Culture Shock: Studying in France

Culture Shock: Studying in France On se fait la bise?

This article was written by Rosie Paul, published on 28th May 2013 and has been read 9499 times.

Rosie is doing her whole degree in France, so she has a unique insight into the differences between French and English approaches to university life. Here's her advice for students preparing for the culture shock of studying abroad in France...

Exams are drawing to a close, it is finally getting a bit warmer and thoughts are turning towards summer and the next academic year. Chances are (if you are reading this…), you will probably be starting to think about how to prepare for your year abroad and what you might encounter. Well, fear not, living abroad is a scary prospect to begin with and although there are certain changes you will have to get used to, your year abroad is an opportunity to experience a culture as a local and experience things you would never get to do back home in the UK.

So what can you expect from the first couple of days in France? And what will you have to get used to?

1. French time

French officials (and French people!) like to do things in their own time. There’s no point getting stressed about it because that won’t speed them up. If anything, they’ll take great pleasure in watching you implode right in front of them. Put on a smile, your best French and they’ll do as quickly as they can.


2. Paperwork

Remember at least 5 copies of your passport, EHIC card, birth certificate, transcripts, driving licence and any other paperwork that shows you exist and make sure you get a certified translator to translate it all into French, it won’t be accepted in English! Unlike the UK, France hasn’t quite made it onto the internet and offices will be your new-found friend. Don’t be surprised if you spend an hour in a queue for a 5-minute conversation with the official and every time you plan to go to an office, take every bit of paper with you – you never know what they may ask for!

3. University

I have never been to university in the UK, but as far as I can gather, it seems a little more organised than in France. Don’t worry if you don’t know when your results are coming out or even where you supposed to be going for that exam, it’ll all work out in the end.


4. Lectures, seminars and more lectures

Be prepared for a lot more lectures than you have in the UK. Whilst UK students pay nearly three times more than the average French student, French students spend over 20 hours a week in lectures and seminars. Seminars until 7:30/8:30pm are not unheard of!


5. The language

This is probably most people’s greatest fear. Speaking and living in a different language is hard work to begin with, but as with all things, practice makes perfect! People really don’t care if you make mistakes and as long as you try, they will try and understand you. French officials will almost certainly be more helpful if you try and speak French to them.

6. Campus life

UK tradition means that a fair amount of students attend universities quite far away from home and as a result, tend to stay at university for weekends. In France, students go to their local university, meaning that a lot of students live with their parents or in a small studio and will go home as soon as lectures finish on a Friday, only coming back in for Monday morning.

7. Student halls

Talking about campus life brings me onto another point. As an ERASMUS student, you will normally be given university accommodation when you arrive (or at least, that’s how it works in Grenoble). But beware, these student residences are nothing like the UK ones. Built in the 1960s/1970s, they are grubby, uncared for and pretty horrible. But hey, a home’s a home and normally accommodation is relatively easy to come by once you’ve settled, as long as you don’t mind going through yet another administrative nightmare.

8. Life in general

French life is very chilled out. Whilst the UK heads dangerously close to an all work and no play life balance, the French have it pretty much sorted. Bank Holidays galore, 5-day office working weeks and 6-days for most supermarkets means that there is plenty of time to kick back and relax. Take advantage of all the opportunities you get and if you haven’t got that all important piece of paper for the deadline, don’t worry – they have probably forgotten about it too, once they start sending threatening letters, start worrying!

Setting life up in a new country can be a very scary prospect but remember there are plenty of people to help. Head to your International Office if you have any real problems and otherwise, just take advantage of your time abroad.

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