In the US, universities vary on location, population, and student engagement. There are buildings specifically for classes and offices, student hang-out locations, dining locations, and much more. France and the US share differences and similarities within campus life and atmosphere. I am writing this blog to share my experiences and the differences between my university in the US and the university I am attending in France.
As a member of various organizations at my home university, arriving on a French campus and feeling the atmosphere for the first time hit differently. It did not feel as lively and involved as I feel it is back home. Students in France have extracurricular activities, but they are not advertised as much as they are back home. That was a little bit of a shock to me because I was looking forward to joining organizations on campus. The extracurriculars are mainly sports, theatre, and music related, which did not spark my interests. There is no Greek-life on campus, which is a huge difference in comparison to the US because Greek life is on every campus. Plus, being a member of the Chi Omega sorority, it is important to me. I knew it was more of an American thing, but I would have thought there are something like Greek life in Europe, maybe not. However, the campus hosts student-led events like theatre productions, jam sessions in common areas, workshops, to name a few. There are ways to get involved on campus, but it is not as prominent as it is back home. Students in France attend university to obtain a diploma and get into the workforce, so university does not last as long as it does in the US. That is one thing that surprised me when I arrived to study abroad at my French university.
Another thing are the classes. At my home university, classes are from 75 minutes to 2.5 hours and meet once or twice a week. Here, classes are 3 hours long for main classes and 2 hours long for elective courses. This is something I still am not used to. It was a major change, but it felt nice for once not running across campus, ensuring that I am not late to class. My classes in France are in the same building. I do not have to leave my building while I am at school. This is a good and bad thing. I know exactly where I am and I do not worry about being late, but I am not used to walking to the cafeteria. Personally, I like having all my classes in the same place because it is easier to remember them, however, I am a person who likes to arrive early to class. The French are not people who arrive 10-20 minutes early. They arrive 1-2 minutes before class starts and expect you to pay attention as soon as you sit down. This can be rough because I like to prepare myself before class, so sometimes I am all over the place when I get called on. It happens, but I recover from it. I think my professors have picked up on this because I am usually the first one there when they get to the room. Sometimes they show up 10 minutes before class. I appreciate it.
One thing I think is interesting is my French university has a time every Wednesday where students can collect various resources like food and personal hygiene supplies. This is hosted by a volunteer organization in France. Everyone knows about it, and it is super popular; I have been a few times myself just to see what they have to offer. Yet, at my university there are multiple locations scattered across campus where students can go if they need various resources, which can make it difficult for students to get the resources they need. I think it might be a good idea if my school had something like this: a time every two weeks where the different departments come together and have a time where students can gather the resources they need for free. Or the departments can advertise their resources more frequently than once a semester.
The size of campus is another thing that surprised me. Coming from my home institution, I was expecting the French university to be way smaller than my own, granted my campus back home is not very big. My home university is set up as so (more or less):
- Two dining locations
- Multiple buildings for classes and offices
- Multiple common areas
The university in France is set up as so (more or less):
- 6-7 buildings for classes and offices
- 2-3 libraries based on certain subjects
- 3-4 dining areas (two offer 3 course meals)
- Off-campus housing that is not exactly off campus, but it is not on campus
And a few common areas
The atmosphere on campus is different. Like I mentioned before, it seems that students are only here to learn and obtain their degree then get into the workforce. It does not appear as sociable as it does back home. Students do sit with their friend groups inside or outside, but it is a smaller circle of friends than some in the States. Personally, this campus does not feel like it does back home. The environment is not as active as it is back at my university. This is just another cultural difference that I have seen between the French and USA.
Overall, French and American universities differ in many ways, but hold similarities too. It just is different because there are not organizations tabling in the common area, but outside the entrance to the university (they are mainly political because there is an upcoming presidential election). My home university feels more like a community while the French university feels like a place of business. However, I like that they are not the same. If they were, I would not feel that my experience in France upheld different cultural experiences. Even though it is different, it is a good different.
Kyra Sikorski is the Spring 2022 CEA MOJO Blogger in Aix-en-Provence, France, and is currently studying at Winthrop University.