Monthly Archives: April 2012

Evaluating CampusFrance

Over the past week and a half, I have gone through what many might call an enlightening experience.  For those of you who don’t know, I wrote about my previous experiences with CampusFrance – the online website and processing tool for those wanting to study in France – here in a rather frustrated albeit ultimately satisfying account of my trials.  This experience, however, was unexpected and altogether new.  But first, let me explain.

In early April, shortly after I completed my online application, I was contacted by CampusFrance to see if I wanted to participate in an online survey of the CampusFrance experience.  Here is what they asked:

“We are currently working on a survey aiming at understanding better the foreign students choosing France as the destination for their higher education studies. To carry out this survey, we need to interview students from USA, Brasil, Russia, China, India, Germany, Senegal and Morocco.

– Goal:  to improve our services to foreign students

– Concept: 11 days online survey (16-27th of April). If you are selected by the French survey agency, you’ll have to be online 1h/day and share your point of view on CampusFrancetools and services.

– Practical details: for the students who agree, are selected by the survey agency , and follow it until the end, they will receive a 100€ coupon (Amazon.com)”

Now of course you might be saying to yourself that I was immediately swept away by the external gratification of a 100€ Amazon coupon, but that only comes to about 10€ a day for a long period of time , and surveys are often far from thrilling.  No, something tugged at me that proved to be much more persuasive than the promise of a reward.  Here I was, scratching my head on April 4, wondering to myself, how did they know?  Only days earlier, I had published my frustrations with my own online process, and all of a sudden I receive an invitation out of the blue asking me to voice my complaints.  What gave it away?  My obsessive compulsion to finish my application on time? My early submission of all the required material?  Bad mental vibes?

I have no idea how many Americans they emailed to complete the survey, but they wanted to guarantee that we were “motivated” enough to spend an hour online for eleven days.  Or maybe they wanted to evaluate our “blogging” abilities.  Anyways, I had to pass a test in order to qualify for the survey. They asked for a very detailed response: a 100-150 word essay about how motivated I feel to participate in this survey (no joke!) as well as an image of my own of something that represents this feeling and an image pulled from the internet.  Thus I have included for your reading pleasure my litmus test:

     “I have been planning and eager to pursue a Master’s degree in France for over a year now.  After completing all the different steps of the CampusFrance application process, I now feel energized and excited to participate in this survey.  I feel I have a lot to contribute in evaluating the CampusFrance application process and that I could explain both its benefits and shortcomings.  Because I have spent a lot of time getting to know the CampusFrance process, including using it to study abroad in 2011, I am super energized by my recent completion of the application process and am willing to do all I can to improve it for future years.”

Obviously, I was selected as one of three Americans, with one girl from California and a guy who was currently living in Argentina after having already studied in Switzerland and French-speaking Canada.  To my surprise, I found myself once again in a welcoming international community that has so often been my mainstay in my experiences abroad. There were, as mentioned in the invitation, Chinese, Senegalese, Brazilians, Germans (I am not sure why, as they are European, but they were very enthusiastic), Moroccans, Indians, and Russians that participated.  We came from all different walks of life and were looking into many different programs: Erasmus, Licence, Master, Doctorat.

I had imagined that we would be filling out a survey à l’américaine, that’s to say, clicking bubbles on whether our experience was agreeable or disagreeable from a given range between 1 and 5.  In other words, mind numbing psychological screening on a wide range of topics.  Instead, we were encouraged to introduce ourselves, post on “blogs” and “forums” about the content and structure of the website, the CampusFrance videos, and informational flyers.  Most fascinating of all was that we were instructed to compare other countries’ websites for inviting foreigners to come.  It was somewhat an experience of split-personality disorder: here was France visibly doing its best to encourage foreign students to come study in its institutions, shelling out close to a thousand euros for a survey and going to intricate details in the layout and formatting of their website – all the while the politicians are continuing to foist immigration into the public discourse any time they think there might be a popular protest against the economy.

