The diverse regions of France offer everything from picturesque villages steeped in history to thriving metropolises full of fashion-forward culture. A founding member of the European Union and the United Nations, France plays an integral role in international politics. Visit castles and beaches, and delve into a culture that has always been known for its world-famous art, wine and cuisine.



Languages Spoken:

French

Education System

HIGHER EDUCATION OVERVIEW 

Students looking to pursue higher education in France have many options. Students can choose to attend public universities or may attempt to gain admission into specialized schools. 

Public Universities 

France’s system of higher education enrolls 2.2 million students, two-thirds of whom attend the country’s 88 public universities. In order to be admitted into the university system, students must pass the baccalauréat, or as it is more commonly known, the bac. The bac is a national examination taken after the third year of high school. The universities in France offer academic, technical and professional degree programs in all disciplines, preparing students for careers in research and professional practice in every imaginable field. They offer dozens of different national diplomas. 

Short degree programs, generally involving two or three years of study, are concentrated in the fields of manufacturing, trade and services. Most are offered by multidisciplinary institutes affiliated with a university – the so-called university institutes of technology, or IUTs. 

Grandes Écoles 

Grandes écoles are selective in their admissions and enroll far fewer students than the universities (which can enroll 100,000 students). They train students for careers in engineering, management, art and architecture, to name just a few. They are unique institutions, prestigious and very selective. Their programs are so well attuned to the needs of industry that their graduates are in very high demand. To be admitted into the grandes écoles, students must take two years of preparatory courses or cours préparatoires after they pass the bac, which prepares them for the concours (or entrance examination) to these highly competitive schools. 

Degrees 

The system of degrees awarded in French higher education reflects a common European architecture. The LMD system — for licence (bachelor), master and doctorate — is based on the number of semesters completed since leaving secondary school, and their equivalent in European credits under the European Credit Transfer Scheme (ECTS): 

Licence = six semesters = 180 ECTS (Baccalauréat + three years) 

Master = 10 semesters = 300 ECTS (Baccalauréat + five years) 

Doctorat = 16 semesters (Baccalauréat + eight years) 

 

STUDYING AT A FRENCH UNIVERSITY 

French universities operate in ways that are quite different from the system with which you are familiar. Understanding the differences will help you plan your program of study in France, use your time effectively while you are there and return with transferable credits. French students follow a highly structured curriculum specific to the degree they are pursuing from day one at the university. They do not take "liberal arts" or general education requirements before focusing on a major or area of study as most U.S. students do. At the end of each year, they must pass a set of required exams before they can move on to the next year's program. 

In general, French students have to assume more responsibility for themselves on campus than American students. They do not have as many campus support systems as American students, and they too may experience frustration when they first begin their studies. The amount of information you receive before you leave and during the first days or weeks of your stay abroad may seem overwhelming. However, if you review the material sent to you by ISEP and your host institution carefully, you will be better prepared to meet the challenges of adjusting to a different system, and find your coordinator and professors better equipped to help you. 

French professors are not as accessible as their American counterparts. Increasingly, however, professors do have office hours or may be available if you make an appointment. They will also be willing to answer questions and discuss problems before or immediately after class. It would be a good idea to introduce yourself to the professor at the beginning of the year, explaining that you are an international student. Do ask other students in class for advice or assistance if you do not understand something. 

In France the academic year begins in September or October and ends in May or June. The exact starting and ending dates vary from institution to institution and from program to program. Often times, the different departments or facultés have different start and end dates, so be sure to consult each departmental calendar to know when courses begin and end. 

Vacation Periods

Although exact vacation dates will vary depending on a student's individual host university, the general vacation periods in France are: 

-Two weeks in December-January for Christmas and the New Year 

-Two weeks in February for winter break 

-Two weeks in late March to early April for the Easter break 

Quite a few holidays fall in May: May 1 (Labor Day), May 8 (Victory Day, marking the end of the Second World War in Europe), Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Monday. 

Summer vacation stretches over the entire months of July and August, and sometimes includes parts of June and September as well. 

 

STUDYING IN FRANCE 

Courses 

French university courses are of two basic types: 

-Lecture courses are given in halls seating from 100 to 1,000 students. These are called cours magistraux (CM). The professor presents the subject; students take notes. Many professors prepare and distribute course outlines or lecture notes that help students prepare for exams. 

