Finals at the Sorbonne: To Arms, Protestors, to Arms!
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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Finals at the Sorbonne: To Arms, Protestors, to Arms!

Coming up on the final semester of my masters at the Sorbonne Nouvelle, I felt empowered.  I had successfully completed three semesters of a French higher education program and boy oh boy did I feel accomplished.  We students were enriched, hardworking and – I thought – all grown up.

Then came finals time.  This week we were taking our end of the semester exams and chaos ensued, per usual.  We all showed up to take a communications history test on Tuesday only to find that the professor had sent a proxy to administer the test.  Strike 1.
My outline...note lower righthand corner...

Once we all sat down for the two hour test, we began looking at out clocks wondering why we weren’t starting.  Finally the proxy handed out paper and began to read the question.  Halfway through, most jaws were slightly dropped at the apparently absurdity of the question’s set up.  Then said jaws hit the table when the proxy said, “I can’t read the rest…”  This was like a press conference where the president’s microphone cuts out just before he’s about to announce a war.  It was awkward.  Strike 2.

The proxy scrambled to call the professor before running downstairs to the department to ask for help.  All the while, we students tapped our feet impatiently.  The clock continued moving and time was running out for our session.

Finally, the proxy contacted the professor, found the real tests, and, with just over an hour to go, began handing them out – until a voice in the back rose up.  “Monsieur, we only have an hour, do we really have to take the test?”  Strike 3

The next 15 minutes were racked with debate between the students and the proxy.  How could we ever take a test in an hour?  That’s unheard of in France.  I looked at the other American in the class, who, smiling, shrugged her shoulders and mouthed silently, “Well, it’s cheap.”  It wasn’t the end of the world.  But the others resisted.

The students were excellent cogs in the well-oiled protest machine that is France.  Reasons the students proposed for not taking the test:

1. We have another test after, so we can’t stay and spend extra time. (Valid)
2.  I can’t write an outline, a first draft, and then a final draft in one hour. (Valid but unnecessary)
3.  If we don’t take the test now, we probably won’t have to take it later (Invalid)
4.  The professor gets paid to be here, we shouldn’t have to take it (Semi-valid, but look at your tuition bill)

They protested until a frustrated and all-too jet-lagged student who had just stepped off a trans-Atlantic flight tried to talk some sense into the protestors.  In the end, the American won (duh) and the students all took the test reluctantly.  In less than one hour, the essays were written and students stormed out of the room shaking their heads.  Said jet-lagged student now fears guillotining (or equivalent punishment).

“Do you think he’ll be lenient on the grading?” students asked each other in the hallway afterward.  No, kids, teachers are unreasonable and superhuman, themselves infallible when it comes to things like giving a proxy the exams.  Of course he won’t be lenient or consider the time gaff.  

Their fear was cute but altogether disappointing.  If this is how scared they are after taking a test under unexpected conditions, I’d pay to see them get reamed by their first boss or miss their first work deadline.  Like the proxy said just before the test, life throws you a curveball and you have to make lemonade…or something like that,  I'm sure there's a French translation that French students learn...eventually.

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