De Carlisle à la Ville Rose

Category: Archives EN

University Culture

Editors: Devin, Colby, Hallie, Winnie.

The bureaucracy at the university

In Devin and Colby’s experiences, bureaucracy is an important part of the French university system. Colby said that when you need the signature of one single person, the one office has its opening hours at the most common times for classes and they take a very long lunch break, so it’s hard to find the person one needs. Nothing is online and there are random times when some secretarial offices are closed. The situation is the same for Devin in terms of the libraries. The city’s libraries are connected, but the system to check the availability of the novels does not say specifically if the novel is available in a particular library. So, even if the system says that a novel is available, it might be necessary to visit another library in the city in the search for it. In the experience of both of them, the reaction from the French is the same: Devin’s hosts thought her reaction was funny. For Colby, the common reaction he received is that “it’s the French way.”

Autonomy in the work

Besides the fact that the French university is very different in comparison to the United States in the way it functions, there are also differences inside the classroom. An example is the French presentation, or the “exposé.” When Devin knew that her class was assigned with an oral presentation, she was not worried because she already did oral presentations in the United States. However, when she started working on the project with her group, she saw that the presentation here is in fact an oral presentation of a “dissertation.” She was confused about why French students only present a dissertation. This type of work has a lot of rules so it is understandable why the French professors prefer this format, but there is no freedom to explain the subject. In the U.S., when a student presents a report, he does not memorize the presentation and thus seems relaxed. Rachael noticed in her classes in Toulouse that “it’s normal to keep your notes with you” during the presentation, and that “all students read full sentences directly from their notes.” Devin and Rachael thus observed that all the students who presented did not look at their audience.

Another main difference is the question of the student’s responsibility. Although the teachers criticize them in front of the whole class, the role of the teacher is different in comparison to that of the American professor. It can be said that it is completely the students’ responsibility to understand the topics, and the teachers are only present to give the instructions. French universities create very independent students who know well how to do research and how to find the informations relevant to their work.

Student choices and lifestyles

The choices in the student’s life are the important things that we have noticed, for choices shape their lives at university, among their teachers, in Toulouse, among their friends, and in all aspects of their lives. After spending time in France, we found things that interest us because they differ from those in the United States.

Devin goes through H & M, a shop known and frequented by young people and students. Although this shop also exists in the United States, the difference is evident by the dress style of the customers in it.

Fashion is something that many people make use of to express themselves and to create an identity. This feeling also applies to French students. Devin suggests that student fashion can be expressed with the word “comfort.” This idea is understandable because as a student, we really focus on studying during school hours. However, according to her observations in France, she finds that all do not dress in the same way. Being an American student, she was interested to observe how other students dress. At her French university, students dress in complete sets of clothes even as early as 8:30. Devin found that for her, it was odd that no one would dress in leggings or sweatpants, which are clothes often seen in the United States in the world of American students. The clothes change the atmosphere of the school, and at the same time, they are a means by which students can show their individuality.

Another way of projecting this individuality is in their choice of schooling. It is the student himself who chooses his quest for knowledge. Hallie attended courses at the University of Toulouse in which she found that the relationship between the professors and their students seems less close.

Although her teacher guides the students, they are not friends with one another and therefore the link is rather professional. One of her teachers emphasized the importance of choice that these students have, saying, “If you’re in this room, you’re here to learn. You have the choice. You can still stay in bed. But you chose to learn.” This connection produces a dynamic in which students are neither pampered nor patronized. In addition, parents do not pay tuition fees. That is to say, students are the only bosses of this burden or gift that is schooling. In short, the small amounts of exams administered give students the responsibility for understanding the subject, without the professors’ use of a note of participation or attendance. Therefore, it is the decision of the French student to continue the knowledge, and between the professors and the students, there is a mutual respect.

Changing Attitudes for Preserving the Environment

Editors: Okung, Lina, Nadia, Isy, Allie.

Each day, the global population creates more and more pollution that destroys our environment, and Toulouse is no different. Its constant population growth over the past 30 years has led to an increase in car usage- roughly 50% of Toulousains use a personal car as their primary form of transportation. Though in some cities, fewer people are smoking, the practice remains very common in Toulouse, and cigarette butts are left in streets, parks, and the river. Also, Toulousains do not clean up after their dogs, instead leaving the messes in the middle of public sidewalks. There are many steps that Toulousains can take to help the environment- and beautify their city in the process.