It was quite an enjoyable experience, and I ended up spending a considerable amount of time on the website when I could have been preparing for final exams or working on papers.  I also discovered a lot of useful information that I wasn’t even aware of beforehand, such as detail documents explaining how to find housing or whether a student is eligible to work part-time.  The most fascinating “ticket” that we wrote about was the different students’ “Image of France.”  I cannot risk disclosing personal information from the website, but I can share a few images that the different students posted concerning their view of France.  It centered on the economic might, cultural legacy, colonial legacy.  The country of Romance and fine cuisine next to the country of bureaucracy and anti-immigrant sentiment.  It was a mixture of the old and the new, the unexpected and the delightful, and it sure made me re-evaluate my own experience with CampusFrance and with my own perception of France itself.

What is your own image of France?  Have you ever had any experiences with the CampusFrance website?
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Categories: France, Immigration | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

French Politics on Immigration

Today the French vote in the first round of presidential elections, which could have a very profound impact on my future.  I’ve been watching with growing alarm as immigration has become the hot-button issue, to distract increasingly agitated voters from the dismal state of the economy.  The anti-immigrant rhetoric in France is nothing new – previously lax immigration policies have long since been tightening – but, as Al Jazeera aptly puts it, immigration is the “bread and butter” of the right.  Serving as a convenient scapegoat, immigrants are an easy target in the land of liberté, égalité, fraternité, where in many cases, sadly, these rules only apply to French or EU citizens.

To get a better idea of how the political landscape on immigration can change in these upcoming months, I turn to an interactive article furnished by Al Jazeera English in which they evaluate the top four candidates on such issues: Where do France’s Election Candidates Stand?

Nicolas Sarkozy, the incumbent president has drawn the ire of both French and immigrant alike with his handling of his first-term as president as well as his progressively vitriolic campaign rhetoric.  Ironically, he himself is the son of a Hungarian immigrant, and his personal style of politics and first-term as president go against the established norm on how a French president should behave and on what policies the center-right UMP (Union du Mouvement Populaire) should enact.

Nicolas Sarkozy

His suave demeanor and break with convention served him well as the most energetic and inspiring candidate in 2007, but he’s taken a decidedly harsh approach to immigration as well as antagonized the large Muslim population in France, turning seemingly innocuous and well-established traditions such as ritual slaughter, halal, into battlegrounds for France’s fierce secularism.  Under Sarkozy, the center right has veered farther right than under Jacques Chirac, following a growing pan-European trend.

According to Al Jazeera, “Sarkozy promises to crackdown on immigration in his second term, and has hardened his tone as the presidential election draws closer. He would reduce immigration by nearly 50 per cent, he says. More migrants would be deported to their countries of origins. Development assistance for the countries where migrants are coming from would be conditional on those countries’ willingness to accept deportees.”

Immigration policies have already hardened on all fronts, epitomized by the much-loathed and illogical “Circulaire du 31 Mai” 2011.  Once a country in need of large amounts of unskilled workers, France has limited access to a mere fourteen highly-specialized trades declared “en tension,” that is, having any likelihood of leading to a work visa or a change of status.  As many engaged couples or newlyweds can attest, the notorious French bureaucracy greatly belabors the process of accompanying your non-French (non-European) citizen spouse to France.  With the “doors-open” EU and Schengen accords, this belt-tightening has mostly affected third-party countries, in particular North African countries, China, India, and countries of South America, where competitive students still look to France as a model of higher education (with good reason!)

Most controversial, however, is the recent bout of laws (or less-binding but easily implemented circulaires) trying to diminish the number of the 200,000 or so of these foreign students who arrive annually – a mere trickle of the actual immigration figures, which consist primarily of refugee repatriation, especially of former colonies, and family reunification – who pass from a student visa to work visa.  This group of highly qualified students earn bachelors and masters in France at some of the top French schools (École Normale Supérieure, Sciences Po) and are already hired by some of the top companies and firms when their change of status is denied.  To protest this reverse-braindrain – and to prevent losing some of the best and the brightest who choose to study at France over top international destinations such as the US, the UK, and Australia – a group of students, international and French alike have joined together in a Collectif du 31 Mai, a protest movement akin to the famous French grève.  The May 31st circular was effectively repealed by the 12 January 2012 amendment, which specified that this harsh policy would not affect those with an M2 or higher.  Granted, the correlation between reducing legal immigration of those with degrees in higher education from France’s own institutions and the near 10% rate of unemployment was a tenuous one – unemployment hit harshest the sectors such as industry and populations without college or high school degrees (let alone a Master’s), and there is little likelihood that an immigrant would be replaced by a similarly qualified French person when there are Master’s programs where foreigners outnumber the French 10 to 1.  Certain sectors of skilled, information-based employment are practically begging foreigners to fill in the gap left by the French.  This new wave of highly-skilled, hardworking expats could easily turn to more inviting countries such as Canada or Australia, where they will transform their expertise in information technology, medical treatments, and innovative sciences into real futures.  Finally, the rejection of work permits happens only after French companies have gone to the great expense and trouble of proving that not only was there no equally or better qualified French person to fill this job application, there was also no equally or better qualified European in the field of applicants.

