Academics in Rennes, France

“Weekly grocery runs, Saturdays at the market, classes Monday through Friday make the weeks flow one into the other. Routines emerge and strengthen. But, of course, in these familiar activities there is always that adjustment to how normal things are done in France. This was especially noticeable when I began classes. I am taking classes in English within a French university here. Initially, I felt lazy for taking classes in English, but after hearing the experiences of those taking full French course loads and trying my hand at French classes myself, I feel pretty confident in my choice to not drown myself school work while I’d rather be exploring and traveling. That said, the English courses and their set-up is much more lax than what I’m used to. In Austin last semester, I took 5 classes of my own, each meeting for an hour three times a week, as well as TAing for 2 freshman classes, participating in the Pre-Law Fraternity and holding part-time job. Here, I take 6 classes which each meet for an hour one time a week- on average, one one-hour class a day. No job. No clubs. Add this to the fact that many of the classes didn’t start until several weeks in- one of my classes only began this week. The stark shift in free time was staggering at first, and to be honest I still haven’t really figured out what to do with it. In addition, the classes are very small (which I’m used to) and casual. Professor and students alike arrive ten minutes late and are all too happy to take a break half-way through the lecture for coffee and cigarettes (no complaints there). There are no textbooks and homework is rare.

Given this comparative breeziness, I was given a sharp shock when I made a misguided choice for my one required French course. Because I’m in one of the higher levels of the French Language courses, I’m required to choose one class from the University taught in French. To avoid the alternative option of 8 AM classes, I chose a class called “Droit Administratif”, or administrative law. Having taken an Administration of Justice class the semester before, I figured it would be similar content and pertinent to my Pre-Law minor. I was in for an unfortunate surprise when I arrived to an upper-level French law class with no knowledge whatsoever of French law. I couldn’t understand the professor much less get any meaning out of the lecture- instead I frantically tried to copy my neighbor’s notes, but even she wrote too fast for me to follow along. The first day, we started reading legal documents in French- legal documents take time for me to decipher in English, so imagine my difficulty in trying to leap over the language barrier and determine meaning from a complex legal document in French. But I told myself I could tough it out, I could record the lectures, ask for help. The next class they began their personal oral presentations, which I was expected to eventually do. After a 12 minute presentation, of which I understood not a thing, the professor proceeded to ask 20 minutes of detailed questions of the presenter. It was doubtful I could’ve given a 12 minute presentation on French law, much less answer 20 minutes of questions on the subject matter. In addition, no one sat next to me that class so I couldn’t even copy notes, left instead to scribbling down the odd word I understood. After class, I spoke with another student in the class to ask if there had been homework. Once I told her I was an international student, she admitted there was no way I’d be able to complete the homework because it required foreknowledge of French law.  This was the final straw, and I decided to swallow my pride and try to switch classes. Luckily for me, the registration office was willing to help me despite it being a month into the semester and I was able to switch to a first year history course which I’ll begin next week with much relief. So, I suppose the lessons to be learned were that, no, French university is not easy, simply a little more lax in structure and likely simplified for the English program, and that sometimes you need a good scare to remind you that you’re not as smart as you think you are.”

Thank you, Erin B. for continuing to share your experiences in Rennes, France.

Visit her blog for more posts and stories of her time abroad:


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