Over the past weekend, our very own Georgia Tech Lorraine took part in a program for French high school students called “Portes Ouvertes,” or “Open Doors.” This involves French students being able to visit places of higher learning, including us, all over the city to get a glimpse into what it’s like to be a student at different universities and institutions. The event works like an open house where the students get to tour the facilities and hear presentations from college students and faculty on research, daily life, and other things pertaining to higher education and to the school in particular. This is a great opportunity for French students to preview universities, similar to how we do in the United States.

In my personal experience, as a high-schooler, I decided not to apply to any schools in my home state of Washington and, due in large part to that, I was not able to tour any of the colleges I wanted to attend. However, not everybody is as lucky as me to go in blind and love the school they chose. I believe that the more information students are given before they make such an important life choice, the better.

Something that amazes me about French students is their grasp of multiple languages. Almost every student can speak English quite well and most have some knowledge of a third language as well. This is due to the way language teaching works in the French school system. Through some research I found that French students choose their first language at age 11 from either English or German (with 90% choosing English). Then, two years later, students may select another language, this time with Spanish included. As a result of spending their years from age 11 to 18 learning two other languages, most French students are very linguistically skilled. Although English has become one of the biggest world languages today (behind only Chinese and Spanish), I wish our school system would stress learning a second (or third) language more, if only to improve cultural awareness among American students.

Another difference in the French school system comes with higher education. French universities tend to be quite small in comparison to those in the U.S., and most middle-sized French cities will have 2 to 3 universities – and even more specialized institutes. France also holds over 100 international universities, which is defined as a college where some or all studies are taught in a non-local language, which tends to be English most of the time. In fact, in Austria, I met a pair of American students who were studying at the American University in Paris, which is apparently an international university with campuses in multiple countries outside of the U.S.

And of course when it comes to tuition, French students also have it good. Public universities in France typically only charge from 150-700 euros a year, as higher education is state-funded. This allows French students to obtain a master’s degree for as little as €1000. Meanwhile, I’m here paying $30,000 a year tuition. Oh well, we can’t all be winners. I’m glad GTL is doing its part to help the local community and work to further public education.