François Hollande

François Hollande is currently, according to the polls anyway, in the lead, and his election – cutting Sarkozy’s presidential career to one term – would finally put the Socialist Party in power for the first time since 1994.  He represents for me an apt example of the “anti-Sarkozy” – not for his dramatically different views on politics or policies but because many individuals (myself included, if I had a vote) are voting for him in order to ensure that Sarkozy isn’t reelected.

Nevertheless, this candidate does offer a different face to the immigration debate, one distinctly less hostile: he thinks his opponents are “exaggerating the problem of immigration.”  This sobering perspective is summarized by Al Jazeera, “Hollande has called for immigration to be discussed in rational terms, arguing that Sarkozy and Le Pen are exaggerating the issue. He promises to fight unauthorised immigration and illegal employment. Residency should be granted on a case-by-case basis. Foreigners who have lived in France for more than five years should be granted the right to vote.”

To contrast that with the surprise-candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left Front de Gauche candidate who has increasingly consolidated a more and more vocal left:

“In Mélenchon’s view, France’s immigrant population contributes culturally and economically to the country. He would respect the right of refugees to seek asylum in France and shut down detention centres. French nationality would become a right after five years of residency. The series of amendments to immigration law that have been introduced since 2002 would be repealed under Mélenchon” (Al Jazeera, see above link).

The real fear-rousing hasn’t been conducted by Nicolas Sarkozy but rather masterfully executed by far-right candidate Marine Le Pen of the Front National.  Behind her French débutante appearance, she remains the first to point fingers at immigrants and minority communities alike, such as vilifying the entire French Muslim community after the recent Toulouse shooting by French-born Mohammed Merah, who is of Algerian-descent.

 Her campaign champions and is bolstered by a rising anti-immigrant sentiment that is insidiously infiltrating Western Europe, as the EU financial crisis continues to rage on.  Quoting Al Jazeera, “Opposition to immigration and multiculturalism is the National Front’s bread and butter. Le Pen promises to reduce the number of immigrants arriving in France by a dramatic 95 per cent. She would abolish family reunification and drastically reduce the number of asylum seekers accepted every year. France would “take back” the policing of its borders, throwing out the EU policy of freedom of movement between member states.”

A chilling prospect for someone who fell in love with the diverse, vibrant, multicultural France of today…  I will have to stay tuned for today’s results and the second round of elections come May.

What are your thoughts on the current Presidential Elections in France?

For Nicolas Sarkozy’s “scorecard,” take a peek here.

Categories: France, Immigration, Politics | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

They said yes!

For those of you who need an English translation: “We’d like to inform you that the institution of the University of Picardy Jules Verne, Amiens – Department of foreign languages and culture has accepted your demand to be enrolled as regards your initiative in the Master of research, Arts, Humanities, Languages with a degree in literature and language, specializing in foreign literature (English).  You can now if you so choose declare your final choice for this institution.”

Categories: France, Immigration | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Richer

“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer”  ~Unknown

Photo from The Adventurer’s Travel Pack

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Photojournal: Le Mont-St-Michel

Let’s face it, for many Francophiles, the gorgeous silhouette of the abbey rising out from the mist on top of Mont-Saint-Michel inspired would-be Romantics to choose the language of le Hexagone over the more common, “practical” language of the Iberian peninsula.  Perhaps it was a poster of the iconic tourist destination that beckoned from a classroom wall.  Or more likely the “cultural tidbits” of your introductory French textbook lauded its spiritual and pseudo-supernatural aura: ready to disappear with the tide, to fade away into the dusk, a timeless relic of a bygone era.

