A Glimpse into Our Lives at French University

Bonjour from the classrooms of Bordeaux! This is blog 3 team: Macalah, Sarah, and Sebastián

Blog Team 3: Macalah, Sarah and Sebastián

While we have spent an amazing first month exploring Bordeaux and the surrounding Aquitaine region, we can’t forget the main reason why we’re here: to STUDY abroad. This week’s blog will compare the French and American education systems, along with the interactions we’ve had with other French students.

Before the semester began, we were placed into three different universities based on our majors: Sciences-Po, Bordeaux Montaigne, and the Université de Bordeaux. Macalah attends Sciences-Po, whereas Sarah goes to Bordeaux Montaigne, and Sebastián attends the Université de Bordeaux. Unlike at St. Lawrence, where we could walk to our classrooms (or anywhere else) in about 5 minutes, we have to take the Tramway (Le Tram) every day to go to class in France. You may think an 8 am is bad at SLU, but try adding a 10 minute walk and a 20 minute tram to that before the sun is even up!

Sunrise on the way to the Tram stop, 7.45 am

Each university has a different specialty and therefore has a different feel to their campuses. Regardless of our academic interests, we’ve all found classes that relate to our majors. Bordeaux Montaigne is on the smaller side and focuses on humanities. Science Po, as its name implies, specializes in government and political science courses while the Université de Bordeaux is very large- over 50,000 students- and offers courses in a variety of subjects.

La Cour d’Honneur, in the Université of Bordeaux à Victoire

Students have the option to take classes in either French or English, or even a few of both! Classes taught completely in French can be challenging, especially when it comes to taking notes and following class discussions, but we’re starting to understand more and more every class. Although transitioning into a whole new language can be difficult, we’re all improving and taking it one day at a time!

Unlike courses at St. Lawrence, French classes are often much larger and are held in lecture halls. These courses are called Cours Magistral (CM). At Bordeaux Montaigne, many courses have a CM component- which typically meet for two hours every other week- and a smaller class component, the Travaux Dirigés (TD), which meets for two hours each week. The TD’s consist of class discussion, group work, and reviewing homework, whereas the CM lecture teaches the overall themes and concepts for the courses.

TD component of a Contemporary Art class at Bordeaux-Montaigne (La Baigneuse Valpinçon, by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres)

These large lecture classes can make it difficult to meet other French students or follow what is going on in class. One thing many of us have noticed is the relationship between the students and the professor; it is not uncommon for French students to talk loudly during class or for the teacher to be frustrated with their students for not paying attention. One perk of French universities, however, is that they cost less, or nothing at all, and all of the suggested reading material is available online or in the library, eliminating the need to purchase books.

This staircase leads students to knowledge, to the library of Université de Bordeaux, in Place de la Victoire

While it can be hard to make French friends, it is not impossible! Fiona and Sarah met two French girls in their English-French translation class who were thrilled to find some Americans to speak English with, they ended up going to McDonalds for lunch where they spent four hours talking about everything from TV shows to how they choose their majors.

Fiona and Sarah eating lunch with their two new French friends!

We also take classes at the Département d’Études de Français Langue Étrangère (DEFLE). We were placed in 5 different groups based on our proficiency of the Langue of Molière. Roughly, half of us take classes at DEFLE on Mondays and Wednesdays, whereas the other half have French class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Each French lesson is 2,5 hours long (from 5.45 pm to 8.15 pm) and is aimed at enhancing different language skills.

In addition to our classes at the universities and DEFLE, we also take a directors course titled, “The Food and Wine of Southwestern France and Bordeaux” with Professor Cadwell once a week. In this course we discuss classic French recipes and the history and importance of wine, which are reinforced in our biweekly excursions in the Aquitaine region. Dr. Caldwell isn’t just our professor but also our tour guide, advisor, translator and event planner and basically our dad abroad.

View right outside the library of Sciences Po Bordeaux

Although we have noticed a drop in our overall homework load, we’re not complaining! It gives us more time to enjoy and explore our campuses and the beautiful sites of Bordeaux!

À la prochaine! As usual, on s’adapte!

Macalah, Sarah, Sebastián