Daily habbits to help decrease pollution

With all these problems, there are solutions that exist currently to ameliorate the situation. First, in Toulouse we do not see as many cars as in other large cities, but the metro is used a lot. “After having visited Toulouse’s downtown, it is clear why the metro is so popular – there is no room for cars nor the need for this type of transportation” (Allie). Most of the time, the metro is faster than the cars. By avoiding traffic jams, the only things that affect the metro are blockages and construction. With this time gained also comes protection of the environment. When the trains arrive at stations like “Jean Jaurès, the only station where the two lines of the metro cross…they are way too many people” (Allie), thus there are fewer people in cars. Because of this, there is less pollution from cars in the air and in the environment. Even though the metros cause some pollution, it is much less than that which all the cars would create if the metros did not exist.

Another solution that exists is the prohibition of many types of plastic bags in France. In many grocery stores in French, the cashiers do not give out plastic bags for bagging food. In fact, if you do not bring your own bag, you can buy a reusable bag at the cash register for a few euros. A student, Isy, notes that “Normally these bags are made with paper, they do not exist in many groceries or stores that give people free plastic bags. There are types of plastic bags still exist in France which have not been banned and such bags can be used for fruits and vegetables. These bags must meet the minimum standard of being a biosourced material and must compostable. With this change, France has gotten rid of millions of plastic bags that could potentially pollute the enviroment.

A diet that’s more restpectful to the environment?

Evidently, the French have a delicate and appreciative relationship with food that reveals their ideas in relation to the manner in which consumption affects health. There are not many vegetarians in France, but the number has been increasing. However, in France, the economy and the government take care of the agriculture industry as it is an integral part of French history and culture. On the other hand, in the U.S., it is true that there is a significant amount of intensive animal farming, as well as many factories who mistreat animals. Furthermore, American brands also tend to use a significant amount of preservatives. In France, these practices are less common, so people have little reason to motivate themselves to quit eating meat.

“The way that the French view meat consumption is more humane and healthy,” a student, Lina Miller says, “I think this method of viewing meat consumption is tied to the way the French perceive health to be connected with what we eat.” Another student, Isy, gives another example of this French concept, noting that “Non-pasteurized milk is banned in the U.S., but in France, raw milk is not banned and is very common in domestic life. The different tastes of these two types of milk are noticeable and they affect the taste of other foods and drinks.”

The aspect in which the French choose what is important to concentrate on, suggests that the things we put in our bodies have a direct effect on our lives. Meat and raw milk are not considered as bad things for health, but however, the French do not consume as many preservatives. In these specificities, we note that the French take care of what they consume.

The paradox of cigarette and cannabis use

The French have an individual relationship, and also a social relationship regarding the use of cigarettes. Compared to the United States, one observes that there are many more smokers in France and you can see a culture that is more tolerant of smokers. As Nadia observed, “…In the United States, there is a sort of prejudice against people who smoke, especially close to children. But here, in Toulouse, there is not this same mentality. I have made some French friends and they told me that they smoke for its social aspects. Often, when a friend leaves to smoke a cigarette, the others leave with them to continue the conversation. » As Nadia remarked well, it is clear to see there is a more social aspect than one that is more attentive to the environment and health. In the United States, people think more about the negative consequences of smoking and that the social aspect is not a reason that is more imprtant than health considerations.

But concerning other drugs like cannabis, the beliefs of each country are the inverse. As Allie noted, « in the United States, it seems like smoking cannabis is a pass-time that is very popular…the American public is becoming increasingly comfortable with the legalisation of cannabis, not only for medical reasons, but also for recreation. » Her host observes that there is not at all the same mentality in France as many French people believe that cannabis is more dangerous than cigarettes due to its psychological impacts.

This reversal of attitudes concerning the effects of drugs shows that the Americans and the French think of the environment in completely different ways and especially that the social environment of each country influences individual actions and as a result, the way of thinking about public consumption.

La Une’s New Year’s Resolutions: Of Culinary Habits and Health

Editors: Maia, Rachael, Nina, Ayanna, Ryan M.

