I’ve already talked about the class-choosing process as a study abroad student in France and how it is different from UCLA, but I haven’t yet discussed the differences between the actual classes at a French university and back home.
The largest difference is definitely the amount of time spent in class. At UCLA, most classes have at least two lectures per week and perhaps a discussion section. In Lyon, each class only meets once a week for an hour and forty-five minutes. This semester I’m taking four courses for a grand total of seven hours of class per week. It’s lovely. And if the minimal class time wasn’t enough, the French university system runs on semesters, but unlike the semesters that you would find at Berkeley or Merced, ours are only twelve weeks long with a finals week at the end.
Despite the shorter amount of time spent in the classroom, classes here can be pretty rigorous. Last semester, I took a class where I did more reading than I had ever done at class back home. And studying generally takes a little bit longer when you have to decipher the French you scribbled down in your notebook. Cramming a week’s worth of material into one two-hour lecture means lots of fast talking and not a lot of powerpoint slides, so the note-taking in France is generally very hurried, something the French students can do and I can’t (at least not without lots of spelling errors).
But the French students have had lots more practice than I’ve had at taking the kind of serious, super-fast notes that are required in a French classroom. At UCLA, we have lots of choice when it comes to figuring out what classes to take and when. Sure, we have requirements and timelines, but I was undeclared well into my sophomore year, something that the French students couldn’t dream of. You are what major you are in France, and you have to follow a very specific path. Choosing classes doesn’t really exist in the same way it does in California. I have friends at UCLA who will be taking GEs during their senior year. French students could never take a lower level course that late in the game.
Interacting with French professors is also rather different than it is back home. In France, there are no office hours. After class, professors are perfectly happy to take your questions, but if you can’t stick around for an extra five minutes your chance to ask a question is lost until next week. Emailing is totally acceptable but not as frequently used. There just isn’t as much emphasis on the teacher-student relationship, which makes chatting with French profs so much fun. They are always tickled that a student wants to talk (and not just about when the exam is).
Things are very different over here. Teaching styles, student interaction, note-sharing culture, all of it is foreign to our way of life at UCLA. And it’s such a pleasure to experience.