I just got back to America from an awesome semester spent in France. My university was called SKEMA Business School located in the beautiful south of France, better known as the French Riviera.
It was hard for me to even think about school when I first arrived and saw where we would be living. The beach was just a few steps away and everything on the Cote d'Azur was just perfect. But after a week of taking it all in, I soon learned that university in France is not the same as we are used to in America. I have done a fair share of traveling around the world, but I suppose it would be impossible to know what it is like to go to college somewhere else. In the end, it was great, but just took some time to figure out!
First of all, we were offered class selection only a few weeks before school started. A lot of exchange program students were confused over the summer as to when we would be able to choose our courses, because obviously it is very important in terms of planning so many things. And when we finally were sent a course list, it was totally different than what was on their website! As it turns out, we were enrolled in what is called the Grande Ecole Program. That basically means we were taking graduate level courses, which our home universities would accept as undergraduate-level credits, even though SKEMA offers an undergraduate program. Confusing, I know- but SKEMA wants their exchange students to experience a Grande Ecole because it is the best of the best in French Education. It was very cool once we understood it all!
So, with a totally new course offerings list, I had to go back to step one and re-do all of my course equivalency approvals. It wasn't terrible, but I had to choose very carefully because of the way scheduling works at this school. Classes were held very randomly. For example, at HPU you might have a class every MWF from 3:00 to 4:00, and that is your schedule for the whole semester. Well at SKEMA, you might have a class on 9/21 from 2:00-5:00, then the next day at the same time, then you don't meet again for another month! Yes, it is very confusing. With a layout like this it was very difficult to choose classes that did not overlap with each other, which was technically not allowed. My solution was to literally print out a calendar and write out every session with their times to see what I could take without overlapping. It was a lot of work! But actually in the end, it helped me choose my best schedule to my preference, so it was worth it. The reason that SKEMA does classes like this is because they have 6 campuses across 4 continents and the professors actually travel between all of them to teach. I had classes that only met twice a month because in between the teacher was traveling between Paris, Nice, North Carolina, Brazil, and China! Once again, it was very interesting once we figured out why.
Finally, after having all of my newly-approved classes in order with no overlapping, I arrived to the first sessions of my courses. This is when I learned the magnitude of taking Grande Ecole classes. Maybe some of your experiences have been the same, because I have heard that other universities in Europe have the same evaluation method. Instead of periodic assignments, quizzes, and exams contributing to our grade like we are used to at HPU, this university bases your entire grade off of one final exam. It could be a literal exam you complete in class, or it may be a final project or essay that you submit; but either way the grade you receive on that is the grade you are given for the course. This was very stressful to me! Sure, it was great to not have to be stressed out throughout the whole semester about periodic exams, but the stress for that one big exam sure does add up. Luckily it turned out that all of my finals left me feeling confident, except for one really strict teacher who was always angry and surprised us with an open-ended final. And to make it worse, he told us that a REALLY good grade on his final was a C, which is what I need to pass the course at HPU!! So I will basically be worried until I get my grade on that one.
All in all, I really liked how Grande Ecole works in France. We learned that it is very prestigious to say that you have gone to a Grande Ecole and it will impress the bosses if you apply for a job with a French company. The randomness and scattered schedule allowed me and my girlfriend to go on a TON of trips around the country and around the continent- 17 countries in all! And when we weren't traveling, it was so nice to be able to relax on a beach in the French Riviera in a class-less week. I am so glad that I chose SKEMA and I wish I could go back already!
Happy New Year,