Tips for future pigeons
December 22, 2015
My last week in Paris was a flurry of exams and papers. To recap so any future students can know what to expect, I took 5 classes. Two were the required APA classes, one a language course, the other essentially a modern French poli sci and culture course. I took three classes with the French public university system: two at Paris 8 (Saint-Denis), one at Paris 10 (Nanterre). French university has three years instead of four, and any classes you might take are divided into L1, L2, and L3 level courses. I took two L3 and one L1 courses.
Between university work and APA, I had 3 oral exams, two in-class exams, one written exposé, one group paper, and one six-page essay and one ten-page essay. Yes, it was hard and yes, it’s all in French, but I promise you’ll be okay. My tip is to make sure a French person reads anything you write before you turn it in. Even if your French is fantastic, things don’t always directly translate and sentence structure is important at university level.
Start early, take it slow, work hard. It’s very doable and your French writing skills will skyrocket.
Here are a couple things to know about being in class with French professors:
They often read their own notes aloud, the idea is you copy everything they’re saying. This is impossible. Listen as well as you can and get what you find important. French students are used to writing down everything the teacher says word-for-word, but as we know in America, that’s pointless. The most important part is just to PAY REALLY CLOSE ATTENTION.
People may warn you that student-professor relationships are far more formal than those in the US and that you have to be incredibly formal with them. This is true in emails. Address them as “Madame ___,” or “Monsieur___,” and sign off with “cordialement.” However, this is not as true in class. Obviously be respectful, but you can also trust them and ask them questions like you would in America. You can meet with them outside class, go to them after class and form relationships with them, especially if the class is small. Don’t be afraid of them, they’re awesome, intelligent people who will be there for you just as much as an American professor would!
They understand that you are foreign, not yet quite fluent in the language, and if you’re like me, terrified of speaking in class. Do it anyway. The other students will think you’re exotic and impressed that you’re taking a class in French. Speaking in class not only gets you bonus points with the professor, but it’s actually how I made real life French friends. They find out you’re American and they actually want to talk to you because of it. And speak to them IN FRENCH!!! Yes, they probably speak English as well as you do, but it’s an amazing way to practice. Plus when they correct you, it hurts a lot less than when adults correct you. They also teach you cool slang words.
Just enjoy it. It gets easier by the day and by the time exams roll around, you’ll be ready. Je vous promets !