There aren’t that many students at UNH who major in French, at least not all the way to getting their degree, despite the proximity to French-speaking Quebec, Canada. Since the UNH French major seem to be a dying breed, there are some very particular experiences we all share: particularly those of us who’ve been at it for three or four years already.
1. As an upperclassmen, your class sizes will never exceed 12 people.
Like I’ve said, there aren’t many people who stick with the French major at UNH for all four years. As the years go on, class sizes get smaller as do choices of class topic per semester. The majority of UNH French major courses focus on literature, so early on those who are less interested or able to focus on literature, even or especially French literature, change their major to a minor or leave the program altogether. That leaves a few of us as a closely knit group who often share classes and professors. By the end of senior year, it won’t be surprising if every UNH French major has had every French professor or adjunct faculty as a teacher of a class at some point, despite frequent changes in faculty.
2. Studying abroad takes a lot of preparation, in a short span of time.
There is a lot of work that goes into preparing to study abroad, and I’m not just talking about packing. Between updating passports, getting professional head shots, and applying for a visa, among other aspects, it’s a very complicated process. No matter how early in the semester you start, the time flies by, and before you know it you’ve bought plane tickets and are struggling to fit those last few items into your third suitcase before your Mom drives you to the airport. That doesn’t even cover the emotional roller coaster of excitement and anxiety over spending an entire semester away from home and friends.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s thrilling and a wonderful experience, but it’s not easy. At least you’re pretty well prepared ahead of time, for the most part, about what the culture will be like when you get there. For me, I had more culture shock returning home six months later.
3. You will become familiar with a lot of obscure older French poetry.
That’s not to say that you won’t love it. You might, or you might not. But you won’t just be studying the well-known poets, like Rimbaud or Verlaine. In fact, there’s a lot of medieval poetry covered in some of the courses here, poetry that you’ve probably never heard of before. Styles of poetry you’ve never heard of before. It’s a whole new world of poetry – and anything that you may have previously considered romance. There’s still a lot of tragedy and death, though. Good ol’ depressing French lit.
4. There are times that you will unintentionally speak French outside of class.
Sorry, there’s no avoiding it. Every French student has this experience at one point or another. Usually it’s right before or right after your daily French class, and it’s pretty simple, but really silly. Right after leaving a French class in Murkland last semester I went right to Dimond Library, where someone held the door open for me. I said, “Merci!” Oops. I laughed and shook my head afterward, because by the time I realized it was too late to say, “Thank you” as the other person had walked off into the library. It was hilarious and ridiculous. But it happened. I’ve heard that I’m not alone in this experience from other French majors on campus. It’s just inevitable.
5. Grammar is not your friend.
For those of us born and raised with the English language, grasping French grammar – or probably the grammar of any other language – is very difficult. The number of tenses and forms of syntax can feel like a maze and when you take a breath from running around trying to figure it out, you feel dizzy. It’s not that you don’t get out of the maze, understand the grammar, eventually. It’s that it takes years and years and still is always a little fuzzy, unless you’re a native speaker or have lived in France for more than the amount of time that you once lived in an English speaking country. So for all the new French Majors, don’t worry if you feel a little lost: you’ll find your way in time.