In this blog I want to share some cultural differences I’ve noticed while studying abroad in France, particularly with regards to academics. Through experiences both in and out of the classroom, I’ve learned so much more about the French culture than I ever thought I would. French education is so different from the American schooling and the education I receive at Tiffin University back in the United States.
My school in Cannes, France is quite unique in the sense that it is an international campus, so my class holds a great amount of diversity. In this sense, I almost feel at home to my home university, Tiffin University, that boasts it’s “ranked #1,315 in ethnic diversity nationwide with a composition that is similar to the national average,” and that, “There is a relatively large community of about 397 international students at Tiffin University representing at least 23 countries.”
Here are some aspects of academics and learning a language abroad in France that differ from what I’m used to in the United States:
Learning with International Friends
In my class alone here in Cannes, there are four Americans (including myself), three students from Brazil, one student from Russia, seven students from Mexico, three students from Canada, one student from Spain, and one student from Czech Republic. I have learned so much about their values and traditions as compared to those of the United States and of France. The students in my class speak multiple languages, and I luckily speak a decent amount of Spanish, so I can carry conversations with my friends from Mexico and Spain without having to avert back to English. Although it is nice that so many people know and understand English, I like to challenge myself by practicing Spanish and French with my other colleagues that are also learning.
I am truly at an advantage because the International Campus de Cannes makes it a requirement to take an intensive French language course which meets 15 hours a week. After being here for almost a month, my French has improved significantly, as has my confidence out and about in France practicing in conversation with locals.
What is even more amazing is learning French in France. My teacher is a local of Cannes and every lesson turns into a learning opportunity about places to see and eat within the city. When she teaches us words and phrases, we are learning native French and to me that is so cool. In the United States, a lot of my Spanish language experience was textbook Spanish, and I had no real place to apply it to fix my grammar or correct conjugations of words. My teacher explains proper French etiquette and the correct way to use certain words that we may have learned in the United States or through other people from our program.
Direct Feedback and Constructive Criticism
Another strong and different comparison between language learning in France and the United States has to do with criticism and class participation. My teacher instantly corrects me — and usually a lot, because French is a difficult language! — and I have learned to love that. It allows me to fix my mistakes and learn more quickly by participating. Teachers are not afraid to critique their students or provide feedback. It is not considered rude; education just moves at a quicker pace here! There’s nothing wrong with learning the language that much more quickly so that you can feel more comfortable practicing outside of the classroom in France!
In my seminars, which are taught by teachers that typically have dual citizenship, I have the opportunity to expand my knowledge on topics like organizational business, French civilization, and art history in English. I also also having the opportunity to switch to French and learn new words in French. It was quite interesting explaining to our teachers what a syllabus, was and about the concept of assignments being due on a certain date. Our teachers in France expect more of a rigorous class dynamic as opposed to busy work out of the classroom, as we often see in the United States. I have adjusted well to this lifestyle, and it forces me to absorb as much material as possible in class.
Every day is a new day for growth and an opportunity to learn more, and for that I am truly blessed.
This post was contributed by Autumn Cooper, a student from Tiffin University who is spending her spring semester studying abroad with AIFS in Cannes, France.