Halley Knigge (Griffin)

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If Sciences Po really is the training ground for the government of France, I can definitely see why it is so hard to get anything done in this country. As great as the actual education is supposedly going to be, the lack of organization is sometimes a little hard for an American girl to take.

Last Monday was the first day of orientation classes for the international program. In every schedule R and I had there was a slot for “Lundi 11 septembre: Début des cours.” We could not for the life of us, however, find any indication of where or when these classes were supposed to be starting. Finally we decided that nothing would be starting before 9h, so if we got to Sciences Po by 8h30 we’d have plenty of time to figure out where we were supposed to be.

Arriving at 8h30 at Sciences Po was another story – we easily located the list that told us our language level and group (R and I are both in “Odéon”), but nowhere could we find a time or a room number. After maybe 20 minutes of confused wandering, we realized we had become part of a group of about ten confused wandering Sciences Po students. We asked at the Sciences Po information desk, but the man working had no idea what we were talking about – he sent us upstairs to find a random French professor who told us we should go to the administrative services building and see what we could find out.

As with everything else administrative in France, we ended up on a 30 minute goose chase, ending finally with a student employee printing out and photocopying our group schedules. I’m not sure what the rest of the international program did. Even after receiving our schedules and discovering that group Odéon didn’t meet for the first time until 1:30 that afternoon, we couldn’t really be annoyed – this is France, we’re used to the run-around.

Another example of the French inability to either plan or communicate a plan is the registration system. During the first week of orientation we were all told that we’d be registering for classes the 21st and 22nd of September and we’d get more information later. R and I somehow ended up not even knowing that the informational registration presentation had occurred without us being present, but we bummed the pertinent information from other Odéon students.

As R is sick with strep throat (I’m pretty sure I have built up some strong immunity to the various illnesses she’s nursed since arriving here, since we sleep in the same bed, and I’ve never shown any symptoms of illness), I set off for SciPo alone today. When I got to class I joined the group of students talking about which classes we were interested in signing up for on Friday – this is when Johanna from England stepped in and informed us that registration would now be occurring online tomorrow at 9h. Did the international program email us? Did our professors know? Were there signs of any kind? Of course not. The only notice was a change in the date on the actual registration web page. I’m not sure what we’d all have done if Johanna hadn’t been trying to get a feel for the website last night!

EDIT: As of an hour ago, there’s a new update on the website switching our registration from tomorrow to Thursday – what the heck? I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing. We’ll see tomorrow, I guess!

As frustrating as trying to get things done can be, R and I are getting used to the pain. It helps to feel like I’m actually improving in French with 14 hours of language classes per week. One of the most useful tricks I’ve picked up is to always remember that the French do not like unattractive things. They don’t like the Eiffel Tower, they prefer svelte bodies*, and they don’t like anything that sounds bad. This helps a lot when you’re learning how to speak French – if the sentence you just put together is not particularly pleasing to the ear, it’s probably wrong.

It has also become really exciting everytime a French person asks me what my nationality is – and it’s even more exciting when they assume I’m from another European country. In Nantes with Christina the country we got most was Spain. It’s nice to know my accent doesn’t scream “I’m an American!!” I’m starting to feel like something else falls into place with every day that goes by – whether it’s dealing with French beaurocracy or learning cheater’s French speaking tips.

* The first night Rachael and I went out with Rubens and his friends, the boys were all really excited about “Ohhh two beautiful American girls! Who are not fat! Like the rest of Americans!” I think they were trying to compliment us, but I was kind of offended for my country.

** It always tickles me to watch the fusion of things modern and ancient – living in a country whose ancient history is visible in the streets is a prime opportunity to witness this. Bulldozers clearing out the moat of a castle in Nantes, for example.

Author: Halley (Griffin) Knigge

Storyteller and adventurer with a focus on new and social media. Ten years of award-winning writing and editing experience, eight years working professionally to share compelling stories through brand journalism, three years as an airline spokesperson, two years as a Tacoma Arts Commissioner and 30+ years of learning something new every day.

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  1. In letter of July 15, 1765 French Baron deGrimm wrote, “The real spirit of the laws in France is that bureaucracy of which the late Monsieur de Gournay used to complain so greatly; here the offices, clerks, secretaries, inspectors and intendants are not appointed to benefit the public interest, indeed the public interest appears to have been established so that offices might exist.” (Baron de Grimm and Diderot,

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