croyants," or "Amir al-Mu'miniin" because those are the terms for him in Morocco. Also, there are students here who either don't speak French or don't speak English, so for them the common language is Arabic.  So in things like dance practice, they'll suddenly switch.  While I still have a hard time speaking it back, I actually understand most of it, at least enough to get the gist of the conversation.  And through simple things like a line we sing in our dance, I've learned a typical Arabic wedding blessing. (يبرك الله عليها، وربي يهديها, which means "May God bless her and guide her").  Not only has speaking three different languages all the time improved my ability in these languages, it's also generally kept me on my toes and kept me alert.

3) Outside of the class there are more benefits.  The most striking one that I've seen is the generally negative view of certain facets of American politics, which forces one to clarify and prove one's own beliefs.  I'm among the first to say that I see the mistakes and the injustice of American action in the Middle East, but never once have I truly believed that the U.S. orchestrated or permitted the 9/11 attacks to justify going into the Middle East.  I have always considered those conspiracy theories that didn't really deserve my time.  However, after being here and seeing so many people who believe them, and having them ask me about so many specifics that I'd either never heard or never bothered to investigate, I realize that I have a duty to find out those answers.  I still don't believe that the U.S. planned/permitted the attack, but one of my personal goals for this summer is to write a thoroughly-researched paper doing as much as I can to prove that.  Then at least for myself, I'll know what to say next time someone brings up the Michael Moore documentary to me.

As an American abroad, you are most definitely a representative of the country.  My favorite exposé (class presentation) this semester was one I did in Arabic on the American Constitution.  Yes it took me forever to find the terminology and try to clarify some of the ideas, but when we're talking about a region where so many countries are questioning their own constitutions, I was both proud of ours and excited to be able to share everything I find so wonderful about it.  The U.S. is really quite rare in its adherence to its Constitution and the foresight of the Founding Fathers.  Even the French Constitution only dates from 1958.

I commend you if you've read this far.  For a treat, here's the Lip Dub that we created for the end-of-year inter-campus competition (Minicrit)!!


*Rant: I take plenty of French classes here, along with other non-francophone students, and we never speak in English in class, or get words translated into English for us.  But in the English classes, students regularly switch into French to ask questions, professors show videos in French without subtitles, and we included on our outline translations of words that are normal for anglophones, but that would be challenging for francophones.  Words such as "steed," "doth," "dost," and "scions."  Granted, the French in class never really bothered me personally because I speak French, but really it's the principle of the thing...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Thea's Travel Tips

As you may have seen from my previous blog posts, I've done a fair amount of going around with a friend named Thea, who's also an exchange student.

I like to think I've done a fair amount of travelling in my lifetime, but it's nothing compared to her.  She was born in Holland and lived there until moving to the States at around age 10.  She spent the three months before coming here in Egypt, with a brief Netherlands break before classes started.  She also is one of the most individual, witty, perceptive people I know.  I've learned some interesting travel tips from her, and it wouldn't be fair not to share them.

Also, check out her blog here.


  1. Instead of taking liquid shampoo/conditioner, go with solid shampoo bars.  Easier to pack, lighter, small, and you don't have to worry about them spilling.  She uses the ones from  Lush.  I picked up one of my own when we were in Nice once, and have used it to great effect. But according to Thea, they last 3x as long as a normal shampoo bottle.  They also come in different varieties for different kinds of hair.

I got the lavender juniper kind, for hair that gets oily quickly.  So far I'm really happy with it, although it does quite live up to the saleswoman's claim that I can cut down to only washing my hair every other day.  This solid shampoo was also definitely handy for my other travels.  I've taken it to Istanbul and around Italy, and avoided having to deal with a big bottle that might leak, or using only bad hotel shampoo.

2. Overstuffed suitcases are more likely to get opened by TSA, because when they're densely packed it's harder to distinguish what's inside them purely by x-ray.  That said, if you know you need to be carrying your luggage by yourself, or aren't going for very long, a travel backpack is often a better choice.  This was just a one-night trip in Turkey, so I wasn't wearing my full hiking backpack, but look! With the scarf, you can't even tell that I have a backpack on!

3. I already roll my clothes to save space when packing, but Thea took it a step further.  If you're going to be living out of a suitcase or a backpack, roll your clothes based on all those you would need for one day (including underwear and pajamas and socks, etc.).  That was you don't have to destroy your entire suitcase to get to the jeans down at the bottom.  Also, this will help with planning outfits and packing an appropriate amount of clothes, particularly for us girls who take an entire closet for a weekend.

