“Mais nous payons,” I replied to my host-brother Matthieu. It was the end of another long day in Nantes after hours of academic orientation and a semi-successful effort towards acquiring a French gym membership. During dinner, my host family and I began talking about the differences between college in France and in the United States. I relayed some of the benefits about my university: the expansive facilities, the teacher to student ratios, the accessible housing. He looked at me as if to say “that’s not fair.” So I replied, “But we pay.” In France, to attend a year of university costs around 100 euros. That’s less than the cost of my books in the U.S. That’s less than the cost of a class at some boutique fitness studios. However, the students here also have less choice. In their senior year of high school, French teenagers take a huge exam called the BAC. It’s similar to the SAT but carries a lot more weight. The BAC essentially decides which career path the student can take, and thus which majors the student can claim. The facilities are noticeably older than those of an American institution, and often there are more students in a class than seats for students. While the cost of college in America is not justifiable, there are clear advantages and disadvantages to both systems. There is not really room for the question of “fairness.”
Besides the external and financial differences between the educational systems, I was a little taken aback by the inner workings of the French school system. I am allowed to take classes at the IES Abroad center, but we are also encouraged to take some classes at the local partner institution, Université de Nantes. The stressful part besides having to take all of your classes in French? Class starts in two weeks and they haven’t even posted the hours for the courses I want to take. You also don’t get a syllabus until the first day of class, making course approvals for Temple that much harder. As a very schedule-oriented person, this is my worst nightmare. I’m trying to adopt the French “laissez-faire” attitude but its proving harder than I thought. A little less stressful, however, is the French style of teaching. Our coordinators at IES explained that all the classes at the university are pass/fail. The professors rarely give homework, expecting that the students study on their own time. Therefore, the final exam counts for almost your whole grade. If you’re a procrastinator, perhaps this sounds more stressful — but I love the idea of student-curated homework.
When visiting the university, I expected little structure and a crumbling façade. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. There were fliers everywhere advertising business clubs and EDM concerts, slightly old, but functional facilities, and plenty of street art.
The flow of students from one class to another to the dining hall was similar to that of Temple. The buzz of the first day of classes seems to be universal. For lunch you can go a Restaurant Universitaire on campus, which offers a full meal for just 3 euros to anyone with a student ID. I might pay the price of a house for college back home, but when in France…..eat the 90 cent baguette.