A post for the Travel/Exchange/Life Blog.
France, you are entirely foreign.
Like most things in life, I’ve learnt that the more I learn about French life and culture, the more I realize there is so much more to learn!
A few crazy things have happened since the mid-semester break, some of them great, some not so, and some just rather bizarre.
But firstly, yesterday, it SNOWED! It snowed outside my window. I thought that wasn’t meant to happen here! I thought it wasn’t meant to get this cold either! But I survived – even if I did stay inside all day, only venturing out of the little cell I now call home to stealthily take hot water from the kitchen.
Now for the good stuff, going to an Arts Uni in the South of France, that’s pretty much as left-ist activist you could get right?
To break it down, France’s education system has not changed much since… since the revolution, mix that in with the economic crisis… the fact that getting work in France is hard if you don’t have qualifications… and that university education is viewed as a right and state uni’s are funded largely by the government which gives rise to a viewpoint that many students are there simply because they can be (admission into the state-run tertiary education system is based whether or not you attain the baccalaureate, and not how well you do) the situation is a little complicated.
Long story short, due to budget cuts, Université Paul Valery is looking at closing their campus in the small-town Bezier (about an hour south of Montpellier), mix that in with general unrest, French arts students in their early twenties, full of political views and ideas about what is right and wrong in this world coming off the mid-semester break you have students fuelled with energy and a want to be heard. You get a strike. Or, if you’re an exchange student, an extended break… I mean what? No mum, that’s not true, I work hard here. I work really hard.
Striking in France is a big deal. I knew that, but I mean I didn’t really know that. There are a few things that I’m not quite tout a fait d’accord with. Firstly, they frequently hold Assemblée Générale‘s, to vote on matters, establish more strike dates and as a forum for voices to be heard. It’s been a thing since like June 1789, and was big in May ’68 too; a voice of le peuple, it holds some high standing in French society. The president of the university has the power to call in law enforcement to shut down the movement should things get out of control, however this is France. Built on a history of le peuple, it is seen as extremely important to let these things take their course. But, the thing is anyone is welcome to them, and anyone can vote in an Assemblée Générale (or AG, for those in the know).
So hang on, what you’re saying is that technically it’s not even the students, or the teachers, who might be voting for the continuation of the grève?! Yep. And, according to one of my teachers – a Quebecois who was in fact able to predict the strikes because of the bongos we heard before class one day …. yea… that’s right bongos in the south of France mean a strike is probably heading your way – it is often the professional, I repeat, professional anarchists who come in and barricade the classroom doors. (Sidenote; the doors are infact locked, to the best of my knowledge, the tables and chairs are just symbolism), see some of my fellow exchangies Instagram posts.
So classes started again today, after some radical happenings at yesterday’s AG, and they won’t even possibly be stopped until after December 10, the date of the next scheduled AG. A movement was passed that meant only those holding student cards could vote, a somewhat radical movement for Paul Va, but one that was surely most beneficial to the students seeing as the past few strike days had only been voted for by something like 8 more for then against. Then they passed the movement to ensure that exams would not be called off and everyone not given 10/20 for their final marks for the semester (*tear*). And then, they agreed there would be no more disruptions until the next AG.
So some kind of routine will return, for the last two weeks left of classes…