4. This one I love, even if it makes me feel like a hobo: if it's raining and your shoes aren't waterproof, wrap your feet in plastic bags before you put your shoes on.  #Totalhobomove, but I've used it to great effect in Torino and Istanbul.  I didn't bring rainboots with me to France--they were too big and bulky to pack.  And in Menton it hasn't really been a problem, because even when it rains it's pretty warm.  But elsewhere it was FRIGID, and my leather boots are getting old and letting some slush in around the edged.  

You can't even tell! And you know I wouldn't be smiling if my toes were wet...

Honestly, this trick reminds me a lot of sailing--it's just like wearing a drysuit.  The bags don't keep your feet from getting cold, and they don't keep the water from getting in your shoes, but they do keep your skin dry.  This plus a solid pair of wool socks (see my post on Mes Achats de Nice) will keep your toes both dry and warm.

5.  If you need something to collect from your travels, think about collecting sugar packets.  They're free, they're readily available every time you stop for food, so no need for time wasted looking for them, and they're usually written in the local language.  People think it's cool to say "hello" in every language known to man?  Knowing how to say "sugar" is infinitely cooler (and less utilitarian)... Sucre, zucchero, Zucker, azucar, سكر

6. Last one for today: check out the supermarkets.  Not only is it way cheaper than eating out for every meal, it also gives you a real insight into the local culture.  

From Turkey, here is ayran (yogurt, water, and salt drink--don't confuse it with milk!).

And from Florence, pizzas, mushrooms, and lots of pecorino cheese (a specialty of the region) at a local covered market.

Here are the sandwiches we made with the deliciousness from that market...

And the desserts we're half bad either... (who am I kidding, I'm drooling just remembering it.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Finally - Prelude to Turkey

Oof, I knew this would happen.  I'm really bad about updating blogs.  But I can't not update, because I have so many cool things to tell everyone.

Over spring break, I went to Istanbul to visit Grace, who's studying there for the semester.  I had a ton of preconceptions going there, because last semester I took a class on Turkey as a model for the Arab states post-Arab Spring.  I've found that people are really gung-ho about Turkey and its virtues and how great it will be for the Middle East, as well as how developed and beautiful and cool it is... Let's just say I'm not as convinced.  However, after visiting, I would say that my views are a little more nuanced about how I view Turkey.  And honestly, that was the primary reason I went there--I wanted to see for myself.

Before I even got to Turkey, though, I spent a night in transit in Zurich.  I had very very briefly been to Zurich when I visited Switzerland previously, but really only seen the train station and the airport.  This time, I had time to go into the city, although I only saw it at night.

The number one thing that always impresses me about Switzerland is efficiency.  When I arrived, I went to buy a train ticket into the city.  The woman at the counter spoke German, French, English, and probably a bunch of other languages, and she was able to change currency for me, sell me my tickets, print me out the times of the last train that night back to the airport and the first train the next morning, give me a map of Zurich downtown, and suggest stuff to do.  So nice.  Justifies how expensive Switzerland is.

It turns out that the night I was there was Carnaval in Zurich!  There were bands everywhere dressed up in crazy costumes, and because the city was so lively (probably more so than usual) I felt very safe even though I was there late at night.  I got a bratwurst and ate it while watching one of the bands play.

The last time I was in Switzerland was with my parents about seven or eight years ago.  We all really loved the fountains everywhere, and made it a point to take pictures of them.  We have a whole collection of fountain/trough pictures from that trip, so I continued the tradition on this trip to Zurich.  I found quite a few fountains, but this one above was unique--never before have I seen someone use a public fountain as a beer cooler...

It was hard for me to get good pictures at night, but here one can see how lovely the lights and the river are.  It was at once quaint and modern, and very very clean.  Maybe it was the cleanliness that made it feel so safe, despite the fact that there were drunk/drinking people all over the place.

I hopped back on the train to the airport that night late, and hung out in the airport until my plane left... needless to say, I slept the entire flight to Turkey.

The beginning of the Turkey trip coming soon... this was just to get me back in the habit of writing these.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Antibes: Ville de Mer et de Picasso

We headed to Antibes for a day trip last Saturday (the 11th).  Claire, Caitlin, and Nico went early in the morning, but Ciera and I had gotten back late the night before from Monaco, so we slept in.  Due to a fluke of the train scheduling though, we only arrived in Antibes about an hour after the other girls.