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Last spring, I visited the jewel of lower Normandy for the first time with my family, after years of touring other regions of France.  My mother, Francophile par excellence, was determined to visit the island before it disappeared, literally, with the tide or before her days of touring France were at an end.  We took a car to the off-the-beaten-path travel destination.  From a distance, the abbey and island had a certain captivating majesty.

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This medieval abbey and its little village are a testimony to the enduring power of good Romantic landscapes and the lure of medieval architecture – encapsulated today by the postcard.  Indeed, this image is probably one of the best-selling carte postale in France, after perhaps the Eiffel Tower and La Jaconde.  From a pilgrimage site since its foundation in 709, it became a 19th century symbol of Romanticism, representing a somewhat forsaken human landscape at the edge of a natural wilderness, literally cut off from the world at high tide.  It’s birth as a picturesque tourist trap was thus immortalized.

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The closer one approaches to the iconic mount, the more one senses the limits of rugged Romanticism displayed by artists and depicted by writers such as Guy de Maupassant.  The neighboring parking lot stretches on for a mile, apparently buoying its tourist-bearing capacity of up to 20,000 a day in the height of summer.

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You get a taste for the extent to which the local population profits from such tourism madness before even stepping inside the large wooden doors.  The toilets flanking the side entrance, while never free in France, are grossly expensive.  The full-fledged commercialism doesn’t hit like whiplash until you cross the threshold – the Romantics would surely not mistake the pristine harmony of man and nature in the souvenir shops and vaudeville-esque tours of the labyrinthine innards of the medieval fortress.

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We wandered through the twisting, narrow streets as they wound their way up to the abbey.  I confess that we did in fact purchase little postcards (I went for the artistic watercolor rendering of the abbey from a distance), but I will warn you, the prices are not comparable at all the shops. Make sure to compare prices and remember which shop of the dozen or so crammed one after another you preferred.  If your French is good enough, you might try haggling for a reduced price – but be aware that an American accent is readily recognized and is quite unlikely to make the jaded shopkeepers too sympathetic.  Foreigners clog the streets like a congested artery.

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The view at the top is quite exquisite.  The bay stretches out before you in all directions, shrouded in all the gloomy, boggy colors one associates with Gothic novels.  The abbey itself offers a promising tour, but my family was short on time and had already spent quite a bundle in parking and entering the abbey (not to mention our ill-opportune potty break and gift shop trinkets).  Especially for history buffs, with the rich legacy of the abbey and village and its reputation as an architectural goldmine, the tour looks quite interesting, although the lines are long.

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A few final glances at the abbey as we were leaving, set against a perfect blue backdrop, caught my eye.  I imagined myself as the seagull overhanging the abbey, taking in the magnificence from afar.

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Categories: France, Travel | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

What’s a Gap Year?

Most people meet me with blank stares when I evoke the year I spent abroad in Europe Jet d'eau, Genèveas an eighteen-year-old.  “You did what!?”  I try to grin and not take offense, for after all, there are a lot more exotic things to do with one’s time than attend high school in Geneva, Switzerland.  Such as bungee-jumping in Africa. Or touring the world via sailboat.  But for those of you less-enlightened, I thought it might be worth explaining what exactly is a Gap Year.

I was fifteen years old when I first heard the term and quickly became obsessed with the concept.  My older cousin had just graduated high school and was planning on spending a year studying in Denmark, living with a host family, through a high school exchange program called AFS (American Field Service).  Apparently, my aunt – her mother – was chosen when she was her daughter’s age to spend a year in Denmark through the same program, back when sending your daughter to live with strangers involved little more than long-distance communication via letter-writing.  What made this different from your average high school exchange program?  The timing.  Instead of entering university directly after high school, as so many Americans do, my cousin differed admission à l’anglaise in order to attend a fifth year of high school – in a Danish school, in a Danish town, with all classes taught in Danish.