-Study sections, known as travaux dirigés (TD), consist of small groups of students. In the seminar-style sections, students apply and deepen what the professor has presented in the lecture hall. Attendance is mandatory. 

Because French students have very little choice with regard to the courses they take within their area of study, French universities often do not publish detailed course descriptions or course catalogues. Rather, a list of modules or unités d’enseignement with an indication of the number of hours per week or the total number of class hours for the course and the corresponding ECTS credits is provided. This information can often be found online under "formation", "licence (for a certain area of study)" and "programme." 

For example, you may see for a course description like such: 

L1 semestre 1 

UEF « Histoire moderne » / ECTS: 6 

Initiation à l’histoire moderne (1h30 CM + 2h TD) 

This can be interpreted as follows: 

L1 semestre 1 = first year of the license, semester one 

UEF: Unité d’enseignement fondamenteaux or a required course for the degree 

Introduction to Modern History for six ECTS credits 

1h30 CM = 1 hour 30 minutes per week of cours magistraux, or lecture 

2 h TD = 2 hours per week of travaux dirigés, or study section 

Registration 

Registration (inscription) is the process of enrollment into the university; you will fill out many forms and hand in several passport-size photos in order to receive the various university cards signifying your enrollment. 

Course Selection

As an exchange student, you have greater flexibility in choosing courses than French students do. You do not need to take a complete package of courses at one level. However, if you focus on courses in one or two departments, you will find it easier to put together a schedule, your program of studies will be more cohesive, and you will have a better chance of getting to know French students because you will be seeing the same group on a regular basis. 

Selection of courses is done during registration. You should expect to have to go to each building that houses the faculté (department) of the course you wish to take, find the administrative office, ask for a course listing and sign up for the desired course. Students should be aware that the registration process can take several days. French universities are not as "service-oriented" as those in the United States and there are many students for few administrators. Ask questions of your ISEP host coordinator if you have trouble registering. Also, the add-drop process is very informal. You may want to observe several classes before making your final selection and to make sure that you will be able to follow the course and fulfill all course requirements. Remember to consult about any changes in your course selections with your host and home coordinators and advisors. Be sure to keep track of your courses, including course titles, hours, professors, and assignments for after your exchange. In all cases, you must verify all of your course information with your host coordinator to ensure that you have enrolled properly. 

Course Load 

The actual number of hours in a class varies according to the department or subject and the amount of work expected of students outside class. Courses usually meet 1-2 hours each week, meaning you will probably be taking a higher number of individual classes than at home. 

French students attending university full-time take 30 ECTS per semester. ISEP students may not be expected to take as many credits, but it is recommended they maintain enrollment in at least 24 ECTS per semester. A student’s course load ultimately depends on their home institution’s policies for their outbound students. The number of classes per semester will vary depending on the number of credits granted per course. Depending on the degree field students may take fewer courses that grant a high number of ECTS, or several courses that carry fewer ECTS per course. It is also common for courses to be divided into “modules.” For example, a literature course that is split into two modules of 3 ECTS each for a total 6 ECTS for the course. 

Exams

Student performance is assessed in two ways: 

-Short quizzes given throughout the semester allow instructors to check what their students have learned in each unit. 

-Examinations covering all the material presented during the semester are given at the end of each semester, generally just before the February break and again in June, before the summer break.

The atmosphere at a French university may seem low pressure, but even if a class does not require regular assignments, you must keep up with the reading and attend classes. Final examinations are given at the end of each course. ISEP students should check with professors to determine when the exam will be given as most professors do not provide a syllabus at the beginning of a course. As a foreign student, you may not be required to take the final exam. You may be able to substitute written assignments for the exam. Check with the professor to find out whether you are expected to take the exam in order to get a grade (in many instances, the exam might be the only evidence that you have taken the class) or whether you can substitute other assignments. Taking a final does not automatically entitle you to a grade since you must pass your exams to receive a grade. Also, make sure to register for the exam in addition to taking it. 

If you make any special arrangements with a professor, obtain the agreement in writing signed by both you and the professor. Provide a copy of the agreement to both your home and host ISEP coordinators and keep a copy for yourself. Without an agreement in writing, it is expected that you will take all final exams. Credit transfer is not guaranteed if you fail to take exams or provide written proof of other arrangements. 

