As I am thinking about what I have shared with my readers, I realize that I’ve left out a major part of the study abroad experience! Your classes and finals take up a large majority of the time abroad. I want to let readers know about my course load, professors, and what it’s like to take classes in a foreign language.
When I first arrived in France in early January, I was set to follow the Certificate of French and European Studies, but after two weeks of orientation and realizing I came to France to improve my French most importantly, I decided to change this plan. Sciences Po Lyon offers three options for international studies on exchange. The first is the Certificate of French and European Studies, which is comprised of at least nine classes, or 30 ECTS (credit points, based on the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System, or ECTS). Eight of these courses are offered by invited professors in their specialties and are taught in English. The ninth course is an intensive French language course. The second option is the Attestation d’Etudes Politiques, which is comprised of 30 ECTS at minimum of nine classes. In this certificate program, three courses must be fundamental courses (cours fondamentaux), one methodology course (cours de methodologie), four specialized courses (cours d’oeuvre), and one French and culture class. The third choice is the choix des cours, basically meaning you can take as many credits as you would like, though there would be no specific course available for you as an international student in the French language.
After some deliberation, I decided to choose the Attestation d’Etudes Politiques to advance my French skills. There was one cours fondamental taught in English and three cours d’oeuvres that were offered in the certificate, so I decided to take four courses taught in English and five courses taught in French. I thought this was a nice balance because I could become more fluent in French, but not be as overwhelmed when it came to the finals. My cours fondamentaux were The Supreme Court, Vie politique francaise (French political life), and Sociologie historique de l’Etat (The historical sociology of the state). My cours de methodologie (CDM) was Institutions politiques et administratives (Political and administrative institutions). My cours d’oeuvres were Federalism, Brexit, Geopolitique contemporaine (Contemporary geopolitics), and the British Contribution to the Defence of Europe. And then my ninth course was my French language and culture course. I had to take a placement test for this course. There were three levels: A, B, and C. I got placed in B, the intermediate group.
Seven of these courses met once a week for two hours. My Brexit course met for only one month (the month of February), three times a week, for two hours. My Vie politique francaise course met once a week for three hours. As you can see two hours is the minimum in France. Some upperclassmen courses and law courses could last up to four hours. Most professors gave a five minute break at the halfway point to get coffee and have a small pause. For some courses taught in French, some French students volunteer to write notes on an online web platform called Unipad, which are available to be downloaded up to twenty-four hours after they are uploaded. This helped me tremendously when I had problems following for two hours straight. Only two of my courses did not have final exams: Federalism and Institutions politiques et administratives. For my Federalism course, we had a final paper and presentation. For Institutions politiques et administratives, we had two people present on a political and administrative institution of France. This, along with participation were put into our final grade. But for most courses in France, the only thing that you are graded on is the final exam. This was a bit stressful to me to think of, but in the end I enjoyed the process better. It is also much more conducive to travel.
I would advise an international student to give themselves at least a week to study and probably a week and a half at most. French students were packed in the library during our week of preparation, arriving when it opened, taking a one to two hour lunch break, and coming back around 2pm until close.
In the end, I learned the best thing to do is not to stress, to talk to your professor and let them know you are an international student, and to write that you are an international student on your exam. The professors will realize to disregard minor grammatical or lexical errors. The real purpose for these exams are that you understand material.
I do not want anyone to shy away from this great learning experience! It should be nothing to be afraid of, but something to be excited about! When else will you be able to take courses in such specialized political science and international relations subjects in a foreign language!? Go for it!