At first glance, there is nothing extraordinary about this piece of paper that is taped to the message board on the desk. Just a cute drawing that was ripped out of a textbook and colored during bored times. What keeps me from throwing this out is knowing where it comes from and what it stands for.
Here’s the story:
My man and I went to France for one semester during university. We lived in the idyllic region of the French Riviera, in a cute little apartment that was quite big and less than 150 steps away from the pebbled beach.
The town we lived in was quaint but, oh, so tedious for our adventurous souls!
Bars closed at 9pm and even if you dared to go in earlier, you’d feel like a strange creature by the way the locals observed you.
We weren’t that far from the big city (Nice), but limited transportation options at night kept us from doing anything past 9 pm too (bar that one Amadou & Mariam concert, and it took us over 1 hour to get home).
Basically, we spent our evenings watching the many, many documentaries that are shown on French TV, running on the promenade by the beach and planning trips that we took most weekends.
School was also a bore. I’d even go as far as saying that it was awful. Facilities, students and employees alike seemed worn out and glum, which didn’t make for a very fun experience. I’d thought that studying art history in a country with such a rich past would be great because after class, I could run to the museum to see those artworks live, and that was true.
However, the classes suffered from a severe lack of pertinent content, the teachers were obviously bitter and the students baffled me with their disrespectful behavior (speaking on the phone during class, talking back to the teacher for no good reason, walking in and out when desired).Lord knows I’m a proponent for disobedience when it’s needed but here it seemed so uncalled for. It felt like I was back in high school, not in a faculty of higher education!
I also had lots and lots of problems with the administration, that ended up costing mucho dinero, but that is not what I want to focus on.
I ripped this drawing out a textbook, thinking it could serve to pass the time in another class since this book was being used in one of the two courses that I did enjoy.
It was a class on the art of writing about… art. I loved this class because the teacher was so posh, so akin to the romanticized image I had about studying in this country.
Every week, we had an assignment and it was serious work too. Who would’ve thought that I’d be happy to do homework? None of the other teachers asked us to do homework, let alone use our brains!
In a school where lack of structure reigned and destroyed any possibility of learning, this teacher’s rigorousness pleased me.
As for the other classes, I completely zoned out.
My attendance record was pretty good, as I thought it important to be there in case something crazy like actual content came out of it. So I spent most of the time in class, staying respectful to others of course, but not paying much attention to the stuff that was going on at the front of the class.
Books were read, Kinder Buenos were eaten, illusions were lost and drawings were colored.
Sad observation: filling in this particular image with a variety of shades was actually more challenging than most of the exams that tested our acquired knowledge at the end of the semester.
You may think that I am being overtly cynical about it, which is true, but I just can’t help it. When I tell people about the provenance of this drawing, they all stare at me with infinite envy and I can perceive the images of beautiful Provence that pop up in their mind when they think of studying in the south of France. That is why I feel the need to tone their enthusiasm down a little bit, by emphasizing the negatives of our experience.
We did have positive things coming out of it. Many of them. In truth, they greatly surpass the negative. The fact is that the whole school experience was so bad that it needs an actual mise en garde for others thinking about going to that particular university, and, from what I’ve heard, many of them across the country (no offense French friends, great schools abound in your country too!).
As I said, happy times were aplenty during this four month period. The man and I bonded and definitely developed a strong relationship. We also got to travel so much, since once you are in Europe, everything is easily accessible by train, bus or plane.
Finally, I can say that this experience made me so much stronger and even more independent.
That’s what comes up when I look at this drawing.