If you recall from last week, no delightful learning in the French style took place because all our classes were unexpectedly canceled (though some may say that was the French style in its truest form). This past week we had our very first taste of formal academia in the land of Francois Hollande.

A sunny day in Lyon. Auspicious sign of the great learnings to come.

Imagine an approximate 400 square feet room filled with 5 rows of long desks accompanied with your standard issue schooling chairs. At the front of said room appears a jolly English fellow approaching the ages of 60 or 65 undressing the various layers he had cocooned himself in to combat the Lyonnaise cold. As he hangs his colorful scarf and readjusts his endearing bowtie, one cannot help but see this professor as a harbinger for a grand old time. Professor Martin Porter is one hell of a man, and a great representative of Liverpool as well as England. His speech is the perfect amount of wit, charm, suave, sarcasm, and British accent. He understands the subject matter (Imperialism) masterfully and is a connoisseur at presenting his knowledge in a pithy and entertaining manner. Understanding perfectly well our penchant for travel and novelty of Europe, Porter does not try to make his class more serious than necessary. He avoids busy work and encourages us to live history by visiting various sights throughout Europe as much as read about them. A man who has no need to compensate for his knowledge or status by being pretentious or overtly domineering, Porter is simply a jolly man who has some serious chops and is incredibly fun to learn from. He earned everyone’s respect within the first 30 minutes of the 2 hour class, and is the clear and definite highlight of our weekly curriculum.

The rest of our professors were also overall great. Although some of them dragged on and were overtly biased in their lectures, they all introduced interesting ideas which piqued our attention. Almost none of the of professors had slides or lecture material prepared and simply just talked on and on for 2 to 3 hours. It’s puzzling why classes are not shortened, because no one has the attention span fit for a French lecture. I snuck a look inside some larger lectures with just French students and at least half of them were on Facebook or online shopping.

Morale of the story: no matter where you go, all students zone out the same way.

This past week was a lot of firsts. Besides attending formal French class for the first time, I also got sick for the first time in about a year. The trams get very crowded in the mornings and afternoons, and I have noticed many people coughing and sneezing. Such close quarters and nights at the friendly neighborhood discotheque prove unhelpful in warding off sickness. Thankfully I was only out for one day, and missed only one class. This class happened to be the French language class which is offered at only one level, and that level just happens to be 400 times higher than 0 (the level which I reside and belong).

Needless to say, my absence from that class was sorely missed by Professor Christophe as I’m sure he enjoys just as much not understanding what I’m saying as I do what he is saying.

Hard at work, or hardly working? Definitely hard at work as we search for relevant historical sights on Pinterest.

“Ahhh. Oui, oui c’est bon!”

– The words I use to respond to every question in French.

Barry Yang


There are many beautiful and famous cities in France that are worthy of visiting, at least according to my girlfriend’s Pinterest. Thus, we have made it a goal of ours to travel to as many French cities as possible during our time abroad. This weekend we got the opportunity to visit the port city Marseille. Armed with knowledge from a French TV show on Netflix called Marseille and a travel video about the city made in the 1970s, we set off to the beach by the beloved FlixBus. The FlixBus is actually not so beloved as it has been late every time we have ridden it and also the French police once forbade me from boarding the bus because apparently you needed a passport to go to Geneva (a fact that I’m not so sure is a fact because I had to go to Geneva by train after the 5-0 kicked me off, and nobody asked for my passport on the train or in Geneva). The ride was only 4.5 hours, which is child’s play when compared to the almost 8 hours we endured for Paris.

The city of Marseille definitely has character. While not the richest nor most beautiful city by any means, there is a certain aura about the city that one can respect and find even faintly charming. Prior to departing, my host dad warned me that Marseille was a very dangerous city with many thieves and that we must not wear any jewelry or watches on the streets; the same general thing was said by my girlfriend’s host mom. After going to Marseille, I can definitely see why my host dad and my girlfriend’s host mom said the things they did. The streets are much dirtier than Lyon and even Paris, and the buildings extremely dilapidated. There were parts of the city that were literally falling apart or had already fallen apart. However, given the lack of economic diversity in Marseille it is understandable why the city is at a lower socioeconomic strata.

For over 2000 years the city has been a trade port, and there is little other developed industry to this day. The city’s trade port history also partially explains the number of immigrants we encountered. During our stay we probably heard more Arabic than French, but that may have been due to the location of our AirBnB which felt very Moroccan.

Marseille was an overall good experience that was greatly tempered by the fact that we got sick halfway through the trip. There were many sights that we did not get to see in the city, but all in all we still had a great time. Week 4 in France has been filled with long long hours in the classroom as well as long long hours traveling. Some would say I am getting a very good handle on this work-life balance thing, and some would say I’m not even really in school. Whatever they say, I’am very fortunate and happy to be in France and look towards week 5 with unencumbered enthusiasm.

Barry Yang studied abroad in Lyon, France, in Spring 2017: