The French University System

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I survived my semester.  I took all my exams and now I’m simply waiting on the results.  I thought I’d take a few minutes to reflect on the university experience in France.  First of all, as I’ve mentioned before, there aren’t really clubs or organizations in the way we have them at American universities.  Most students go to class and go home.  If they participate in extracurricular activities they are outside of the university….. At Cornell the majority of student’s extracurricular activities are organizations associated with the school. This makes a sense of community that is not found at French universities.

I’d also like to add that the university students pay very little to attend public university.  And thus, almost everyone goes to college.  However, the motivation to pay attention in class isn’t the same as in America.  I can’t even count the number of students talking loudly in class or the number of students spending all day on Facebook in class.

I would also like to mention that French university students dress so much nicer that their counterparts in America.  Maybe it’s the fact that students have to commute to school that motivates them to put real pants on…. So many American university students just roll out of bed and groggily walk to school in their pajamas.  Plus, men wear scarves here…. I wish that’d catch on in America.  Not only is it practicle, but it looks much more put together.

Everyone smokes.  I know I’ve said this before in my blog, but I think it’s important to reiterate.  The students use smoking as a means of socializing.  During the 10 minute break in our 3 hour classes, all the students go outside together and smoke and converse… Being a non-smoker myself didn’t help me make French friends… but I’m alright with that.

French university classes are not required to have a syllabus.  Some did, some didn’t.  I didn’t always know what was gong on in class, or how to prepare, or what to study for the exam. There was an equivalent of “BlackBoard” for courses to post information on a website… although very few professors actually used it.  So many professors walk in, mumble into a microphone, walk out.  No time for questions, no office hours, nothing… you get what you get and you go on.  There is very little guidance in that sense.  At the same time, French students don’t necessarily “pick” their classes in the way we do in America.  They choose their major, and then all the psychology majors take the same classes each semester…

In my opinion, classes in France were easy to pass, but hard to succeed in.  Multiple choice doesn’t exist, so exams are always essays.  Generally, the essay topic is ridiculously broad.  So that means if you write something relevant and write a coherent essay they can’t fail you.  At the same time, you never really know what exactly they would deam a phenomenal essay or how to get a top note.  With a broad topic there are so many different answers, and how can the students know which approach to the question will inspire the professor most.  Luckily for me my only responsibility was to pass my classes and get credit (my grades don’t matter, as the French stystem of grading is numerical and not equivalent to the American A,B,C method).

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