Amidst the soirées, traveling, and fun experiences of being in France, one gets the feeling that school work should be on the list as well. As much as we’d like to deny it, studying is indeed a part of study abroad. So what is studying in France like?
I am attending the political science university which is part of a system across France called IEP (Institute for Political Studies). It is affectionately called Science Po, and the entire campus is one building about the size of Bascom Hall. The inside of the building looks like a high school with the size and decoration of the rooms.
Though the UW system is huge and confusing, I have never appreciated it more after working with the French IEP system. Passing periods do not exist, so one class will end as another begins. This causes everyone, including the professor, to show up ten minutes “late.” It is completely normal for a class to be cancelled for the day. However the students generally find out a class has been cancelled by waiting a half hour for the professor to show up.
The style of classes is also quite different. Each class meets once a week, for two hours, and with a ten minute pause in the middle. Using white boards/chalk boards is not common, and PowerPoint is almost unheard of. The professor promptly walks to the front of the class and then talks to the class the entire time. But no worries about being bored, French students type every word the professor says. By the end of class, instead of the bullet-point notes we have come to “appreciate,” students have paragraphs of the professor’s lecture.
After talking with other international students, I’m continually appreciative of the American university system—particularly in the freedom and flexibility that we as students have to choose our majors. Most students in European and South American schools prepare for a large test that determines what university they can attend; this test is bigger than the SAT or ACT. To decide which test to take, students must decide a general area of studies such as political science, medicine, engineering, etc. Students follow these tracks through their entire college career without much option of switching; this will eventually lead to their career in the same field. Instead of having this stress at 16-18 years old in deciding our futures, I am very thankful for the ability to switch major, try new things, and still purse a career I like.
On Wisconsin! On Wisconsin!! This fabled cheer and school song is one of the many prides and traditions of our university. However this concept of pride in one’s school is not strong in Europe. One goes to college to prepare for work, and then one leaves as quickly as entering. It is rare to see competition between universities, alumni donating to the system, or even people walking around with sweatshirts proclaiming their school. So all-in-all, studying in France is a great eye-opening experience, but I will be content to sit in a UW lecture hall next year.