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

This Page will review the following topics:

• Higher Education Overview 

• Studying at a French University 

• Language & Culture Programs 

• Grading  

• Transcripts  

• Academic Expectations  

• Academic Calendar 

HIGHER EDUCATION OVERVIEW 

Note on Abbreviations: You will often see abbreviations throughout this page and all-over French University websites. Many academic abbreviations will be outlined below but please inquire with your ISEP Host Coordinator or Student Services Officer if you have any questions about academic abbreviations.  

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. We encourage you to keep the following information in mind when researching programs in France and preparing for your studies in France. 

University Types  

There are two main university types in France: Public Universities and Grandes Ecoles. Please find below some key distinctions between the two university types.  

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. 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 structure. 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 = 6 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 time in France. 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 as is popular in the U.S. At the end of each year, they must pass a set of required exams before they can move on to the next level of study.  

Courses  

French university courses are of two basic types:  

1. Lecture courses, or cours magistraux (CM), are given in halls seating from 100 to 1,000 students. During CM, professors present on a subject and students take notes. Many professors prepare and distribute course outlines or lecture notes that help students prepare for exams.  

2. Study sections, known as travaux dirigés (TD), consist of small groups of students. In these seminar-style sections, students apply and discuss what the professor has presented in the lecture hall. Students should attend both the CM and the TD.  

Interpreting French Course Catalogs 

Because French students have very little choice in selecting the courses they take within their area of study, French universities often do not publish detailed course descriptions or course catalogues. If you are in need of course details prior to registration, please contact your ISEP Student Services Officer directly. Please keep in mind that sometimes, syllabi or course descriptions do not exist and may be difficult to procure.  

You can expect to see course names and the number of ‘credits’ attributed to that course on a university’s website when searching for classes. There may be multiple "modules" of a course within a particular unit of study, or "Unité d’Enseignement" (UE). It is expected that students take all modules if they register for the UE.  

Credits 

Full time students take 24-30 ECTS (about 12-15 U.S. Credits) per semester. (For other credit conversions, please see the ISEP Transcript Evaluation Guide Here*). Please consult your HOME university coordinator to better understand what your home university’s minimum full-time credit requirements are. The number of classes you take per semester will vary depending on the number of credits granted per course. You will probably be taking a higher number of individual classes than you are used to at home, yet the overall coursework can be comparable to that of an average full-time course load at your home university. It is common for a French student to take anywhere from 5- 10 courses in one semester, totaling 30 ECTS. 

For a detailed description on ECTS please read page 6 of the Transcript Evaluation Guide mentioned above.  

* Reminder: All credit and grade conversions are ultimately up to the discretion of your home university. 

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.  

When searching for courses, you will often see courses listed by L (Licence), M (Master), and semestre (semester). ‘Odd’ numbered semesters always indicate courses offered during the Fall semester and ‘Even’ numbered semesters always indicated courses offered during the Spring semester. You can often find courses on a university’s website under "formation", "licence (for a certain area of study)" and "programme."  

You can also determine how advanced a course is with this information. For example, you might see the following: 

1. L2 S4. This means the course is in the second year of Licence and the 4th semester total (spring semester). An L2 level course would likely be an intermediate level course in the U.S. 

2. M1 S7. This means the course is in the first year of the Master’s program in the Fall semester (7th semester total). An M1 level course would likely be an advanced level course in the U.S. 

NOTE: Students in their 3rd or 4th year of study at their home university may be eligible to take masters level classes in France as long as they have background in that particular subject.  

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

Registration 

Registration (inscription) is the process of enrollment into the university. The process is different at every university. It is likely you will 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 may not be as "service-oriented" as what you are used to at your home university. Ask your ISEP host coordinator if you have any trouble registering for courses.  

In addition, the drop-add 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 with your host and home coordinators and advisors about any changes you wish to make to your courses. It is recommended that you keep track of your course information, including course titles, hours of instruction, professors, and assignments as an academic reference point once your program ends; your home university may need to cross-reference this information with your transcript. In all cases, you must verify all of your course information with your host coordinator to ensure that you have enrolled properly.  

Exams 

Student academic performance is assessed in two ways:  

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

2. Final examinations covering all the material presented during the term are given at the end of each semester covering all semester content. 

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, generally just before the February break and again in June, before the summer break. A huge portion of your final grade for the course will be determined by these final exams. Please make sure to register for the exam in addition to taking it.  

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.  

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.  

LANGUAGE & CULTURE PROGRAMS 

ISEP offers programs called “Language & Culture” programs. These programs focus on language acquisition and are often taught at Language Centers at the University but are designed specifically for international students and non-native French language learners. 

Language Proficiency Level  

For Language & Culture programs, students take a set list of courses from a pre-determined list based on their French proficiency level on the CEFR scale (CEFR = Common European Framework of Reference from levels A1-C2: A1 = Beginner while C2 = Native Speaker). Within this pre-determined framework, there may be some elective courses to choose from. Beginner and Intermediate students will often have courses with content heavily based in grammar and cultural studies while more Advanced students may have more elective options at that language level.  

