So, despite what you might think on the contrary, I am actually in Amiens to study. I haven’t been doing a lot of studying up until now simply because my classes didn’t begin until September 17, more than a month later than many of the graduate programs of my friends back in the United States. In fact, there are a lot of things related to education in France that don’t remotely resemble how things are done in higher education back in the States.
As many of you may know from my posts concerning Campus France, the instructions I was given concerning my Master’s at the Université de Picardie Jules Verne consisted of a short email (see They said yes!) accepting my “pré-inscription” (pre-registration) to UPJV followed by a pdf attachment explaining that I should present myself to the “scholarité” of the faculty of foreign cultures and languages sometime between September 5 and October 15, accompanied by the originals of my transcripts and diplomas…
The campus of UPJV is spread out throughout the city. The School of Medicine is near the city center, whereas the School of Law and the School of Sciences are both located in Saint Leu (le Pôle Cathédrale). What is called “Campus” is actually a bunch of buildings on the outskirts of the city housing the faculties of languages, humanities, social sciences, philosophy, and history/geography, with a sixth random building that has the largest lecture hall of this side of campus. Buildings A through F. In the middle of the building, there is a great big circle that attaches the two wings, called la rotonde. In the center courtyard is the “scholarité” of this side of campus. It’s a rather ugly construction from the middle, but then again, I’ve seen uglier French universities. My “faculté,” UFR de Langues et cultures étrangères is located in the bâtiment D, and I also have a linguistics class in the bâtiment B. Last time at UPJV, I had all of my French literature and linguistics classes with the UFR de Lettres, which is housed in the bâtiment B.
In the rotonde, you can also find a bunch of instant coffee and snack machines, conviently located between the two wings of the building. The coffee isn’t necessarily good, but it only costs 0,40 € and prevents me from suffering intense caffeine withdrawal for the early morning classes. Otherwise, in the mornings I make myself a zazwa, the name for the little metal pot in which you make Turkish coffee that Hedi brought me back from Tunisia. A good extent of my socializing in the evenings (or really, anytime of the day when I and another friend are both free) consists of hanging out in French cafés, where I’ll order a 1-2 € espresso or a noisette (“espresso with a dash of cream, named after the French for hazelnut because of the rich, dark color of the drink” see this engaging and visually pleasing article on a day in Paris here). As a result, my caffeine consumption has reached a new high…
When I was researching Master’s programs on CampusFrance, I was mostly concerned with what I would be eligible for with an undergraduate degree in French literature as an English-speaking native, and it was only by chance that I happened to stumble upon the brochure for last year’s Master’s on UPJV’s website (which is a complete maze for those who are not already familiar with the homepage). In reading over the course descriptions I had a better idea of the program itself, but it wasn’t until the beginning of August that they updated the brochure with this year’s selections. Unlike in the United States, students do not “register” for classes several months in advance, with at least an inkling or clear understanding of who will be teaching this or that class, at what time, and in what classroom. In France, students simply register as students in such or such a program and year, and even that can be done up to a month into the school year. Very often, the programs are already set with only a few “options” to choose between, and there is no need to post the classes ahead of time. All that said, trying to register as a student in France can be a shock to the unwary American.
Thus, with only a vague notion of what I would be studying and following the brief instructions given by CampusFrance, clutching my high school and university diplomas close to me, I embarked September 5, accompanied by a close French friend. We crammed onto the No. 6 line bus, which has now become the bane of my existence and the sole means of ferrying myself to and from my apartment and le Campus.
Registering as a student felt oddly like a treasure hunt for six-year-olds. We first looked for the “scholarité” of the UFR, not realizing that it was located upstairs on the second floor. When we couldn’t find that, we waited in line at the central “scholarité” for ten minutes, upon which we were directed to the “chaîne des inscriptions.” Thus we went to the rotonde, where the “chaîne des inscriptions” is located (open until the end of October for all who want to register for university and at that moment particularly crowded with students). We showed them my “attestation de pré-inscription” that I had printed out from CampusFrance and waited while the student workers conferred about what to do with my piece of paper. Apparently, I needed a “dossier” identical to the ones they were handing out at the door, except that my dossier required a stamp from the UFR. Back we trod to the bâtiment D, this time to the second floor, where we waited in line for the UFR to hand me my stamped dossier. Finally, the wild goose chase all but finished, we returned to the rotonde, where I began to fill out “mon inscription.”
My four-paged dossier was accompanied by a three-page instruction manual. Luckily my friend was there to guide me through the process, much like a parent or older sibling to the traumatized looking first-year undergraduate students. Each time I had to fill out little squares with the code given to a foreign country or the United States. I was unable to fill in any information regarding “le bac” (baccalauréat, the end-of-highschool qualifying exam that always one to enter university), but I more or less got through the document without suffering a mental breakdown. We once again got in line at the chaîne des inscriptions, where I paid my whopping 462 € for my first year of Master’s, got a copy of my Droits universitaires (which included my temporary social security number, as 200 € of the school fees go to paying 70% of my health insurance) and my Certificat de scholarité, an important document which proves that I am a student at UPJV. Finally we got in line to get a new student ID card – I used the same photo I had taken a year and a half ago, which was still on record. At last, I had the rights to the different discounts and entitlements that being a student in France allows me.
Once I was registered as a student, I had to wait until the pré-rentrée, a debriefing on my research-based Master’s, took place on September 13, the Thursday before classes started. Up until this point, I had no idea when my classes would take place or where. There are very few students in the research side of my Master’s in Langues, textes et échanges, as most of the students in the foreign language programs (English, Spanish, and German) are in the Master d’enseignement, the teacher-based Master’s that includes the national teaching exam, the CAPES. The students in Master’s research either prefer not to take the CAPES (because they want to directly prepare for the more difficult and competitive agrégation, which pays much better) or because they are hoping to continue on to a doctorate. I’ll go into more in depth on the details of the Master’s itself in my next post.
In the Research-based Master’s in English, I met three other students, two of whom have become very close friends of mine. At the pré-rentrée, the teachers outnumbered the students, and they read from the brochure that had been published a month previously. Luckily, I got a copy of my schedule, which was still missing two classes. All in all, I would be taking twelve hours of classes per week, with two hours added here and there for a class that had not yet been scheduled. In French universities, it is rather typical to show up – the day of la rentrée – to the university to find a piece of paper listing when classes are to take place and where. Even more frustrating is the list of “professors’ absences”, as student’s often get no more notice of a canceled class than a few minutes beforehand, when they pass through the hallway. Rather an old-fashioned system, in a world of email and text-messages. Here’s a standard example of a first-year Licence student’s schedule:
Finally, on September 17, I had my first day of classes, a return to school which is effectionately called La rentrée. I had three hours of classes, which I survived without too much anxiety or making too many mistakes. A successful beginning.
I apologize for the delay in my updates. I’ve been slightly under the weather and have a big exposé (oral presentation) on Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women to prepare for Wednesday. Wish me luck!