Fellow AFS-ers in Geneva, SwitzerlandAFS-ers

I did some research on the subject and discovered that Gap Years are actually quite common in Europe, especially in England, where beginning university at age eighteen isn’t as ubiquitous as it appears to be in the United States.  After completing A-levels, the French baccalauréat, or the Swiss maturité, many prefer to have more life experience – travel, learn a foreign language, volunteer abroad, earn some money – before going to college.  Far removed from the “campus culture” of American universities, this was both practical and well-received.  Sadly, as costs are rising and programs become more and more competitive in foreign universities, the “Gap-ers” are dwindling in number as utilitarian-based thinking predominates:  “Get a degree.  Get a job.”

After two previous stays in France, I was intoxicated by the idea of living in Europe.  By age sixteen, I plotted my attack.  I attended a private high school and planned on applying to a prestigious undergraduate university, so my junior and senior years of high school were out of the question.  A gap year was my only option.  I figured I could convince my mother of the merits of becoming fluent in French before beginning a university degree, so I strayed away from Finland and Hungary, whose languages I had little chance of continuing at my university of choice.  Finally, my birthdate decided for me which French-speaking European country I would apply for – as AFS at the time had no officially sanctioned “gap year” programs, only Switzerland allowed me to attend a full year of high school if I was born after April 1, 1990.  The more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me.  My mother, who went to high school in Canada, had spent the then commonplace “year thirteen” at a Canadian school in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, at the exact same age.  My plan of attack was complete.

Alps

My parents were entirely unprepared for my carefully thought out email that I sent one morning from my high school.  I had calculated expenses, thought through my decision, evaluated the importance of having life experience and becoming immersed in a foreign language.  I planned to apply to universities my senior year of high school like everyone else and defer admission for a year.  My parents were defenseless in the face of my unabashed longing to live in Europe, my realistic planning to make it a reality.  Who could resist a sixteen-year-old girl dreaming for an adventure in one of the safest countries in the world?

Everyone I knew was shocked by my plans: high school guidance counselors, close friends, parents.  It’s been a constant refrain as an undergraduate, explaining why I was a year behind, why I didn’t mind graduating in three years.  Very few people could comprehend the magnitude of what I was undertaking at age eighteen.

Geneva, Switzerland, eventually became a land of fairy tales, but my gap year was the hardest, most challenging thing I have ever done.  Upon arrival, I realized to my dismay that there was a big difference between being the best French student in my high school French class and speaking a living language.  I experienced culture shock as I was placed into the last year of high school with Swiss students who had known each other their whole lives, as the only foreign exchange student.  I experienced difficulties with my temporary host family, frustrations that my British-born host “father” refused to speak French with me.  And I felt lonely, isolated, but determined not to regret my decision to go off the beaten track.

Switzerland warmed up to me after coaxing the embers for a good three months, blazing into a roar by the time I left in May.  A few friends among my Swiss classmates was all I needed to find a new Swiss host family, the most generous and loving people I have ever known.  Native Genevans (a rarity in a city that is over 50% foreign nationals), they spoke only French and were interested in discovering more about my culture.  From the first of November, when I was permitted to switch host families, my love of Genevan culture and the French language stemmed from the careful pruning and enthusiastic and patient care taking of my Swiss parents and two host sisters.  I sampled fondues, raclettes, muesli, soufflé, spätzle – each meal was a culinary education.  I went skiing in the French alps, toured the secret Swiss-only travel destinations.  My linguistic abilities improved as we talked about politics amid the 2008 financial meltdown and the “fiscal paradise” debate in Switzerland.  I witnessed Genevan holidays, attended both Christmas and New Year’s celebrations with the extended family.  I was invited to a cousin’s wedding, adopted as the “American daughter” of the family.  And – although my grades didn’t really matter – I excelled at school as I became more and more confident in such a foreign system.

Cortège for the Genevan holiday, EscaladeCortège

Did I regret taking a Gap Year? I missed out on a typical rite of passage for American teenagers.  I was clearly outside of my comfort zone, whether ordering train tickets in a foreign language or becoming the ultimate New Kid in a world alien to my own.  But even the tangible benefits of such an experience – incredible proficiency if not fluency in a foreign language, insider knowledge of a foreign culture, an education very different from the American model – could never express the intangibles I gained from living abroad.  My sense of confidence in my own abilities, my identity as an American in a wider world, my passion for foreign languages, the enduring love of my Swiss family.  It was a catalyst for all my future endeavors, and it has created a longing for a return to Europe that has yet to be fully satisfied.

