I have been somewhat hesitant about writing this post, for fear that it would simply turn into one of the many angry, whiny rants that I have given to people who made the mistake of asking me about French university. However, for me, having a blog is all about being honest, so here I am, ready to spill the tea on my French university experience.
Before I moved to France, I had been told (or perhaps warned) about how my university life probably wasn’t going to be the same as it had been back in England. Obviously, when moving to a foreign country, this is something you expect, so I knew it would take me a while to get used to the education system here. The main difference between uni here and back home really, is the funding that universities receive. Coming from a country where every student is charged the extortionate price of £9,000+ a year for tuition fees, it was quite strange to think that public universities here in France are either free, or come at a tiny fraction of the cost that ours do (around 200 euros a year). However I must admit that this difference became quite obvious as time went on in terms of lessons, resources and student engagement.
Something else that I noticed very quickly upon moving to France was that the French absolutely LOVE to riot. Be it marching, graffiti-ing or simply smashing up shop windows, you name it, the French love to do it. With the antics of the Gilets Jaunes becoming a seemingly never-ending feature of French culture, it seems that most of France has jumped on the bandwagon, and that includes the angry students at my university. Don’t get me wrong, this has largely worked to my benefit, giving me a few days off and an impromptu month-long holiday at the start of the year, with term starting a month later as a result of the protests. Overall, as an Erasmus student, this has probably been the only interesting aspect of my French university experience, which I suppose doesn’t bode well for what’s to come.
I wasn’t sure how to go about writing this post without it turning into a sea of rambling words that most of you eventually won’t even be bothered to read. So I thought id confine my thoughts to a list, starting with what I hate about French university…
I’ll never forget the lesson when my friend turned to me, looked at me in the eye and said: ‘this is mental torture’, because in that moment, I realised that she had just perfectly summed up exactly how I felt about my lessons here. Hate is a strong word, and to be brutally honest, hate is the word that springs to mind when I think about my classes. With every lesson lasting 2 hours, usually without a break, you can imagine just how difficult it is to stay focused whilst working in another language, particularly when most classes don’t involve any kind of powerpoint or visual stimulus and the teachers seem to care even less about the subject than you do. If I were a coffee drinker, I reckon my attempts to keep my eyes open this year would have resulted in me leaving France with a body composed of 90% caffeine.
The structure paradox
This title pretty much sums up French university. On one hand, uni feels more like the strict structure of school, with 8:30am starts and a designated lunch time for everybody that lasts 2 hours. This means that the not only is the queue to buy any sort of food roughly a mile long (good luck finding somewhere to sit by the way), but also, the day is dragged out, meaning that your lectures could finish as late as 8pm…lovely. However, like I said, this school-like structure is juxtaposed by the absolute lack of structure in pretty much every other aspect. I won’t bother going into much detail with this, but all I will say is, if you’re going to university in France, expect to not have a clue whats going on at any given time.
Following on from this, (although I’m pretty sure this is a French thing in general) admin, paperwork and sheets have become my worst enemy this year. From sorting out my timetable, to filling out my learning agreement and receiving endless sheets in my classes, I’m pretty sure that the amount of paper I have been given during my time at university is the single biggest cause of climate change…
It seems that my university is sort of lagging behind in the IT department, so processes generally involved a lot of paperwork, multiple meetings, and a big old serving of frustration. I can’t tell you how excited I am to just get rid of the endless folders and meaningless sheets of paper that are bursting from my desk drawers when I leave here. Don’t worry, I’ll recycle it all of course.
RIGHT. Now I’ve got that off my chest and probably nearly scared anyone off from doing a year abroad in France completely, now I want to talk about the reasons why I love French university (believe it or not there are some).
As much as I complain about the lessons being boring (and trust me, they are) one positive from this situation is that the classes aren’t very taxing. This means this year I have had a delightfully light workload in comparison to my workload at university back in Birmingham. In general, I have had to do little work outside of class and so despite those painful 2 hours feeling more like 10, most of the time I can leave my work in those 2 hour lessons and go home and relax. No pain no gain I guess.
4 day weekends
Okay so this part isn’t a given with French university, but I decided to make this happen for myself because, I deserve it. When sorting out my timetable, I went for the all or nothing approach, condensing all of my lessons into the first half of the week, meaning that I had a wonderfully long 4-day weekend. Sorting out our own timetables may have been stressful in the beginning, but it meant that we were in charge of our own week and I therefore, had more days off than days at uni. This is what allowed us to do trips more easily and at a much cheaper price, so I will always be grateful that we were able to do this!
Although I didn’t spend too much of my week there, something I am thankful that university did, was give me some sort of routine. As lazy as students are, having nothing specific to do every day not only becomes tedious, but attempts to stay entertained would inevitably result in spending habits that would have my bank account screaming. I feel like I have a natural liking for routines and so I was glad that university gave me some sort of structure during my year abroad, without actually taking over my life. Sort of a win-win then, apart from the whole ‘mental torture’ thing…
And there you have, in a nutshell, my feelings towards French university. It took me a while to put this together, but I managed to avoid going into full rant-mode and I came out the other end feeling somewhat at peace with my university woes. Obviously, I want to make it clear that this is personal experience only, and of course I can’t speak for all French universities. However I must admit that from speaking to a few people living in France this year, they have also had similar experiences.
What I will say is that, as much as I have complained when people have asked about studying here, it really hasn’t tainted my experience of my year abroad at all. I have still had the most amazing year despite any frustrations with university and if anything, it’s going to make me appreciate my studies in England so much more. As I’m coming to the home stretch now, with just a couple exams and a few weeks before I move back to the UK, I can’t help but feel like I’m no where near ready to leave my life as an Erasmus student behind; so if you’re thinking about studying in France then please don’t let the negatives in this post put you off, because I promise you will have an amazing time regardless!
Have you ever studied abroad? I’d love to know in the comments below!