Gastronomic Habits in France

Drinking and culinary culture in France is different than in the United States. For example, it’s strange to drink a lot of water here. With a meal, French people prefer to drink things other than water. Additionally, here in France you can drink alcohol with your lunch in the same way you drink soda or water in the United States. You can drink a beer, a glass of wine, or a hard cider with a mid-day meal at most restaurants and cafes in Toulouse, which represents a departure from American culture. We had expected that food and food culture in France would be like what we had seen in representations of France. These representations could have been incorrect, glorified, or incomplete. Our expectations of the food didn’t take into account that France is diverse, as Ryan observed: “Despite the cliches, my experience at this (ramen) restaurant, on the other hand, represented a departure from the traditional notion of French culinary culture.” We can drink a coffee and buy a pastry while paying much less than we would in the United States, but we can’t drink as much water as an American who is familiar with hydration. In conclusion, we are discovering good things and less healthy things related to culinary culture that add up to immersive cultural discovery in France.

Health Culture

One of the most significant differences between American and French culture is the culture surrounding meals.  In the US, most meals are very large.  An American breakfast, for example, is far bigger than the typical French breakfast.  In the morning, Americans often eat two or three eggs, hash browns or home fries, toast, and bacon.  Lunch and dinner are of a similar size as well.

Among Americans, there seems to exist a common perception that French food is healthier than American food, or that the French lifestyle is typically healthier than the American lifestyle. Although it is possible that the typical French lifestyle is healthier, it is not because of diet specifically. French food uses a lot of fat – butter and animal fat dominate most dishes, so the notion that American food is more unhealthy than French food is not quite accurate. Another interesting aspect of food culture in both countries is that in restaurants in the United States, meals are served with large glasses of water, but in France, the water glasses are tiny by comparison. It is understood that staying hydrated is good for health, so if French cuisine were healthier than American cuisine, it seems as if the French would drink more water too.

Why does this perception exist? While the stereotypic american life is defined by excess, the life of a french person is defined by activity and moderation. Despite the fact that fat is so important in French cooking, meal sizes are much smaller. In addition, the lifestyle in France is typically more active than the lifestyle in the US. In France, cities and towns are very walkable, but in America, by contrast, a car is a necessity to get around in most places.

While traffic poses a challenge to happiness and places pressure on mental health, sports promote mental clarity. Those who play sports can improve their talents while improving their mental health. In exercising the body, the thoughts fixate on movement and one can no longer focus on the follies of the outside world.

In a basketball practice at Jean Jaures, there are many players seeking the mental and physical health that sports can offer. In order to explain why there are so many players in a single practice, one might consider the possibility that there are not many opportunities to play sports at a fair price.

Although there are not as many opportunities to engage in organised sports as in the United States, there remain many people who exercise through their daily habits. So it is possible that the French find mental and physical health outside of sports. Even though there are many athletes in one practice, there are many more people who exercise in the streets.

The Countryside: On Preserving a Slow-Paced Lifestyle

Editors: Jules, Patrick and Hazel.

The Perception of Country Life by Students Living in The City

It is easy to be swept up in the rapid pace of the big cities in France, but to find a little calm, one can escape to the countryside. There, the style of life is more serene, the people more casual, the streets lined with historical buildings. It is easy for us, the students who live in Toulouse, to forget that all of France doesn’t have the same “Toulousaine” culture of commercialisation and rapidity, where one can find distractions day and night. Similar to the American campuses that have all the amenities necessary for the amusement and learning of the students, the city has a similar environment. Dickinsonians profit greatly from the clean air of the countryside and from the discovery of other ways of life.


Nearby to Toulouse are located the Pyrenees. Just an hour and a half to the east, they are a part of a grand landscape of Southern France. In the Pyrenees, life is very different than life in Toulouse. When Jules went to the Pyrenees, she found that the scene was completely stunning. The lake water was clear and turquoise, and little trouts sparkled in the sunlight. Beech trees surrounded the lake, the leaves just starting to change color. She saw troupes of goats and sheep and herds of cows. She described the hike to be bucolic.

The French have a true appreciation for nature, and it shows in all facets of their life. In the mountains, we saw a life connected to the Earth. Every house was constructed with local stone and almost every one had a small farm or “jardin” to raise vegetables or livestock. The inhabitants have to respect the environment because they can see how they depend on it. It is very simple, but different from the United States when we frequently swap a respect for the environment for convenience. More and more, we see that the French have an intrinsic respect for nature, as it is such a natural element in their lives.