“What’s a Gap Year?”  It’s many things, but to me, it was the gateway to another world.

Categories: Switzerland | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Move to France

Salut.  Despite the thirteen months that I’ve lived abroad in France and Switzerland, I have never been faced with the conundrum of immigrating to Europe all on my own. Little by little I’ve been tossed over into the sea of chaos that is the French bureaucracy and the red tape of immigration paperwork.  My first two experiences abroad were facilitated by student exchange programs, one for high school students who depended completely on host families to take care of them, the second cushioned by my university’s study abroad office.  My four-month stay in France was not the typical American “study abroad” – the direct-exchange threw many Americans for a loop, accustomed to a style of education where everything is delivered to them on a platter. Nevertheless, the paperwork and hurdles one faces as a student independently applying to a French graduate school program center around one daunting online process: CampusFrance.usa.

In short, moving to France as a young, inexperienced American is easier said than done.  First of all, there are two important factors to keep in mind: money and visas.  Compared to the high cost of funding an education in the U.S., the extremely reduced price tag of Master’s programs seems like a hoax.  However, there are many invisible costs that make such a reality less attainable if you are funding yourself independent of family support.  First of all, you will rarely be eligible for government-subsidized loans from either the U.S. (you’re not applying to a U.S. graduate school after all) or the French government.  The application process itself involves many hidden expenses.  And then you must have a substantial amount saved to even be eligible for a student visa.  Don’t expect to hop off the boat and “pay your way.”

Second, there are few options for obtaining a visa if you are a young college graduate from a liberal arts program, no matter how prestigious it might be.  Unless you can prove that you have the assets and skills to start your own business in France, you are eligible for a long-term visa only if A) you are accepted into a French degree-program, B) you will be housed by family members in France or a French significant other who agrees to “Pax” you, or C) a French company agrees to sponsor your work visa.  Which is a pretty tall order if you have little work experience or expertise, as it would be much much cheaper for them to hire your French or European counterpart, who already has the paperwork and the degree they are looking for (not to mention it’s highly discouraged by the French government).

Hence, this post will attempt to explain how to go about applying for a Master’s program via the mandatory avenue of CampusFrance.

Here’s the instructions they give:  Applying to a French Institution at the Graduate School Level.

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I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of CampusFrance for now, but here’s a brief overview of what my past year looked like:

May 2011: Leave France a month earlier than most French universities finish for the semester in order to accommodate an American university schedule of summer school classes.

July 2011: Send emails to professors at different universities inquiring about the requirements for different programs.  NB: The French school system places law school and medical school at the undergraduate level, eliminating the need for “pre-law” or “pre-med” designations.  Which means that those who wish to pursue law or medicine in France must apply for an undergraduate degree, a whole other can of worms.

With my background in literature and languages, I looked into French literature, English literature, and LEA (Langues étrangères appliquées) Master’s programs, discovering to my dismay that I wasn’t especially qualified for any of them.  My university’s French program is nowhere near on par with the level of undergraduate programs in France, and it would be rather ludicrous to look into teaching jobs in France as a non-native speaker.  In order to graduate in three years, I opted out of double-majoring in English, despite being an avid reader and writer.  As for LEA, you must demonstrate that you have studied two foreign languages (in addition to French/English) since high school and are near fluent in both in order to pursue a Master’s degree – not to mention a background in economics, foreign relations, and/or law.  My years of mastering French, although well beyond the par of most Americans, was not enough to pursue programs in translation or applied language training.

So I opted for a degree in English in France, with an undergraduate background in French in the U.S.  Maybe the negatives will cancel each other out to equal a strong candidate for teaching English as a foreign language to French high school students.  Or maybe I’ll look like I’ve always opted for an easy path.

