This article was originally written for the Caravel, a student-run international affairs newspaper affiliated with Georgetown University. With permission from the Caravel’s Publisher, I am reposting my article here to share with all of you.
I had the amazing opportunity to sit down a professor at Sciences Po Bordeaux to discuss the recent changes to French higher education and their impact on students. If you’re interested in exploring the differences between US and French higher education, I highly encourage you to give this a read!
After I’ve spent a month telling you about sales and trips to beautiful cities, it is finally time to talk about the actual reason I’m here – classes, and all the ways in which they are completely different from what we’re used to in the States. So buckle up and get ready to learn.
I never thought I would say this as I struggled to pull together four 10-20 page final papers in early December, but I miss take-home writing assignments. This semester, I won’t have the opportunity to flaunt my superior bullshitting skills by restating the same argument in six different ways without the professor realizing that I’ve only introduced one semi-original idea in the whole paper. Because the concept of excessively long research papers doesn’t seem to exist in the French university system.
Peter Gumbel, the author of an (apparently) controversial book about the French education system, describes the French teaching style as “sit down and shut up.” Although his analysis focuses primarily on the secondary education system, it’s not totally inaccurate when it comes to university. I am enrolled in seven courses here: two conférences de méthode (seminars), three cours magistraux (large lectures of 40-100 students depending on the course level), a French class, and a history class. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll ignore the history class because it takes place in a public university unrelated to Sciences Po and operates according to different rules.