Frequently foreigners think that the French live a slower and more decadent life, one that is tied to vacation and eating. Yet we believe that this is just an appreciation for health and nature, rather than a desire to not work.


The presence of religion in French society is quite varied and it manifests itself in different ways for each individual. We got the chance to observe religion in the different environments of France. Jules went to the south of Toulouse to a village called Tarascon-sur-Ariege and found that it is not refined like the small tourist towns of Carcassonne or Albi. It is on the border between France and Spain. On Sundays, only one restaurant in the downtown area is open and during the night Jules saw just one bar open. She found that the city stresses the importance of religion: there were some monuments and buildings devoted to images of God. Actually, there was a type of patrimony program in the first church. The church itself was full of golden statues, elaborate stained glass windows and masterpieces depicting dramatic scenes. At the same time, there was a sense of disrepair within.

An attraction close to Toulouse is the trail of St-Jacques-de-Compostelle. It is a well known pilgrimage which is rooted in the traditions of Southern France. The pilgrims come there for the historical experience, to participate in the tradition or for the religious aspect.

Whatever be their motivation, all the pilgrims seem to share a common aspect which is that they like hiking. And many of them had come to see the reliques and go to mass in the Cathedrals. Pilgrimages are not easy; the pilgrims recount their difficulties in going up and down so frequently, their luck to have found a masseuse in a lodge, the blisters that hurt their feet, and the joy of something as simple as being offered a coffee by former pilgrims along the trail.

During a dinner with the pilgrims, an American student felt the conviviality between the pilgrims to have met people who share a similar way of life with them (during their pilgrimages) and to exchange experiences.

Actually, the ways in which the French show their religion is not black and white. Julien wrote about the complexity of the French religious identity: “Not all French speak about religion in the same way and they don’t express their religious identity (if they have one) in the same way. On paper, “la laïcité” has the goal of guaranteeing republican equality in the government and in society. However, in the discourse that we see today it is clear to me that there is still a debate over the concept of laïcité on paper and of its practice in French society. I find that even if we don’t have the French concept of laïcité in the US, there is a true similarity in the complexity of the subject in the two countries.

Interdependence Between the City and The Countryside

The differences between the countryside and the city in France are similar in the U.S. The towns (particularly those that lack big attractions) are a little more isolated, a little less on-demand. It was lovely to visit the French towns that are not strongly commercial, but at the same time the presence of advertisements indicates that tourism is important for their economies. It seems that the exchange of culture and people between the two types of communities is essential for the health of both. The question of gentrification versus the preservation of history is present everywhere, from the neighborhoods of Toulouse to the countryside.

Does a Romantic France Exist?

Editors: Elizabeth and Titi.

Does a Romantic France Exist? This is the big question of a large amount of students from Dickinson.

One student expressed her sentiments on the question by saying, “Before my trip here and trips within France, I absolutely kept an image of France like a country totally in rose [colored goggles], where everybody is in love and it rains baguettes.” In addition, we also thought that France was a country where the social aspect of politics was more to the left. Due to our education style in America, and the representations of France in the media, we also thought that the France was filled with art, large cathedrals like Notre-Dame in Paris, grand intellectuals, and Parisian style. The most significant example is the fact that we have an obsession with Paris, French fashion, the French language, and the French people – for example, take the fact that a lot of American women find the accents of French men to be very beautiful and romantic.

A French Racism and an American Racism?

In France, we often hear discussions around social inequalities rather than racism and discrimination. People often differentiate between American racism and French racism. But it is necessary that one understand that the ideology of racism was not only created in the U.S. Racism is just one of the many consequences of individuals using religion for their own selfish ambitions across the globe – it is the reason why Europeans sought to discover the world, because they believed it was their right to conquer unbelievers. This not only signifies that racism exists in France, that is why French racism seems to be different than that of the U.S. Many of the students at Caousou said that racism is not one of the topics incorporated into the curriculum they are taught. We can guess that this is because of the lack of statistical data concerning the representation of race and or ethnicities and religious groups found in the French population and on French soil and the conversations related to these details, hence why there are more evident examples of racism. At the Musée de l’homme in Paris, there were short general definitions of racism without solutions or new ideas. The problem with this kind of exposition is that it infantilizes the public without helping them to reflect and think deeply about their respective actions. Perhaps the reason there are, what one can consider, review definitions of racism is because there are not enough conversations about it in schools. In our opinion, it is important to have conversations about racism.

