The VPM Blog

Higher Education Abroad

Posted by Rachael Gamlin on Sep 9, 2014 9:15:00 AM

eiffelThis past summer, I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad and take French language classes in Paris. Culture shock was mostly related to the amount of smoking by the natives and the number of tourists in such a tiny space. However, there were several differences I noticed between my Auburn classes and higher education abroad.

1. There was nowhere near the same amount of homework. I typically have 3 hours of homework per week for each of my Auburn classes. In France, that would seem ridiculous. The homework normally took me about 30 minutes to complete, distractions included (ya know, like stopping to eat a baguette or something). Having said that, I feel like my teachers in France didn’t assign any busy work, so the homework we did have was really helpful.

2. Attitudes towards everything are much more laid back. My teacher would casually mention that we had a test the following day, and when the American students would panic, she would shrug it off and tell us we’d do fine. Also, tardiness wasn’t frowned upon or considered bad. Honestly, it was expected. Students would casually stroll into class 45 minutes late and our teacher would just mark them as present.

3. You are treated much more like an adult. Typical American classroom decorum went out the window and was replaced with an environment where the teacher and student are equals. The teachers had you call them by their first names and didn’t mind you eating or drinking in class. Also (and mainly because the French thrive off coffee and smoking), we would have breaks during class so that students and teachers could get in their 10 A.M pick-me-up coffee and smoke together.

4. There were no desks. On my first day of class, I walked in and expected to see rows of desks typical of an American classroom. What I found was six long tables pushed together to form a rectangle. My professor sat at the table closest to the chalkboard and the students filled in the rest of the seats. After taking classes like this for a month, I honestly believe that this set-up improves learning. I was able to engage with other students a lot more easily and felt more comfortable asking my teacher questions.

5. The competitive environment doesn’t really exist. In American universities, everyone is always trying to get the highest score on tests or beat the person next to them. This didn’t happen when I studied abroad. Everyone just worried about themselves. They weren’t concerned with the grades of others. It was a much less intimidating workspace, making learning easier.

Many of these contrasts are caused by cultural differences and fit better with the French mindset, but some are also applicable to our own Higher Ed system here in the U.S. of A. I’d love to see some of these differences make their way over here to the colonies and into my Auburn classrooms.

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