la joie de vivre

From California to Lyon, France: living & studying abroad…and coming back!

“Des grands enfants” (Big Kids)

For our last creative writing assignment, we had to write about something that got on our nerves during our time here in Lyon. Since normal hiccups come up anyway–and not-so-normal hiccups come up in foreign countries–we certainly had plenty to write about.

But for me, what was really shocking was the lack of respect students are given here in the university system. My teacher said that since the students are not yet in the workforce, they are considered “des grands enfants” (big kids).

And let’s face it. Being a big kid is only cool when you’re little (and usually when you finally learn to pee in a toilet!)

The power system within the university is really different here. In the States, it’s true that the professors have gone through extensive years of training and research to be qualified to teach us, but they (at least in the UC system) teach for the purpose of serving the community: they are there to impart knowledge and encourage curiosity. They are responsible for helping fuel the spark to get their students to go on to greater things. Teachers treat students with respect, and they are obligated to have office hours where students are free to drop in to discuss questions or future plans.

But it’s been soooo hard to wrap my brain around the fact that it’s different here in France. The most prestigious universities (“les grandes écoles”) are still reserved for those who want to become governmental workers, not who want to become researchers, lawyers, and the like. Professors and everyone else at the university hold a large status that hovers over the student, and they must be addressed by “Monsieur” or “Madame” — even before a simple question. Usually that is proceeded with a timid “Excusez-moi” (excuse me).

But does that go back to the idea of entitlement? The structure of education? The theories behind education?

In the States, we pay a hefty fee to go to universities, and that price is only increasing every year. But it is also extremely difficult to get into colleges with the slew of AP tests, SAT/ACT exams, transcripts, and letters of recommendation. And colleges pick you; you only get the chance to finally pick the school after they have decided they want you.

In France, students take a huge exam at the end of high school called “Le Baccalauréat”, (“Le Bac”) for short. It’s quite an extensive test, but if (and many do) they pass this test, they then have their pick of the universities — with the exceptions of some more selective processes, such as for les grandes écoles. And then their university education is completely free! And that comes with medical coverage too!

We have to pay for fees for pretty much every single service. UCSB has the highest amount of lock-in fees (amounts written into the university’s bill to the students every quarter or year) out of all the UCs. And no California school technically has “tuition” — but we all pay what’s basically, well, a tuition — masked under the term of “fees”.

I hope that piggy bank has lots of hundred dollar bills!

I’m not used to being treated like a big kid by my own university. At UCs we have the right to change our influence our university by the mere fact that we are the students of the university – the university is providing a service to us. And our claims are brought legitimacy by how much we have to pay.

At Lyon 2, students have to bow at the weird rules and the sometimes flagrant disrespect for the students. Take the university cafeteria: we can’t bring our own food into the premises; we can’t take trays outside the premises (even to the steps just right outside); we can’t move chairs from other tables; we have to leave when we’re done eating. Breaking any of these rules can get you a firm warning or, in some cases, kicked out of the cafeteria.

I wish I was this happy in the school cafeteria here in France!

My teacher told me that a few years ago someone got physically removed from the cafeteria because they were going to take a tray outside of the premises. The student government spoke up, and they got results…of a non-ventilated room with no windows where you can bring your own food to eat. It used to be the storage closet for equipment.

And when you talk to the secretaries (who hold positions similar to the administration of departments in the UC system), there is definitely a power play. It’s clearly a bureaucracy. They’ll tell you to go talk to someone else or that they don’t have the information…which is clearly unnecessary upon further prodding and the discovery they have exactly what you were looking for. One of my friends cursed out one of the secretaries and ending his rant with “s’il te plaît” (please in the informal). They looked at him for a minute and then told him he had to use the formal phrase! Then once he did and seemed more apologetic they fixed his problem after telling him a whole semester that they couldn’t.

And when you find out that they lied, it’s not as cute as this…

And professors don’t get evaluated by the students here. In the UC system, it’s mandatory that teachers hand out course and professorship evaluations, and a huge network of student comments are collected into the body of

But that’s not to say that all professors in France are power monsters and all professors in the States are friendly people. I’ve actually had quite a few very nice and very helpful teachers here in France…and some not so good ones in the States. But the overall structure of power, respect, rules, and entitlement is very, very different.

But at the end of the day, the differences have taught me a lot, and I will appreciate UCSB much, much more when I return :)


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This entry was posted on April 29, 2012 by in Student Life abroad and tagged .
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