What is “European Hair?”

In particular, the experience of a Nigerian-American female student from Dickinson at a French hair salon opened our eyes to a different reality than that of the majority of students on our Dickinson program. Three weeks ago she went to the hair salon to get her hair blown out. She called the hair salon before going to find out if they did natural afro-black hair and they responded to her saying that they do. When she arrived to the hair salon, she was not welcomed to the salon and she ended up going home without having her hair done because they did not know how to do natural afro-black hair. She told us “One of the many comments the hairdresser made before I left the salon, was that “afro hair is too complicated to teach to our students, so if they want to learn about it they’ll have to do a special program after receiving their diploma here… We do European hair.”” Hence, the question of the day is: what is European hair?

Religious Identity and Secularism

France historically is Catholic, which you can see from the presence of Catholic holidays. It still remains a country fundamentally Catholic, but which calls itself “secular.” A more specific aspect is the physical presence of the Church and its effect on French daily life. The French are not just Atheists and Catholics, but also Muslims, Jewish, Protestants, Buddhists, etc. So a student met a man at a bus stop and he began to discuss at random with him. He recounted, “Almost immediately during our conversation, the man identified himself as being “rebeu” [this is a slang word to describe the third generation of the large wave of North African immigration in France] and that he was ex-French military. We talked about his military career and a few minutes later he asked me:

“Are you feuj?”

“Huh?” I responded.

“Feuj” he repeated.

“What does that mean?” I asked him.

“Feuj! Jewish!” He retorted to me. “You look a little Jewish!”

On paper, “laïcité” is meant to guarantee the republic equality in the government and in society as a whole. However, in the discussions that we have today it is clear to us that there is always a debate on the definition of this concept of “laïcité” and how it is being practiced in French society.

So… does the romantic conception of France exist? Yes and no. France is a more complicated country to understand than others for Americans who hold a very naïve perception. There are social challenges that are impressive according to the feedback from students who are living in Toulouse for a semester, because their approach to Toulouse life isn’t only that of an observer, but also that of an ethnologist. The students on the program have marking experiences during their daily life that open their eyes to the reality of French society.

The Urban Space in France

Editors : Anna, Emma, Sophie, Charlie and Josh

Sine their arrival in France, the students have had the opportunity to explore Toulouse and sometimes other cities. Be it that they’re themselves from Boston, or from rural Pennsylvania, it’s always interesting to observe the urban space in France, and to notice the differences with the urban space in the US. Our editors have gathered their observations about Toulouse and some other Southern cities.

Public Parks and Sustainability in the City

During our time in Toulouse, we spend a lot of time in public gardens, specifically Compans Cafarelli Park and Grand Rond Park. Each park has its own identity, but it shares commonalities that influence and exhibit the values of Toulousain society.

Compans Cafarelli Park is close to the Dickinson Center, and it that includes greens spaces, walking paths, benches, and a variety of flowers and trees; a stereotypical garden. On this day in late September, we went the to park around 1 o’clock and so there were many people who were eating their lunches outside thanks to the nice weather. The park goers represent a collection of humanity – people of all genders, ages, religions and races – who come together in the park. In the background, shopping malls and apartment buildings are visible, which function as a reminder that work is always present. Given that it was the afternoon and the weather was pleasant, people took advantage of spending time in the park before the winter weather came. Their actions highlight the importance of having time for oneself as well as the importance of communal spaces within French society.

Public gardens offer a variety of ways to live a holistic and sustainable life. By offering a juxtaposition between the fast-paced city life and an ecological way of life, public parks allow the possibility for us to respect ourselves, humanity in its entirety, and the earth.

We observed the public composting system in the Grand Rond Park in Toulouse. Composting is a system to reduce the waste inherent in food preparation or landscaping. In Toulouse, composters are installed in the Jardin des Plantes, Grand Rond Park, and Royal Park.

“Is the ‘Pink City’ Green?” is the title of a program that Prof. Ngong created with Dickinson, and it’s a question we ask ourselves often. The answer is complicated. The university and the city encourage us to use public bikes and to take advantage of farmer’s markets. Are the French aware of environmental problems? In general, yes.

