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Posted by Julie

Welcome to la France: where there are some things that are really different (baguettes for days –literally), and some that are quite similar (so many corny advertisements) to the United States. No, everyone doesn’t walk around in black and white stripes with a cigarette in one hand and a baguette in the other, though everyone seems to be pretty stylin’.

This weekend was Georgia Tech-Lorraine’s “Portes Ouvertes,” which translates literally to “Open Doors.” This annual two-day event revolves around community involvement and advertisement, and I was so lucky to volunteer to talk to students from middle school age up to high school age. Not only was this eye-opening culturally, but it was so much fun just to talk to some of the students.

Over the past few weeks I’ve gotten to know a bit more about one more difference, through both Portes Ouvertes and the French graduate students I’ve met on campus and in my computer science class. It’s a big one, and maybe one you wouldn’t expect: their education system. Maybe you already know that their college doesn’t cost nearly as much as in the States, but there are reasons for that. (Also, “collège” en français is the equivalent of middle school, just so you know. I learned that a while ago in French class, though, so thanks Prof!)

However, the organization and perception of the education system varies quite a bit. For example, once students hit lycée (high school), they choose a concentration of studies. Now, I don’t know about you, but I got questions for years up until applying for college about what I wanted to do, and I didn’t have a clue, – I ended up changing last minute to Industrial Engineering at FASET orientation – so the prospect of that scares the color out of me.

Their entrance exam is rough: le BAC, an abbreviation for “le Baccalauréat,” is basically the equivalent of our SAT’s or ACT’s – except more difficult and competitive. They prepare for it throughout high school, and receive notice as to whether they can attend college (referred to as l‘université here). According to my study abroad advisors, their université focuses on intensive studies initially, then application projects in later years, unlike at Georgia Tech, where we get hands-on in our material in many classes.

However, the emphasis we see on Tech campus for job experience? Not so prevalent here. In fact, my friend Taha told me that when applying for a job, the question asked isn’t “What experience do you have?” but “How many diplomas do you have?” Therefore, graduate studies are commonplace, whereas I could probably enter the workforce with my co-op experience and Bachelor’s.

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Photo courtesy of bioinformatics.gatech.edu.

The approach to education and experience varies much more than I ever thought, but I couldn’t say if one is better than the other. It seems to me that everyone is happy – it’s just another cultural difference; it’s what they do here. I never would have learned that without volunteering with my peers for Portes Ouvertes, or taking this computer science class that makes me just slightly nervous (in a good way – I’m ready to learn at an exponential rate).

Some advice: there’s no shame in staying home from the grand travels everyone has planned. Even when staying in Metz on the weekend, there are things to learn; even when you’re at home, there are things to learn – it’s just a matter of what you do.