Yesterday, after walking halfway to school because of a broken metro train, waiting ten minutes for a delayed tram, and hurrying to my 10 a.m. class, I discovered a simple sheet of paper hanging on the door to an empty lecture hall. My professor was absent.
For the third time.
In five weeks.
This is, quite frankly, fairly representative of the way the French university system works. In my past posts, I’ve tried to stay positive about my time here so far, even when things don’t go as planned. My view so far has largely been that France is good-different, not bad-different. But there are some quirks that make me look with great fondness upon many Georgetown institutions—like the Registrar’s Office—that once frustrated me.
There is, of course, the previously-mentioned fact that professors can and do cancel class without so much as an email. (Not that I would know, of course—I still don’t have a Sciences Po email account. More on that in a bit.) The teaching style is often just as impersonal. While some professors learn their students’ names, and most will respond to questions, in general a class goes like this: the professor walks in at the start of class, sits down at the front of the room, lectures for two hours, and leaves. No discussion, no attendance. In most classes, grades are based on one exam at the end of the semester. You are there to absorb the professor’s knowledge, and that is all.
But of course, classes are just one part of the university experience. On the administrative side of things, things can get much more complicated.
The primary trouble comes from the way that in France, most things are done in person. Hoyas complain about having to do paper Add/Drop forms for a handful of classes, but this year I did all of my class registration on paper. Before that, all 200 visiting students had to go to the international office during the first week in order to even register at the school.
Now, some of this is different for international students than it is for French students. French students at Sciences Po have online accounts—the equivalent of MyAccess, I imagine—where they can view their schedule, and presumably register for classes and do other basic administrative tasks. Those of us here only temporarily have yet to receive login information for this system, which is connected to our email. I’m not sure we ever will.
And today, after five weeks of class and seven in France, I went with three of my peers to another university—Lyon 2, a sort of parent university for Sciences Po—in order to finally pay for my social security and receive my student ID. The office was in a basement, at the end of a questionably-lit hallway. Aside from the time we spent in line, the whole process took probably five to ten minutes, and our cards were printed right in front of us.
It’s not that all of these things are horribly frustrating. It’s just that at every turn, it seems like there must be a better way to do the task at hand, and that all adds up after a while. I wouldn’t even say it’s bad-different—but I’d really like to not be shaking my head at the ridiculousness of it all every time I need to get something done.
This piece is cross-posted on the Georgetown Study Abroad Blog, where you can read about the experiences of Georgetown students studying across the globe.