When people talk about culture shock, usually it has something to do with local customs/ways of doing things that are unfamiliar to us – styles of dress, dining habits, what exactly counts as personal space, to name a few. But something that many travelers/immigrants (maybe at some point I’ll talk about why I’m trying to move away from the term ‘expat’) don’t get to experience is the cultural interactions and confrontations that arise in the classroom, specifically when it comes to styles of testing.
In France, the big exam is the baccalauréat, which is probably most akin to the AP test(s) in that students are asked to prove competence primarily through written essays – although, if I remember correctly, there were some multiple choice questions in my AP English and French exams. Consequently – and I say this from my little bit of experience teaching at a high school three years ago – the students are taught in ways that emphasize the importance of written arguments and succinct analysis. What they are not taught is how to tackle a seemingly endless scantron sheet, which poses a problem for those who want to go to the US for university. Back in California, we were basically ‘training’ for the SAT for ten years, what with STAR testing, and although the SAT still has its stresses and demons that must be conquered, sitting down to take it does not feel particularly strange or unfamiliar.
I had the first meeting with the SAT students today, and of course because I enjoy being evil – apparently – I had them hit the ground running with a diagnostic test. 40 minutes, 24 questions. Some of them finished, others skipped a few, but the most popular reaction in the end was one of shock and disbelief. Shock at the unexpected density of the thing, disbelief at how fast the time ticked by. Of course, there’s the added pressure that comes with taking a test that’s not in your first language, but the majority of them seemed determined to stick it out, even after I had just run them through the gauntlet (realizing that French could help them with some of the tougher vocabulary in the reading texts helped as well, I think). It’s crazy to look at their faces and think about how that was me ten(!!) years ago, nervously waiting to confront what I thought then was the most important test of my life. Thank goodness these kids know very little/nothing about the GRE, MCAT, GMAT, LSAT…
After the class finished and I had answered more questions about Harvard than I ever have in one sitting, I jettisoned over to Le Comptoire de la Gastronomie to meet with a friend, her mother, and friends of my friend for dinner. The food is still excellent, but they have redone the space since I was last there three years ago and I’m not sure what to think about the new design. A bit too modern, perhaps? I think keeping the red fabrics that once covered the chair cushions instead of the turquoise ones that cover them now could have helped in offsetting that.
Then again, when you have a beautiful steak tartare staring you in the face, you sort of forget about interior decorating (as well as remember that, as far as culture shock goes, food never really presented that problem for you).