Disclaimer: This post is in no way aimed to criticize my study abroad program. It is simply an American student’s experience with the French schooling system.
Alright, so I can safely say that Student Center and the Course Catalogue are two of my favorite sites; they awkwardly appear when I hit the “Top Sites” button on Safari. I have no problems admitting that I love my classes at Cornell and really that one-liner “What courses are you taking?” does work on me…sort of.
Love life aside, I am currently trying to figure out which courses I am going to take during my last year at Cornell. I could not help but think how crazy it was that I could easily find all of the class descriptions, recommendations, teacher ratings, times, etc. online from across the globe. It has become apparent that although I have always loved putting together my schedule, I have definitely taken for granted the ease with which a Cornell student can collect all the information they need for a perfect schedule (no classes before 10:10, no Friday classes, friendliness of teacher, median grade is at least a B) and the accessibility to all of the resources that provide this information.
I came into the French schooling system very blind because my program said that all we simply had to do was look at the course booklet and go to classes we found interesting. First of all, thank you EDUCO, for putting the course booklet together yourselves, as none of the course descriptions, times or teachers were available online. To be fair, my program allows us to directly enroll in several different French universities at once, so obviously there would not be a booklet that contained every school’s courses. The schools began during different weeks, so we had a 3-week “shopping period” to work out the perfect schedule. That sounds like a lot of time, but when most of your classes only meet once a week for three hours, you don’t have a lot of room to miss the first couple of classes because you will basically be missing one third of the semester.
The instructions were simple but the task was not. I think my program was aware of this too - before any of the schools even started classes, they took us on a guided tour to make sure we could end up at the right places! Anyways, even if we managed to go to the correct address stated in the catalogue, often the class was no longer offered or was placed into a different building. And no, it’s not as simple as running from the Art’s Quad to the Ag Quad. I’m talking 35-minute subway rides across the city to the school’s other location. Traveling from school to school, writing down every possible course/time that seemed appealing to me and then coming home and attempting to create the perfect schedule consumed most of my free time during the first couple weeks.
I could definitely tell that the French were used to this type of thing; I would walk into classes 10-15 minutes late, frazzled and sweating, while they were all sitting prime and pristine taking notes…typical. The thing is, they don’t get the “privilege” of a shopping period like I did. They choose their major and follow a set of required classes. Us lucky Americans have the freedom to come and go as we choose (again, typical), so obviously the French schooling system was not set up for my high demands. I ended up with a great schedule (class Tuesday-Thursday) but it did take a lot more physical and mental effort than I am used to.
Kelly Gordon is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Notes from Abroad: Culture Shock appears on Wednesdays.