|Studying French at the Sorbonne|
Shakespeare wrote that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” I truly believed this until I studied at the Sorbonne—an adventure that convinced me there is only so far the name can stray from the rose before it begins to lose its scent.
While it may go without saying that the Sorbonne ranks as one of the world’s most illustrious academic institutions, the pitfalls of attending the school as a foreigner are not as well known. Every year, this “école des écoles” opens its doors to students from all over the world to attend its French courses, the most popular of which is the “Cours de Civilisation française de la Sorbonne” summer program.
Twelve years ago, I was one such student, and though much time has passed, little about the process has changed. Of course, twelve years ago, we did not have the Internet to help us, but in retracing my steps for this article, I have found that many of the same obstacles I faced as a prospective student still exist.
Its brochure and website are good indicators of the way the Sorbonne feels about its visiting students. While other programs tout the benefits of their courses and have showy, color brochures and websites filled with endless testimonials from former participants, pictures of enticing day trips and constant reassurances that your experience will be a happy one, the Sorbonne feels no such obligation. Their brochure and website devoted to foreign students are to the point, completely devoid of hospitality and not terribly easy to navigate.
The Sorbonne’s reputation for academic excellence has made it very attractive to students. In fact, all the information posted on the website, down to the layout, is exactly the same as the brochure I received twelve years ago. Noticeably absent from the site is any kind of registration form, just as it was when I went. What remains, however, is the warning that the number of students is not only limited, but that classes fill up very quickly.
When I was making plans to attend, I found this last point very unnerving as, I would later learn, it had been for many of my fellow students. I recently contacted a former, much less neurotic Sorbonne classmate who has since become a life-long friend and asked if the warning had bothered him as much as it had me. Before I even finished my question, he said, “Completely freaked me out!”
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