The French are more ready to take public transport or to choose organic produce than Americans, but there are aspects of their daily life that do not correspond to the goal of a sustainable life. Smoking is a habit that produces a lot of waste; moreover, smokers often throw their cigarette butts on the sidewalk, rather than in a receptacle. Coffee to go is becoming more acceptable, but here we only rarely see travel mugs. Bring your own mug is an understood concept in the USA, but not yet here!

Is Toulouse green? No, because all modern cities have an enormous impact on the environment and the climate. But it is true that Toulouse makes an effort to minimize its footprint through increased public transport and various initiatives. This provides a model for others and offers possibilities for improvement. In coming together in a public green space with people of all ages, the French partake of communal life and think about the future.

Communal spaces play an important role in French culture because they bring together people for a common purpose. Of course there are different objectives for public parks and squares (such a Place Saint George and Place Saint Pierre), but there is the collective goal of reuniting people. Therefore, the display of humanity shows the richnesses as well as the challenges within French society. These spaces create occasions for people of all backgrounds to come together, which can generate conflict, but moreover promote contact and cooperation.

Popular Spaces: The Market and the Train Station

During our travels, we largely explored the Midi Region of France, Charlie to Biarritz and Josh to Narbonne. Although our destinations were different; both of us got the chance to see different elements of French cities that thoroughly illustrated the convivial aspect of everyday French life.

For Charlie, the market in Biarritz was first and foremost an excellent microcosm of differents aspects of the city. For those who might not know, Biarritz is well known throughout France as a premiere vacation destination, and a surfing hotspot. For him however; one of the main draws was the market in town, Les Halles of Biarritz. Upon visiting Saturday morning, it was very easy to observe the touristic side of the city, as they were one of hundreds of different tourists walking around the market. Secondly; however, the market provided him a chance to see, and obviously to taste, a few basque specialties. He especially like “le fromage de brebis”, and a glass or two of sagarno, a basque apple wine. Though its touristic side and its basque side were certainly on full display at the market, there could be no mistaking that Biarritz was through and through a French city to it’s core.

To elaborate, Biarritz offered Charlie a more positive side of “la mission civilisatrice” in France. Although the city has an undeniable Basque side, it was through the progressive building of classic French structures, la Corniche along the Beach, les Halles Marketplace, and the unmissable Hotel du Palais built for Napoleon III that quite literally cemented this city’s French character. More recently, France has been able to integrate the Basque region of France more fully into the rest of the country by the sheer exchange of French tourists every year that descend upon its beautiful beaches, spending in their stores, their restaurants, and booking their apartments. In other words, Biarritz seems like an excellent way to both balance traditional “French” culture with one of the many other cultures that are found in France, be they Basque, Catalan, or German for instance. The continued economic integration of a city seems to be an excellent blueprint for the harmonious coexistence of both. Who knew markets could be so educational!

During Josh’s trip to Narbonne, he met several French travelers both on the train and at the station. Overall, people were very friendly, frequently initiating and engaging in conversation. After the initial greeting, Josh would continue the conversation, explaining that he is an American spending two semesters in France and taking courses at Sciences Po Toulouse. At this point, the discussion would revitalize as the travelers would ask questions about American politics, economics or his overall experience living abroad in France. Despite the diversity of opinions, all of the travelers shared a common sentiment; that they were delighted to see an American speaking their own language.

Although both of them visited very different places, both locales provided them the opportunity to see a different side of French culture. In visiting Biarritz, Charlie saw the way in which cities can retain their local and regional personality, in this case Basque, all the while fully being “French”, just by visiting the market! At the Narbonne train station, Josh ran into several French people, providing a meaningful opportunity for cultural exchange on subjects like the economy, politics, and his time in Toulouse. Most strikingly, this was done in a way that was far warmer and friendlier than any stereotypes about the French would have you believe.

La Une is Back: Discovering a French school

Editors: Andrea, Gisele, Julien, Rafaela and Emily.


“If everything’s determined at school, it’s time we heard the distress call
Let’s not let there be the gap of a two-tier education system.”
Grand Corps Malade, “Éducation nationale” (2010).


