I live in Paris since January this year. When applying for an Erasmus semester last spring, I actually didn’t think so much about how it’s going to be, about the fac (faculty) as they say here, what I am going to study and so on. I just wanted to go away, improve my French, and do something else. Nevertheless, I learned to appreciate my home university much much more first when coming to Paris. I will explain you why.
Paris is great when it comes to the city itself. Architecture, culture, activities, music, metro, cafés, there is everything you want. Studying here is somewhat different. When applying for my Erasmus, I immediately knew that the prestigious Université Paris-Sorbonne (IV) was something I wanna see, I wanted to know how different it is from my university in Sweden. I heard quite a lot from other students, I read some stuff on the internet, saw international rankings and the Sorbonne is placed high in humanities, which is my field of studies. So why not?
Upon my arrival, the most difficult part was to choose all the courses. In France, you have to choose all the courses independently every semester, and Erasmus students benefit from all courses in the university program, which is awesome. I could more or less study what I want, as there were no limitations from my home university. Here comes the harder part: Mix and match your courses from different institutions so that they don’t overlap, this was clearly the most difficult task in the beginning. Before going to Paris, I studied one semester of International Relations, so beside some courses in french linguistics I decided to take courses in that field, too.
Studying at three different faculties spread over the city (north, west, central) is quite tiring sometimes, being capable to manage your time is really important. When my courses started, I was really surprised and a little disappointed about the atmosphere there. Students are a bit shy and didn’t talk much, the professors quite authoritarian, and there was little room for questions or discussion. Although this was intimidating in the first place, I could see a difference between my teachers in history and linguistics. Those teaching in languages where remarkably more respectful, being less hierarchic, listening to students questions and saw us more as colleagues than something else.
Beside the hierarchic and somewhat tough atmosphere in class, breaks or pauses are nothing the French consider important. In nearly all of my classes we have 2-3 hours of lectures without having a break, not even five minutes. This is something I get really annoyed of. As a matter of fact, the importance and positive effects of regular breaks during lectures and class are scientifically proven. That one of the major universities in France not consider that being important is not only incomprehensible but ignorant.
You wanna make friends during your stay in Paris? Make sure to visit some Erasmus activities organized by Parismus or other associations then. French students are not really into talking with strangers, as far as I can say. Most of them are hanging with other students or they spend their time alone, making it difficult to catch up with international students. But don’t give up, there are always someone you can talk to!
Compared to Sweden, the university system in France is very different. Have in mind that there is no actual selection at Bachelors-level, universities are obligated to enroll all students applying. There are few places (except libraries which are unfortunately overcrowded including long queues) to sit and study, and the infrastructure is often old or doesn’t work (for example, I could not show a powerpoint presentation because there is no HDMI port for their screens, in 2016?!). It seems that the French university system definitely needs a budget-boost, which many students also demand loudly in their demonstrations.
Also, I had teachers checking Facebook/Emails during student presentations and speeches or angry outbreaks of a teacher saying “being late for class is not an acceptable attitude towards international and distinguished researchers”. One of my exams was written without having a teacher present, we got the topic of the essay to write via text message to one of the students, resulting in massive cheating and Wikipedia-lookups, nobody seems to care.
So prepare yourself for quite some funny/annoying experiences when coming from a Scandinavian university. On the other hand keep in mind that there are some excellent courses and professors out there, and even though it’s tough sometimes, I can say that I learned a lot in my courses! I guess everybody needs to make his/her own experience, so just try it out 🙂