La Vie en France Part 2: School and all that fun stuff

Hello again!

So Dublin was one heck of a good time! Celebrating St. Patty’s Day smack dab in the middle of Ireland was definitely something I can now cross off my bucket list. I also found out over the weekend that my family is coming to visit me at the end of the month, which is a really nice surprise because my parents had always told me in the past that it would be too difficult for them to come visit me in Europe due to their work schedules (knowing them, they’ve probably been planning this all along).
Aaand I finally dragged myself up to the International Student’s office at the university campus today to see my marks from 1st semester, and I am proud to say that I successfully passed all my courses! It got me thinking that I should probably put a blog up about the French education system, as it is quite different from ours and I feel like there are some things you should know or expect to find here if you are interested in studying in this beautiful country.

Before I begin, let me jus say that I am speaking solely off my experiences as a student of Humanities here at the Université de Savoie. The system at other universities and in different faculties could be different, but here are some general tips regardless:

-I’ll start with the good news: there is virtually no homework! Lectures basically consist of a professor pacing around the room and talking, while the students furiously scribble down notes. That’s it. It is rare that you are assigned any work to do at home, including essays or take home tests. This makes for free weekends, which really helps with that whole “traveling across Europe every two weeks” thing. I don’t know how I’m going to re-adjust to the Canadian system next year!

-That being said, I find classes here to be less exciting because as I mentioned before, the Prof just blabbers on for 2 hours straight. There isn’t much student interaction and the teachers seem to be completely against powerpoints and fun stuff like that.

-Also, each course normally only has one lecture per week. So instead of taking five courses twice a week like we would back home, you would take 10 courses once. For this reason I would highly suggest going over your notes during your spare time, because if your class is only once a week for only 1-2 hours, odds are that you’re going to forget what your professor talked about the week before, so prepare yourself before arriving to lecture.

-The 10 courseload can also make for quite the stressful exam period, as you have to write 10 exams over a 2 week timeframe. That being said, keep in the mind that there isn’t as much course content to study as there would be at Brock.

-Professors here are extremely understanding with the exchange students. France gets millions of foreign students every year, so the teachers are quite used to dealing with us and our thousands of questions. Oftentimes if you discuss your situation with your Prof, he/she may exempt you from the exam altogether in exchange for something much easier, like a written assignment.

-Your final mark will be out of 20. Don’t be shocked if you finish with a 10 or 11, first of all because a 10 is not the equivalent of 50% back home, and secondly because it’s completely normal as pretty much everybody gets bad marks (nobody has figured out why, it’s just one of those odd French things). Finishing a class with a 17 or higher is almost unheard of, while a mark of 8 or 9 is still also consider a pass. Remember that Brock works on a pass/fail basis, so your actual numerical score isn’t THAT important.

-If you don’t succeed at passing your exams the first time around, well you’re done for. Nah just kidding. In France you can rattraper or “redo” your exams a second time. But if you’ve been chosen to do an exchange abroad, you’re probably a smart little individual, so need not worry!

-Registering for classes is quite…interesting, to say the least. There’s no online web registration or administrative work to sign up. You just …show up (seriously). You basically sit in on a class for the whole semester like a fly on the wall, coming and going as you please, and if you think you’ve learned enough during the semester to attempt the exam then you fill out a form stating you want to write it. It’s quite different from what we have back home, but it is what it is!

-Last but not least, you will be expected to obtain around 60 credits (they’re known as “ECTS” around these parts) over two semesters, which works out to about 14-15 hours in class per week. It can be a little overwhelming trying to make your own schedule at the beginning, but it all works out. My advice is to sit in on as many courses as possible and get a feel for what you are most comfortable with.

Alright well I feel like I’ve just written out a novel and I’m getting kind of hungry, so I’m gonna go be as stereotypically French as possible and head on over to the local boulangerie and grab a baguette!

Until next time,

Mike (mgo8tu@brocku.ca)

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