The French University system as I understand it

Salut!

I made it! I completed my last lecture at SciencePo Bordeaux today! What a strange feeling, the semester passed by so quickly. Feels like I just arrived a month ago but it´s already way more. Now I have two weeks to prepare for the exams and write one essay, seems doable. In this post I´ll talk about the french university system and my experiences with it.

Science Po is a grand ecole, so technically not a university but is very prestigious. As an Erasmus student it felt like a “normal” university, when you see how the program is for the regular students you notice a difference. There is no Bachelor/Master system, the equivalent to both is 5 years. Students have to apply and go to the entry test, I witnessed this last week, so strange to see all these kids and parents at uni. SciencePo does not offer a lot of spots, it´s highly competitive and to get in you have to have outstanding good grades (not that great, if so you would study in Paris). Also something strange: exams on Saturday mornings, I mean WHYYYY?? Students have a large choice of courses and usually do a one year exchange. They have “culture generalle” courses, where they literally learn general knowledge (extremely franco centric, never heard of some people that they constantly talk about, who´s that Gambetta guy again?). All other things seems rather straight forward and students do the same things as any other student does around the world.

Now to my impressions. I´ll have to disappoint you: I´m not impressed SciencePo!

I had rather high expectations. I knew that the French right insanely long exams, have a very strict structure for their essay and that they not the most academic (they don´t really get referencing for example). But overall I thought that I would be kinda challenged here. But no. At this point I actually have to praise Korea University, I learned a lot of things that I can apply in various courses. NEVER thought that I would think this way! In some way te French and Korean system is similar since critical thinking or just “thinking” is nowhere to be found. The professor does this monologue, students transcribe the lecture (WORD FOR WORD) and just reproduce knowledge in the exam. This is not how I imagine university to be and especially when your studying something as much contested (literally everything) you should be able to have some sort of opinion!

I talked to some people, and asked about their opinion concerning the education. The Erasmus students are disappointed and we all agree that our home university is way better. Other regular students praise that SciencePO are very well equipped for their masters and jobs, this is probably true just makes be even more concerned about the french university system (CAN IT GET EVEN WORSE??).

So overall,academically I haven´t received the quality that I had expected.

Now to some positive stuff, you wouldn´t believe it but there are some!

Some of the professors are excellent (!!!). Most of my professors are highly dedicated and really know their stuff. One of my profs did this phd in Somalia, such a rebel (warning: ambiguous for the sake of humor). Others just are hilarious, I always enjoy listening to the jokes of my french lecturer, he comments on everything in a very implicit way. I always have a good time, especially when he mocks French politicians. I attend lectures where I learn things which are relevant, where other points of view are presented and we have discussions. But somehow I feel like this is just in the English Track courses, the French ones are lecture-based oral. I show up to all the lectures, take notes (bullet points) and critically process what was just said. One professor really pushes through his own perceptive but he is very honest about it (“In my opinion…”). He always states that we can argue against him, ähm not happening in the exam, he´s very intimidating. I think of counterarguments in my head instead, practices your debating skills 🙂

Another great things, we only have finals and that´s it. No extra reading only recommended ones (and let´s face it NO one reads those). I have a lot of free time besides lectures to have fun and enjoy France, since I never go to the library as there is no reason to do so. The system requires you to go to the lectures (you should, since some professors don´t do ppts) and then revise for the exams at the end of the semester. Overall a pretty nice student life. No bug research papers that keep you super busy for at least a week like in Malmö. Most of the exams are multiple choice or orals (loves those).

Since I got finals coming up I´ll be studying and being productive (feeling like a real student). Probably gonna study in my room, since the library is under construction and it gets really noisy at some times.

Hope this was interesting. Maybe you´d love the french system, everyone as they please. I don´t however I love Bordeaux, my Erasmus and every day here. Could not have changed a thing looking back. Bordeaux was the right choice and it got me somewhere academically besides from improving my French: I realized that Malmö is awesome and that I will never ever study in France!

Have a great week!

Lena

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