It never ceases to amaze me the sights we see from the train as we travel along the coast here.  Part of that surprise stems from the fact that the entire coast isn't developed... the same surprise I had in Morocco, where a massive graveyard lines the hill in Rabat going down to the beach.  

When we got to Antibes, it was pretty cold and windy.  I'm glad the other girls warned us about the weather, because I wouldn't have worn a heavy coat otherwise.  I can't wait to see these places when it starts getting warmer (which will be very soon, if this week was any indication).  Until then, I'll be bundled up, with lots of pictures of my hair in my face, like this one.

We wandered around town for a bit, stumbling upon these adorable postcards... Marwan thinks it's just a corporate ploy to get you to buy all three, but I think it's worth the money to send someone all three postcards comprising one of the towers, maybe over an extended period of time?

We went into the most amazing haberdashery (do you know how long I've wanted to use the word haberdashery in context?) and I wanted to buy every single hat, but I knew I would never wear any of them.  I almost gave in and bought a beret, but I figured that was better left to Jen H. in Paris.

Maybe for Lawnparties??

Or can we make a new theme night... like British Royal Wedding theme?

There was also an amazing market that was a joint effort between the French and Italian Chambers of Commerce, but that's going to get its own post.

All this time, we were slowly making out way to the Picasso museum.  The collection is small, but it's fun to see because the location, the old Grimaldi Castle, served as Picasso's home for a period of time, and his work took inspiration from its position overlooking the sea.  He also drew on the Greek history of Antibes and the fishing culture of the town, with many paintings featuring sea urchins, mariner shirts, and boats.  This is the view from the castle:

And here are two of my favorite paintings in the museum.  I bought postcards of both of them, and I think they were rather representative of the work shown in the museum.
Pêcheur attablé
This one wasn't any particular theme, it was just surprisingly evocative given its abstraction...
Nu assis sur fond vert
The impact of the sea was very clear in other ways too.  Antibes is definitely one of those places on the Côte d'Azur that is known for its yachts and sailboats.  The harbor was pretty, if quiet in the winter, and is clearly the center of the town during the summer.

The town is remarkably anglophone--there is a strip of British and Irish pubs, a British grocery store, and an anglophone bookstore, stocked with sailing books.

There were also plenty of sailing paraphernalia shops.  I don't have pictures of the "yacht construction" store or the hardware store where you can get brass knobs all match your spyglass and your handrails on your boat...

But the most beautiful boats are the simplest.  Like this one, below.  It gets points off for not being a sailboat, but makes up for it because of the color and because it is obviously used, but used with love.

Like a well-worn book.  I hate when people keep their books pristine. 

Antibes' connection with the ocean was a lot like Torino with the mountains, but obviously a different aspect of nature.  I love how art, daily life, and commerce all center around the water.  These types of locations keep proving to me the interconnectedness of all different facets of life.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Just around the corner...

So, I can walk to Italy.  The border is about a half-hour walk, but to get to the next actual town, Ventimiglia, takes about 3 hours walking.  So we generally opt for the train (but walking there is still on my to-do list!).

Every Friday there's a market in Ventimiglia for local farmers and vendors.  We went last Friday, and had some time to check out the town as well as the market.

How cool to see truffles fresh from the countryside!

I think my parents have been worrying because I haven't been posting enough about food.  Last time I was in France it was all I talked about.  The big difference is that here I have to make my own food.  I'm not so good at that.  But after Ventimiglia I made an eggplant parmesan-style dish, just without parmesan and with Toma Cunese and fresh mozarella substituted in.

 I also found these surprisingly hot dried red peppers... I thought they were sun-dried tomatoes when I bought them, but not complaints about what they turned out to be!  They went really well with the eggplant concoction.

 We went after class, so the sun was just starting to set over the Mediterranean.

There was the most hilarious dichotomy between the view of the inland and the view of the sea.  When I looked inland, I saw mountains and snow:

When I looked toward the sea, I saw palm trees and flowers:

With France so close, the Italian flags on the mountain were actually useful in demarcating territory...

However, the swans on the river made me think not of France, but of Lucerne in Switzerland...

These flowers, leading to a WWI memorial, were so pretty that I couldn't help but buy a pot of them for me room back at Villa Jasmin (the girls' residence).

 What else do we do in Italy but drink coffee and eat pastries?  More Marocchinos, and a sinful cannoli.

Thea and Claire did actually sleep at one point on the (15min) train home, just not while I was trying to get their picture.  But Thea's face was presh (#jokessss).

Tomorrow we're going to Antibes!
Hopefully it'll look something like this:
*Found this photo online---not mine!