In France it is perfectly acceptable to start your day at 8am (I don’t mean wake up, I mean be in class). This possibly explains why as a nation they prefer coffee to tea. It is not possible to get through a day that begins that early without a certain amount of caffeine coursing through your veins. As I have said before, it is also normal to have classes which last for two hours. This is something I’ve started to get used to, but to be honest I still struggle to concentrate fully for two hours. Even without the language barrier, it’s hard to focus when all you’ve got is someone talking at you. I’ve had a very exciting week in classes though, which has involved more than one teacher using Powerpoint! I’ve gotten very used to the wanton lack of technology here and feel like someone from another generation now I marvel at the wonders of a slide show.
There appears to be very little difference here between a lecture and a tutorial. A tutorial seems to be a lecture, with the teacher asking a few questions every now and then. Now I’ve had tutors like that at Edinburgh, who clearly relish the opportunity to hear their own voices for another fifty minutes, but it’s always felt like the idea at Edinburgh was to get the students participating. Here, I think it is more about listening to the teacher and absorbing information.
This does make it really easy to just not prepare for class at all. Often there isn’t a reading list or some kind of exercise to do. Teachers hand out a bibliography, but I didn’t find myself looking at it until I had a presentation or exam to do. I have been finding it very difficult to be motivated to work here anyway, Edinburgh and my degree seem extremely far away, so it doesn’t help that there’s no impetus to work. The last semester ended in a bit of a haze of ‘why didn’t I work harder at the start?’. I wish I could say I’ve learnt my lesson and definitely did not start this semester with an addiction to Grey’s Anatomy. I wish I could say that.
I don’t want you to think that the teachers don’t care about their students though. After one bad experience (where the teacher sternly informed me I was here to learn French and so will do everything exactly as the French students do with no support), I’ve been lucky to have many teachers who account for my Erasmus status and try to help. One handed out a list of vocabulary as she realised the terms in that week’s class were quite technical. Another liked to speak in English to the group of Anglophones and seemed genuinely thrilled to have us there. I’ve had assessment slightly adjusted from what the French students have to do. So I would say the majority do make an effort, but the overall attitude is more old-school here (pun intended).
I don’t think I can compare French university either favourably or unfavourably to the UK. It is just different. There are aspects I dislike intensely: the administration, the lack of class participation and technology. But there are things I’d bring back: many of the teachers, the subjects and how you’re assessed. So yes, it is insane to start class at 8am, but once you look past that it’s not bad at all!