August 2011: Convince CampusFrance to “reset” my application from when I had to apply for a visa to study abroad.  For those who do choose to study abroad from an American university, CampusFrance is a (somewhat) less painful ordeal involving a mere third of the steps.  After numerous emails and much coaxing, my dossier was reset.  I was not able to create a new Pastel account, however, as it would show two entries for my passport ID number, a definite visa no-no.

October 2011: Take the TCF (Test de connaissance du français) at the Alliance Française de Chicago, the only place offering the exam in the greater Midwest Region, only offered on one Friday for the entirety of Fall 2011.  As I was applying “Hors DAP” (DAP is a requirement for licence 1 and licence 2 applications), I decided to opt for the additional Speaking and Writing portions of the exam.  Luckily I did, for I found out when applying that some schools require that you demonstrate written proficiency in order to qualify for their program.  The minimum requirement is a score of B1 or B2 in some programs.  I received a C2 in the required tests, with a C1 in Oral expression and B2 in Written expression.  Other exams qualify such as the DELF and DALF.  The October TCF was the only exam that would allow me to have my results early enough for when I wanted to begin the application (end of December).  The exam came to a grand total of $300.

November 2011: Have all my transcripts from high school through undergraduate translated, since I had not graduated before applying for a Master’s program. Unlike in France, which gives degrees each year of undergraduate and a qualifying high school diploma called the Baccalauréat, I had to have all coursework over a period of seven years translated into French by a professional translator and then certified by the French Consulate of Chicago.  I stopped by the consulate in October when I took the TCF asking for the name of a translator.  I am glad I used one of their official English-French translators, for she was able to get the Consulate to certify it for free.  Nevertheless, with both transcripts and my high school diploma translated on a per word basis, the cost came to $180 – and this doesn’t include my need to eventually have my completed college transcript, diploma, and birth certificate translated for registration and immigration purposes in France.

December 2011: Travel to France over the Winter Holiday, visiting friends in France and taking an opportunity to talk to the International Office at my former university in Amiens.  I spoke with the scolarité and the exchange coordinator in order to make sure I was properly going about the online process.  Unfortunately, due to Christmas recess and first semester exams, I was not able to meet with professors of the program to which I was applying.  Even more valuable than university staff, however, was the information I picked up from Tunisian friends who had gone through a similar application process in applying for Master’s programs.  I also began to fill out the required sections of the CampusFrance forms and struggled to convert my jpeg images of transcripts into a small enough format to submit on the online application.

January 2012: Pick out the French universities I wanted to apply to – initially too many, the maximum of 15, until I was told during my interview that most applicants apply to only 6-7.  I ended up with eight: two schools in Paris, and a school in Amiens, Lyons, Lille, Rennes, Nantes, and Tours.  I then submitted my online form and sent a paper copy of the application along with my money order of $140 to CampusFrance in Washington, D.C.  They acknowledge the receipt of my money order on January 30.

February 2012: Wait, wait, wait, wait….. I waited for two weeks for them to acknowledge my paper application and to let them know that my online application was complete.  No response.  I finally received the name of the woman responsable for overseeing my application.  I scheduled an interview, only to have her tell me to reschedule it after March 10, as she was too busy working on the DAP applications.  Mind you, the deadline for our application is March 31.  I agonized over the fact that I couldn’t reschedule as the online Pastel site no longer let me “cancel” my interview since my responsable notified me after the scheduled time.

March 2012: Finish the application – Finally, after a few weeks of ignored emails, I called back the French woman working on my file (or not working on it more precisely) and had her reschedule an interview for March 22.  The interview went just dandy, thirty-odd minutes of talking about yourself in French and about your future aspirations.  Make sure to think through what you want to say, and do not mention that you might plan (*cough*) to indefinitely settle down in France or Europe.  My responsable then winnowed down the number of requests to universities (at my behest), and the next week, (almost) everything on my online account went green.  I was in the clear, a day before the deadline.

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And so now, what’s left? Waiting, waiting, and more waiting.  Universities are technically able to respond, via CampusFrance, any time now, but they have until June 30 to respond.  Most won’t start sending responses back until at least the end of April.  My friends have already declared their final choices for U.S. graduate schools, and I will still be waiting for eight odd schools to decide my future.  Wish me luck!

Categories: Bureacracy, France, Immigration | Tags: , , , , | 9 Comments

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