A Year in Paris #2: Travel Blog

A Year in Paris #2: Travel Blog


Nat Tipping blogs more updates from her year at a Parisian university. This time, she outlines the main differences between the UK and France’s universities.

Although a compulsory part of my course, when organising my year abroad I was given three options of what I could do whilst away. The first was to work in a French college or high school, teaching English to French students. I discounted this immediately, remembering what little shits my friends could be in high school French lessons (not me of course, I was obviously the star pupil…). The second option was to find a job abroad which, although possibly the most interesting option, scared the living daylights out of me. Talk about throwing yourself in at the deep end! Due to my complete fear of work and my hatred of children, I choose the final option: studying at a French university.

Now, if you’ve been keeping up with my blogs (there’s only been one other before this so you really shouldn’t have got lost) you’ll know that I had an absolute nightmare enrolling on my courses. When I finally managed to, I immediately got very excited to get going with them and have a laugh just like I do at Kent. I quickly realised however that French university, or at least, university in Paris, is nothing like English uni. Here are just a few of the reasons.


1. Nobody misses lessons, like, ever.

I know. I was appalled too. Especially after signing up for classes which mean I have two 9am starts, I was outraged to find that these French kids don’t mess about. They’re punctual, they listen to everything the teacher says and they do all their reading. Put bluntly, French students put English students (well, me) to shame. Their work ethic is entirely different to ours, and what’s more, they actually seem to ENJOY doing the work. I don’t know about you, but reading 30 pages on the use of coffee houses as political meeting places in 18th century London doesn’t exactly have me running to the library to get started.

NB. This attendance level may be due to the simply ludicrous rule that if you miss more than two classes of a certain module over the course of the semester you automatically fail, no exam necessary. Upon telling one of my friends of this rule, she simply replied ‘mate, are you in France or prison?’

2. They’re never late.

Anybody who knows me knows that if I say I’ll be somewhere at, say, 8pm, I’ll show up at 8:30 at the earliest. This isn’t due to me being purposefully a massive dickhead and making people wait around for my big entrance, it’s just because I literally always somehow end up late. Last year I left my flat to walk the 20 minutes to my friend’s house 40 minutes early so I wouldn’t be late, and I still turned up a quarter of an hour after I said I would. It makes no bloody sense.

French uni will definitely knock that out of me though, because here, if you turn up more than five minutes after the start-time of a lecture, the lecturer will literally turn you away. What’s more annoying is that this then means you’ve lost one of your precious two possible unexplained absences. I’ve been saving them up for the end of term when I reach the inevitable pre-exam brick wall. Tactics.

3. They don’t really socialise

Judging from my friends who are in various other areas of France having the time of their lives, I’d limit this to just being a Paris thing. Maybe even a just my uni thing. For me, this problem appears to stem not only from the sheer expense of Parisian life, but also from the fact that most of these students have lived in Paris their whole lives, and so still live at home with Maman and Papa. Really, fair enough, if my parents lived in Paris I wouldn’t bother moving out of home either, especially not for 800 euros a month (yes that is my actual rent price, rounded down). There’s no on campus club, there’s no SOAP! on a Saturday night, the uni shuts at 9pm and everyone swipes their metro pass back home to the warmth of a home-cooked meal prepared by mum.

The lack of social scene is also no doubt due to the ridiculous amount of work students are expected to do outside of class. Never again will I complain about the workload of my course at Kent – someone read this blog to me next year if I do. Speaking of…

4. The workload is completely DIABOLICAL

At Kent, I have on average 11 hours a week, being split over four or five modules, totalling 60 credits per term. In Paris however, I only have to take 60 credits for the entire year. ‘Result!’ I thought upon finding this out last year. Little did I know however that at French universities, modules aren’t worth 15/30 credits a piece like at Kent…they’re worth on average three or four credits. This has left me taking nine modules this semester alone, for a measly total of 32 credits. These nine modules collate to 17 hours of lectures a week, and countless pages of reading outside of it. Oh, and did I mention that there’s also weekly essays to be handed in for at least four of these nine modules, and weekly quizzes on what we’ve covered? Yeah, fun times being had by all.

5. Their language skills are so much better than ours

WARNING. This is a generalisation.

The main purpose of a year abroad is to improve your language skills, which indeed I think it inevitably does do. The main thing I’ve noticed since coming here and meeting people however is even if I meet someone who isn’t studying English, their English is still significantly better than my French, AND I’M A FRENCH STUDENT. I guess I have previous years of year abroad students who worked as language assistants to thank for that.

It has to be said though that all in all this is a brilliant thing. It’s always comforting to know that if I literally can’t make sense of what a person is saying, or have no means of replying, I can ask them to say it in English, or I can reply in a mixture of English and French, simply to keep the conversation flowing. I’ve taken a few English literature classes whilst here which are taught half in English half in French, and have struck a deal with the French kids that they can practice their English on me if I can practice my French on them. Needless to say this creates some bizarre sounding conversations, but it is a lot of fun.

…Wow, that last point almost didn’t sound like a complaint. Go me!


Follow Nat on Twitter here.




2 Responses to “A Year in Paris #2: Travel Blog”

  1. J. Tennant

    Dec 06. 2013

    I too considered going to a foreign land to study. However, like your experiences in many ways, the entire ordeal proved very stressful and I actually left as soon as I could (I’m glad you are sticking this out)!

    I had this long-black-haired British teacher for ‘Chemistry’ lessons who wore black robes and always used to pick on some kid with a scar and glasses. Then there was the headteacher whose beard was so impressive that I often used to dream about sleeping inside it. The train ride to and fro, however, was delightful.

    Keep it up Tipping.

    Reply to this comment

  2. Alex

    Dec 11. 2013

    Paris is a beautiful city, with regards to the language I always found even if they could speak English..they didn’t want to! Was often very hard to ask for help, directions etc, but everyones experiences are different!

    Reply to this comment

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