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.