Studying in Paris – ups and downs

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 🙂


The unexpected I

Some of you might know that one of my major interests lie in Austrian politics, giving my background in the Green Party and their youth organisation. That said, I need to comment on the yesterday’s presidential elections.

For those of you not familiar with Austrian politics, here comes a brief explanation of the political system: As a federal republic with its nine Bundesländer (states), Austria is since the country’s independence in 1955 governed by two parties, the social-democrats (SPÖ) and the central-right peoples party (ÖVP). The Austrian federal president is elected every 6 years, having mainly a representative role within the political landscape, but he (there has never been a female president in Austria) also signs laws and is the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

Six candidates ran for the election which is now going for its second turn, as none of the candidates received more than 50%.

The presidential elections of April 24th gave a shocking result: Norbert Hofer, the candidate of the far-right, if not extreme-right FPÖ won the election with around 35% of the votes. These elections have been different, in a way that the Republic has not seen before. Alexander van der Bellen from the Greens came second, followed by an independent candidate. Both candidates from SPÖ and ÖVP, the parties being in the government, are far from victory and hold together about 22% of the votes, nothing similar has ever happened in the history of the second republic.

Alexander van der Bellen in 2008 (Photo by Christian Jansky)

What Austria faces today is a completely new situation and a challenge for the entire country. The political system based on two parties has collapsed. The major topic for the elections, the refugee situation in Europe and Austria, has been the victim of this important election. Will Austria be represented by a extreme-right politician who, being anxious about refugees, carries a weapon regularly?

We will see what the second turn brings, it will definitely be very difficult for the green Van der Bellen to catch up with Hofer, considering that many voters from the social-democrats and the people’s party voted for the far-right Hofer. The second turn will be held on the 22nd of May, and Austria will have its new president by then.

I deeply hope that the green candidate will win, not only because he is the best candidate, but also because we need a person standing and fighting against racism and nationalism.

The title of this entry is “the unexpected”. Yesterday, when I at 5pm saw the first results flashing over my screen, I could barely believe what I saw. Once again, there is this feeling of powerlessness, of disbelief. I was as surprised in 2013, when the FPÖ got more than 20% of the national votes, or in 2015, when they got 30% in Vienna. Now, in 2016, their candidate got 35% and leads the elections.

This is dangerous. Austria’s history showed us what nationalism, racism and fascism made to this country. We can not let this happen again. The FPÖ want to get out of the European Union, get rid of migrants and close the borders. Homophobia, antisemitism and islamophobia are common within and around the party.

But was it really unexpected? Is this a European, maybe even international trend of radicalisation? Trump, Le Pen, Wilders, and now Hofer and the FPÖ?

How will the Austrian government react? SPÖ-ÖVP need to rethink and change. The right wing actions from the government concerning the refugee situation (border fence to Slovenia, defined limits of the number of refugees accepted per year) could apparently not convince conservative voters.

What will happen next? Are the rest of the democratic parties from the center-left going to support the green candidate in order to prevent a far-right president who is most likely going to lead Austria into a democratic crisis never seen before?



#1 My new blog – Green Paris?

So I’ve started a blog. In the beginning, I didn’t really know what to focus on here, but I’ll try to do my best writing about topics I really care about. As the title of my blog says, I’m into politics and language, and I thought – why not combine those vast themes in a blog? I always liked writing, so let’s start with something completely new.

Since January this year, I am in Paris for my exchange studies and I have quite some mixed feelings about it. I really like the city, Paris is a metropole with everything you can dream of when it comes to culture, but there are still some things I’m really missing. Me and my boyfriend were in Lyon and Montpellier lately, two beautiful and charming cities with plenty of trees, parks and so on. In Paris, at least in my arrondissement (18th, Montmartre), there are nearly no trees or parks. Walking from Place de Clichy up to the apartment has the not so positive side effect of bad air from all the traffic, Paris is after all still the city of cars and mopeds.

In addition, there are nearly no pedestrian zones in the city, most of the central city is stuffed with traffic and there is few space for pedestrians or bikes. In my opinion, the city of Paris should start with some kind of a tree-planting-program. It would make the city look much greener, bring the people to parks, giving a place to birds and other animals and help reduce air pollution. Some of the metro lines are overcrowded already, but there need to be less cars in the central part of the city, that is for sure.

The funny thing is that it seems that the Parisians themselves are not really into change, at least not the few people I’ve talked to: Cars are a natural part of the city, and pedestrian zones are nice in Bordeaux or Lyon, but not possible in Paris. – That’s the credo, more or less. I think they are on the right way though, considering the excellent public transport and the bike-rental services provided by the city. It will just take some time.

My thoughts about my stay in Paris are numerous, and I wanna share a lot with you. In the following weeks, I will try to write about my way of dealing with the university system here, the Austrian presidential elections and much more.

Stay tuned! 🙂