Navigating the French academic system has been difficult. Basically everything about the system is different from what I was accustomed to in the United States. To begin, international students were not given the list of available courses until the day before classes began, making it practically impossible to complete the approval process prior to departure. I was able to find an old course offering list to get a sense of the courses offered, but the offerings turned out to be very different from the actual list I was given at the start of the semester. This left little room for planning and personally, gave me a lot of stress as I was unsure of what classes would be accepted by Temple for transfer credit. On the bright side, we were given the first two weeks of school as a sort of trial period to test out different classes before making a final decision. After the first week of attending classes, a couple of things stood out to me right away.
- Syllabi are practically nonexistent. I’ve had a mix of teaching styles in which some professors would provide an overall lesson plan for the course and others would simply provide a document with the class material each session.
- Courses only meet once a week and are typically between 2-3 hours long
- Classroom locations change on a weekly basis, meaning that you have to have the online classroom directory on hand at all times
- Class schedules can be found physically on bulletin boards around the university (only the case for one of the universities I am attending)
- There are various instructional methods offered, of which I am registered in courses that are primarily CFs and one course that is a CDM (there are some other formats like electives, but those are not available to international students)
- CF (cours fondamentaux): Lecture course. These courses were the most surprising to me as they have no intermediary assignments. There is one final cumulative exam that is the sole determining factor of one’s grade.
- CDM (conférences de méthode): Discussion group course. This course is more similar to that of typical courses in the U.S., where active participation is required, and there are homework assignments, presentations, and essays.
The varying things I mentioned above have both pros and cons. The biggest con of all is the lack of syllabi, especially when it comes to attempting to find equivalent courses at Temple. Since I am in my final semester at Temple, it is really important that I get the credit I need in order to graduate this spring. To my advantage, I only need 3 courses to graduate on time, 2 of which I am completing asynchronously at Temple and the other, which I am fulfilling abroad, is for my economics major. To take the two courses asynchronously at Temple, I spoke with my study abroad advisor. I was given permission to take up to two courses at Temple – which was perfect since that was all I needed in order to graduate this Spring. The other points that I brought up are different, but definitely positive. The differences in the meeting times and instructional methods of my classes allows for more flexibility with my time. This flexibility allows me more time to do things like travel, work out, hang out with friends, try new things, and more. Nonetheless, when it comes to my actual classes, they are quite challenging. Currently, I am enrolled in 4 courses, 3 at Sciences Po and 1 at Université Lumière Lyon 2 (another university that has an agreement with Sciences Po that allows international students to enroll in up to 2 courses).
My courses at Sciences Po include “Firmes Multinationales et Attractivité des Territoires” or “Multinational Firms and Attractiveness of Territories,” which is taught in French and so far is my favorite! Economics can be jargony, so I find myself always keeping a cheat sheet when it comes to vocab, but otherwise the content is easy to follow, informative, and very interesting. Next, I have “Pensamiento Político Latinoamericano” or “Latin American Political Thought,” which is taught in Spanish. I also really enjoy this class because as a Puerto Rican who grew up in the U.S, I never learned the Spanish language or Spanish history formally. I learned to speak Spanish by listening to my parents as a child and then later through books and things of that nature. However, having never learned it in a school setting, grammar is something that I often struggle with. Taking this course has already helped me improve this skill and has also deepened my knowledge on Latin American philosophy, which is really important to me as it’s part of my heritage. The final course I am taking at Sciences Po is “France 1870-1939: La République et la guerre” or “France 1870-1939: The Republic and the war.” This course is also taught in French and provides a vast historical background on France, which I find important to know since I am living and studying here. Lastly, at Université Lumière Lyon 2 I am taking “Macroéconomie Ouverte” or “Open Macroeconomics.” The course is taught in French and fulfills my final economics requirement at Temple.
I am planning to take some time this month to really review the notes I have since classes began. It’s easy to let things go by since for most of my classes there are no assignments/exams, but I want to ensure that this does not happen. The final exams are pretty intimidating and I want to be fully prepared. Moreover, taking all of my courses in French and Spanish has been really great as it has allowed me to expand my capabilities in both languages!
Check out how other students are adjusting to their academics abroad!