Grading 

Some U.S. universities will only award credit if you have an exam grade. Exams may be oral or written. The professor will grade you as he or she does a French student. Although the grading system in France goes from 0 to 20, the grades from 0 to 14 are generally used; 15 and 16 are relatively rare; 17 and 18, very rare; and no one is sure that 19 and 20 really exist. A 10 is about a U.S. "B-"; in some courses an eight or nine may be a "C" for a non-native speaker; 12 is good. Above that - bravo! 

 

Generally, the highest grades awarded by French professors are 14 or 15. Grades of 9 or 10 are sufficient. French students work to simply pass a course rather than to earn a high grade. French students need an overall average grade of 10 to pass the year. Grading varies greatly from subject to subject. For example, in mathematics a student may receive a 20/20 upon completing a problem correctly, whereas a 12/20 on a literature essay is a very good grade. 

International students are usually given a little more flexibility in the area of grading. ISEP France generally regards an 8 or above as a passing grade for ISEP students who take regular university courses with French students. However, this is solely a recommendation; individual home institutions may decide to hold their students to the same standards as the French or be more lenient. Similarly, individual French institutions may have different expectations or recommendations regarding grade equivalencies. 

At the end of the exchange, the faculté will award you a final average. The grades you receive from the faculté are not contestable. The only possible way to modify a bad grade is to do supplementary work, the grade for may be averaged with the bad one (at the discretion of the faculté). 

Transcripts 

Before you leave for France check with your home institution about conditions for credit transfer. 

Students should be sure to provide a list of course titles and codes, professors, number of hours per week and the professor’s signature to the host ISEP coordinator. Your host coordinator may provide a standard form to assist you with this. In many cases, ISEP students have been able to learn their results and report this to their coordinator before they depart. Final results are very difficult, if not impossible, to obtain if the student has not provided such a list. Students should also bring all exam papers, graded homework and papers, and any other work home to their home institution to assist with credit transfer. 

French universities do not generate annual grade reports for students. Exam grades are usually posted on faculté bulletin boards. Transcripts must be requested and are usually not available until a student has completed a diploma. Your ISEP coordinator will provide an official transcript but only if you have given them a complete list of your courses and professors. The average grade for your class assignments may be listed on your transcript, under the heading controle continu. The transcript will be sent from your host coordinator to ISEP Global in Washington, D.C., to be forwarded to your home coordinator. 

REMINDER: Credit transfer is not guaranteed if you fail to take exams or provide written proof of other arrangements. 

Visa and Residency

Students studying in France for more than 90 days must obtain a student visa prior to departing for France and French overseas departments. The student visa requirements for France are extensive, and students should begin collecting the required documentation and preparing their applications as soon as they have accepted their program placement

European citizens and most students studying in France for less than 90 days (summer programs) DO NOT need to obtain a visa before arrival. 

Click here for ISEP's Application Guidelines for the French Student Visa. Please carefully review this document in its entirety before beginning the visa application process! 

 

 

 

Culture

CULTURAL ADJUSTMENT

Become aware of the cultural, social, political and economic facts of life in France and you will be vastly rewarded, as there is no subject dearer to the heart of the French than that of la vie française.

Seeing a new country is so much more than seeing its cathedrals and other historical landmarks. It means so much more to learn about the people, what impressions and influences have shaped them and continue to influence their responses to life.

Alexandra Wells, ISEP participant from Ball State to Rennes 2

Do not expect everything to be just as it is back home. Above all, do not assume that those you encounter on the street or in shops will speak English. The French are proud of their language and way of life, and your efforts to speak French and live like a local will be appreciated and will go far in your interactions with those you meet.

When greeting people, the French will either shake hands or kiss on both cheeks. The former prevails when meeting strangers, while the latter is common among friends. If you are unsure whether to shake hands or faire la bise (give a kiss), wait to see what is initiated by the other person and follow from there.

It is always important to consider gender relations when traveling to a new country, as these can vary greatly according to cultural context. Women in particular should be cautious when interacting with strangers in a new environment. Some individuals may not understand that a familiar way with others, for example, is merely a gesture of friendliness and may misconstrue it as something more. Firmly say "no" to any invitation you don't want to accept, and give your address only to people you know and trust. We are not advocating narrow-mindedness, but rather pointing out that cultural differences, if not understood, could lead you into a difficult situation.

