An American in Paris
I am originally from Charlotte, NC but have lived in Paris, France for eleven years now. Though I enjoyed many aspects of living in Paris, I felt cut off not only from my family and friends but from the culture that I grew up in. One day while surfing the web I came across an ad with a photo of a cute little gray mouse (the rodent kind) and saw that the ad was for distance learning at UNCG. I was instantly convinced that the BLS Program was for me. Before moving to Paris I had about a semester left to finish my undergraduate degree, but my short term stay in Paris had turned into years and my degree remained unfinished. BLS looked like a great way for me to remedy this while taking some very interesting classes. What I didn’t realize was that BLS would also allow me to reconnect with American culture, immersing myself in an American learning environment that was not available to me in Paris. French universities have very different teaching styles and the American universities here are extremely expensive.
During my three years in the BLS program I was also working and married. Since I did most of my school work on the weekends, I had to sacrifice my social life to a certain extent. I have to admit, though, I was an overeager student, taking two classes at a time because I didn’t want to miss out on any of the interesting classes! The last year was harder to handle time-wise. I had taken on new responsibilities at work, I was in the middle of a divorce, and I had less time to devote to my studies. What kept me going was knowing that all those requirements were being checked off and the end was in sight…and, of course, a continued pleasure in learning.
When I signed up for BLS I had no idea how interactive the classes would be. Overall the classes provided me with much more stimulating discussion and interaction than I experienced in traditional college classes. The on-line format allowed the more timid souls in the class to make themselves heard in ways that wouldn’t happen in a classroom. Also, many of my fellow students were older than the “traditional” college-going age and the various life experiences of these men and women created a very rich learning environment. One of the perks is I made online friends that I still have never met, but certainly shared an important experience with.
In the BLS program I took classes (BLS and other UNCG on-line classes) on subjects I wouldn’t normally have signed up for, either because these classes met requirements or my first choices were full. In every case I finished the class pleasantly surprised at all that I was able to learn and encounter, and came away proud of myself for meeting a challenge, trying something new.
One class that particularly left me with this feeling was Vice Crime and American Law. The subjects we discussed were all interesting, and the debates about these subjects engaging, but there was a big challenge: reading legal decisions written by Supreme Court justices. With the first assignment of one of these primary-source documents I remember feeling like it was impossible, having no prior knowledge of legalese, feeling that I was trying to decipher a document written in another language, one that I didn’t know. I persevered, and thanks to our class discussions, by the end of the class these reading assignments were still challenging, but no longer daunting. These days when I read anything in the news about the supreme court I now recognize names, know what the various stances of the different judges have been on various subjects, and feel like I have insight into a world that was unknown to me before. It is a very gratifying feeling.
My favorite class was Painting on the Page. I love poetry and art, and the way that this class brought the two together was very creative and fulfilling. The material resonated with me. I was ecstatic! Plus, some of the paintings we studied are in Paris museums so I thoroughly enjoyed being able to go see these paintings in person while studying them.
Wonderful, engaging discussion board discussions, interesting audio and visual multimedia aids, involved professors, interesting subjects, creative assignments, these are the things that were high points for me in the BLS program.
Of course being able to do the coursework on my own schedule is what even made this possible for me. To balance out the flexibility of not having to attend class at a certain time, most of the classes had a significant amount of weekly reading and assignments to do along with long term assignments so it was a good lesson in time management!
Most of the professors were highly involved and interactive in the classes, and though I did miss out on face to face interaction, I feel like I probably had more one-on-one time devoted to me in these classes than I would have if I’d been in the classroom.
The low points were the rare classes where the discussion board conversations never took off, when you had the feeling that the other students were only doing the minimum expected of them to get a passing grade. I got the feeling that these students were ones who were taking regular, on campus classes at the same time. Off campus or “older” students, students with kids, families, jobs, tended to show much more dedication to these classes, which only makes sense because to go back to school when you already have other responsibilities in your life, you have to really want to do it. You aren’t going to do the minimum to get a passing grade because it really isn’t about the grade anymore.
I’d also like to mention that even the non-BLS classes I took (US History, World Civilization, Anthropology) were great, very interesting and engaging. I’m actually very thankful I was required to take these classes; otherwise I would have missed out on some important things. Proof that the classes required for a degree in Liberal Studies are required for a reason!
Kinks aside, I was delighted to take part in such a creative learning process. My only regret is that there are not more online classes in the MALS program; otherwise I would be continuing my education in just that way!*
— Paris, France, May 2008
* The MALS Program can be completed entirely online.