Here we are! The Dickinson Center has reopened for Fall 2017, and the students are discovering a new school system step by step. Between registering, chosing classes, and visiting the various campuses and the city, they are already actively immersing themselves in the famous labyrinth of French back-to-school days.

For some, hoxever, the start of classes is a bit slow to arrive. To remedy the impatience of finding themselves in the classroom with their French peers, they’re making use of their free time to do some volunteer work at the Caousou school. For two weeks, they have been stepping in English classes and running “English Tables” with the students, all the while discorvering the French educational system. Thanks to this rewarding experience, our editors have been able to gather some insightful observations on the cultural aspects of French scools, as well as on the social realities that charactarize them.

Cultural differences up to our plates

Last week we helped English teachers at the Caousou, a Jesuit private school which is located in a mainly residential neighborhood of Toulouse. The Caousou is comprised of an elementary school, a middle school, and a high school, but for our volunteer work, we focused mainly on students attending the middle and high school. Each day at the school involved different activities, but we often went to English classes either alone or with another American student where we would speak in English with students. The students would ask us questions regarding our lives in the United States, our families, our studies, and our preferences. At certain points, we would help students to study for their exams for a program entitled “Academica,” in which French students would receive their baccalaureat degree as well as an American high school diploma at the end of their studies.

We noticed several cultural differences between the Caousou and US schools. One of them is the way lunch breaks and meals are organized in both countries, since they represent cultural habits that vary from one country to another. In contrast to the United States, where lunch breaks are usually 30-45 minutes, students in France often get up to two hours to eat and chat with friends. Further, they even have the option to return home before coming back to class. Almost all the students that we observed ate at the cafeteria rather than bringing a sandwich from home. The cafeteria meals at the Caousou were fairly balanced and varied, with a choice of salad, cheese, and baguette, as well as a choice between two main dishes and a dessert or fruit. On the other hand, students in the United States often have fewer choices and the meal options are often greasy or too sugary, like hamburgers or chocolate pudding.

The importance of learning languages

Another main difference that we noticed is the importance given to foreign language education at the Caousou. Throughout our time there, it was easy to see Caousou’s appreciation for learning foreign languages. In the school, students begin to learn a foreign language at a young age. In general each student in the Caousou learns at least two languages. But the most shocking thing, is the amount of options given to the students to become better at these languages. In this way, the Caousou is a bit of an exception compared to other schools in France. Caousou offers not only immersive language classes but also a big selection of language options. Students can choose between Chinese, German, Latin, Greek, English, Spanish, and Italian.

Because of all these options, students can learn up to three or four languages! However, it is very common for the students at Caousou to choose English for one of their languages. This choice of English shows the value the school and French society place on it. This can be seen not only in the education structure, but also in how the students regard the English language. Many students at Caousou believe that it will not only help in the future, but also that it is a universal language.

The way of teaching is consequently very different compared to the United States. In the United States, the students start their second language such as French or Spanish in elementary or middle school. The students are not required to take a third language. Therefore, at the end of highschool, if you compared the level of language between the American students who learn to speak French and the French students who learn to speak English, there is an enormous difference.

Not a “typical” French school

To say the least, we were very impressed with the quality of education at the Caousou. However, our conversations with the teachers made us realize that schools like the Caousou are an exception in France. Even though French schools place a high level of importance on the mastery of another language, the Caousou is unique because of its large range of options due to programs like Non-Linguistic Discplines (NDL). The objective of NDL courses is to offer a specialized course in a subject, which is taught entirely in another language. These are meant for high school students with a high level of language who want to take these courses as electives. The benefit of NDL courses is that the student can recieve honors when they take the baccaleaureate exam (equivalent of SAT in the USA). The Caousou also organizes educational trips for the students who study another language to help them improve their language skills.

The experience of a typical student at the Caousou is very different from the experience of a French public-school student, which slam-poet and rapper, Grand Corps Malade, explains in his song “Éducation nationale.” According to him, the schools in his disadvantaged Parisian neighborhood lacked resources, the students were less respectful towards their teachers, and the general attitude towards education was rather negative. The Caousou school is unique in the sense that it has more resources and opportunities than poorer or less privileged schools. When comparing public and private schools in France, we can see the educational inequalities that exist in the country. In a future study, it would be interesting to compare the differences between public and private schools in the United States, as well as the differences between public and private schools in France, as there also exists multiple inequalities between American schools.

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