For more information about French culture and advice for adapting smoothly into your host country, ISEP recommends Polly Platt's book French or Foe.


FOOD AND MEAL TIMES

Food plays a major role in the country's social life. Wine and cheese are sources of national pride and reflect regional differences. Meals are ritualized and full of social and cultural meaning. There are also political aspects to the meaning of food. For instance, there has recently been much concern about the quality of "engineered" food and a rejection of foods that have been genetically altered.

The three main meals are le petit déjeuner (breakfast), le déjeuner (lunch) and le dîner (dinner). Although the midday meal had great importance in an agricultural economy and is still the main meal in rural areas, there is a tendency for families to eat the largest meal in the evening. Breakfast is a light meal of bread, cereal, yogurt and coffee or hot chocolate. Lunch and dinner generally involve several courses, at minimum a first course (l'entree) and a main dish (le plat), followed by cheese and/or dessert. In restaurants, it is common to have a price that includes all these courses, with a choice of dishes.

Meals involve a succession of courses eaten one at a time. A typical family meal starts with a soup, followed by vegetables and a meat dish and then a salad, cheese and dessert. Wine is commonly served at meals. Convenience foods are becoming more prevalent, and fast food is a growing trend.

STRIKES

Strikes (Grèves) in France are quite common; the right to strike is guaranteed in the French constitution, with the public sector having the highest frequency.

In France, striking is just part of the process. There is little bargaining between management and workers before things get to the decision stage. At that point, management acts and the workers respond. The concept of collective bargaining does not exist in France.

It is not uncommon at the national or local level for teachers, doctors and transport workers to strike – be it long term or just for a day or so. SNCF (national French train company) strikes can be quite disrupting, as France depends greatly on its rail system.

Daily Life

CULTURAL ADJUSTMENT

Become aware of the cultural, social, political and economic facts of life in France and you will be vastly rewarded, as there is no subject dearer to the heart of the French than that of la vie française.

Seeing a new country is so much more than seeing its cathedrals and other historical landmarks. It means so much more to learn about the people, what impressions and influences have shaped them and continue to influence their responses to life.

Alexandra Wells, ISEP participant from Ball State to Rennes 2

Do not expect everything to be just as it is back home. Above all, do not assume that those you encounter on the street or in shops will speak English. The French are proud of their language and way of life, and your efforts to speak French and live like a local will be appreciated and will go far in your interactions with those you meet.

When greeting people, the French will either shake hands or kiss on both cheeks. The former prevails when meeting strangers, while the latter is common among friends. If you are unsure whether to shake hands or faire la bise (give a kiss), wait to see what is initiated by the other person and follow from there.

It is always important to consider gender relations when traveling to a new country, as these can vary greatly according to cultural context. Women in particular should be cautious when interacting with strangers in a new environment. Some individuals may not understand that a familiar way with others, for example, is merely a gesture of friendliness and may misconstrue it as something more. Firmly say "no" to any invitation you don't want to accept, and give your address only to people you know and trust. We are not advocating narrow-mindedness, but rather pointing out that cultural differences, if not understood, could lead you into a difficult situation.

For more information about French culture and advice for adapting smoothly into your host country, ISEP recommends Polly Platt's book French or Foe.


FOOD AND MEAL TIMES

Food plays a major role in the country's social life. Wine and cheese are sources of national pride and reflect regional differences. Meals are ritualized and full of social and cultural meaning. There are also political aspects to the meaning of food. For instance, there has recently been much concern about the quality of "engineered" food and a rejection of foods that have been genetically altered.

The three main meals are le petit déjeuner (breakfast), le déjeuner (lunch) and le dîner (dinner). Although the midday meal had great importance in an agricultural economy and is still the main meal in rural areas, there is a tendency for families to eat the largest meal in the evening. Breakfast is a light meal of bread, cereal, yogurt and coffee or hot chocolate. Lunch and dinner generally involve several courses, at minimum a first course (l'entree) and a main dish (le plat), followed by cheese and/or dessert. In restaurants, it is common to have a price that includes all these courses, with a choice of dishes.

Meals involve a succession of courses eaten one at a time. A typical family meal starts with a soup, followed by vegetables and a meat dish and then a salad, cheese and dessert. Wine is commonly served at meals. Convenience foods are becoming more prevalent, and fast food is a growing trend.

STRIKES

Strikes (Grèves) in France are quite common; the right to strike is guaranteed in the French constitution, with the public sector having the highest frequency.

In France, striking is just part of the process. There is little bargaining between management and workers before things get to the decision stage. At that point, management acts and the workers respond. The concept of collective bargaining does not exist in France.

It is not uncommon at the national or local level for teachers, doctors and transport workers to strike – be it long term or just for a day or so. SNCF (national French train company) strikes can be quite disrupting, as France depends greatly on its rail system.

Health and Safety

Your health and safety is our number one priority. Please read and reference the Health and Safety section of the ISEP website for general information regarding health and safety abroad. 

Detailed information about mainland France can be found here.

Detailed information about the French Antillies, including Guadeloupe and Martinique, can be found here.

Detailed information about Réunion can be found here

Note: Information sourced on this page is provided by the U.S. Department of State and the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Non-U.S. and British nationals should disregard the Embassies and Consulates, Entry, Exit and Visa Requirements and Travel Advice Help and Support sections. 

Currency

CURRENCY AND EXCHANGE

France uses the Euro as it is the common currency of the European Union.

Compare your currency to the Euro.

BANK ACCOUNTS

When studying in France, you are required to open a bank account as your stipend will be deposited directly into that account by the host university. You should open an account during your first week at your host university and provide the account information to your host ISEP coordinator or the person on campus who handles financial issues for ISEP students in order to ensure speedy processing of your stipend. Your coordinator will advise you about recommended banks and procedures. Foreigners have little difficulty opening bank accounts. Usually the type of account that a foreigner holds is a special checking account for foreigners, called, reasonably enough, un compte d'étranger.

This account is similar to a U.S. account. The essential difference is that if you deposit your money in dollars, it is changed into euros at the exchange rate of the day it clears. Usually, three days are required before a deposit clears.

La Banque Nationale de Paris offers a completely free checking account of this type with monthly statements, and its checks are widely accepted throughout the country. Two of the other larger banks are the Crédit Agricole and Société Générale.

COST OF GENERAL ITEMS

Meals and Food Items
A meal

  • at a university restaurant: €3.00
  • at a fast-food restaurant: €7
  • at a neighborhood café or restaurant: €10-20
  • a sandwich: €3-5
  • coffee: €1-2
  • bread: €0.80
  • croissant: €1
  • cheese: €2-6
  • eggs: €1.50
  • 1 liter of milk: €1.20
  • 1 kg of potatoes: €1.20
  • 1 kg of rice: €1.90

Recreation and Amusements

  • Movie ticket (student rate): €6.80
  • Museum admission: €5-10
  • Theater ticket: €10-30
  • Newspaper: €1.20
  • Night in a mid-range hotel: €60
  • Admission to public swimming pool: €2.50
  • DVD player: €50-150
  • MP3 player: €30-150

Transportation

  • Monthly pass, Paris transport: €55-122
  • Round-trip ticket between Paris and Nice by high-speed train: €135
  • 1 liter of gasoline: €1.20

Sources of Information

LINKS

http://fr.franceguide.com
Maison de la France, the official site for tourism

http://www.france.com/
The French Information Center.

http://www.voyages-sncf.com
French National Railway reservations and information.

http://www.americansinfrance.net/
Resource for living and traveling in France.

http://www.wasteels.fr/
Voyages Wasteels

http://wikitravel.org/en/France
Wikitravel entry for France.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

*All links below will take you to the Amazon.com Web site for content and purchasing information.


Guides

Lonely Planet France 2009

Culture, History, and Politics

Culture Shock! France: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette (Culture Shock! France)

Asselin, Gilles and Ruth Mastron. Au Contraire: Figuring Out the French

Carroll, Raymonde. Cultural Misunderstandings: The French-American Experience

Howarth, David and Georgios Varouxakis. Contemporary France: Introduction to French Politics and Society (Hodder Arnold Publication)

Nadeau, Jean-Benoit and Julie Barlow. Sixty Million Frenchmen Cant Be Wrong

Platt, Polly. French or Foe?: Getting the Most Out of Visiting, Living and Working in France

Traveler's Health

CDC Health Information for International Travel 2010 (Health Information for International Travel)

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