ISEP students need to submit an ISEP French language evaluation (LPR) with their application which should list their current level of French.  Most students will take a French language placement test through their host university either before they arrive or upon arrival in order to be placed in the most accurate set of language courses. Please keep in mind that you may test into a different proficiency level than you were evaluated at when you submitted your ISEP application.  If you believe you have been placed at a proficiency level that is too easy or difficult for you, please speak with your professors and ISEP host coordinator IMMEDIATELY. Some Language & Culture programs accept students who have never studied French before and are equipped to teach students at a very Beginner level of French.  

Registration and Course Descriptions 

In order to see the courses that will be offered at each language level, please check the links provided underneath the course description heading on each program page. The courses listed on the program page rarely change from year to year. If you are not certain what your current language level is at the time of applying, it is recommended that you review the course descriptions for multiple language levels (i.e., B1 AND B2). Some universities have a separate category for students whose language abilities fall within two categories; for example, you may see courses for the B1+ level in which these set of courses are for students who are at the advanced B1 level but are not yet at the B2 level.  

When reviewing courses offered on ISEP program pages, it is important to keep in mind the semester you will be going abroad. You will see the following term identifiers listed next to course descriptions: 

SM1 = Semester 1 = Fall  

SM2 = Semester 2 = Spring  

Credits 

When looking at course descriptions, you will likely see hours of instruction rather than credits. Depending on your host institution, your transcript may issue you hours of instruction rather than credits.  ALL Language & Culture programs are full-time; you must take all courses within the designated program. A full-time course load is normally equivalent to 24-30 ECTS. Please see the recommended ISEP Transcript Evaluation Guide here for more information on credit conversions*. 

* Reminder: All credit and grade conversions are ultimately up to the discretion of your home university.  

Further Considerations 

Most of the time, students cannot cross-register between ISEP Language & Culture programs and other academic programs at the same university, with the exception of upper-level students (B2 or above) who may be able to enroll in university-wide courses. If you have questions about Language & Culture programs, we kindly ask that you contact your Student Services Officer.  

For students with an intermediate French proficiency level who would like to study abroad for an Academic Year, it may be possible to spend your Fall semester in a Language & Culture program focusing on improving your language abilities and, if you are able to advance to either a B1 or B2 French proficiency level (depending on the host university’s requirements), you may be able to spend the Spring semester taking university-wide courses in French alongside other French students. All such inquiries should be directed to your ISEP Student Services Officer before you submit your ISEP application. 

Grading 

Most Frensh grades are given on a scale up to 20 points. Generally, the highest grades awarded by French professors are 14/20 or 15/20. Grades of 9/20 or 10/20 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 10/20 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 8/20 - 9/20 or above as a passing grade for ISEP students who take regular university courses with French students. However, this is solely a recommendation and may depend on the host institution. Please keep in mind that 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. ISEP recommendations for grade conversions are located in the ISEP Transcript Evaluation Guide

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 lower grade is to do supplementary work, that grade may be averaged with the lower one (at the discretion of the faculté).  

Transcripts  

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

Again, you should keep track of your course information, including course titles, hours of instruction, professors, and assignments as an academic reference point to present to your host coordinator once your program ends. Your host coordinator may provide a standard form to assist you. In many cases, ISEP students have been able to learn their final grades and report this to their coordinator before they depart. Please consult your ISEP Acceptance Package for procedures you must follow (specific to your host university) for your transcript to be issued to ISEP Global after the conclusion of your program.  

French universities do not generate annual grade reports for students. Historically, exam grades were posted on faculté bulletin boards. It is more common for faculties to now submit the grades internally to each department. 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 to be forwarded to your home coordinator.  

Other Academic Notes 

In general, French students must assume more responsibility for themselves on campus than students from other countries. They do not have as many campus support systems as you may be used to at your home university; 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 may not as accessible as you are used to in your home university. 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.  

Academic Calendar  

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.  

Please keep in mind that vacation dates will vary depending on a student's individual host university; however, 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.  

RESOURCES 

Visa and Residency

COVID-19 Update: Visa and Residency guidelines may have changed from the details below as a result of COVID-19. Students should review the Special Conditions of Placement in their ISEP Acceptance Package for the most current information. 

*******************************

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 possible

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! 

Page Updated April, 2021

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 daily life.

Alexandra Wells, ISEP participant from Ball State to Rennes 

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, students, 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 daily life.

Alexandra Wells, ISEP participant from Ball State to Rennes 

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, students, 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. 

- ISEP expects changes to COVID-19 vaccine requirements for 2021 and 2022 programs. If the student's host country, host university, home university, home country, or travel provider require a COVID-19 vaccination, students must comply with that requirement. ISEP will notify students if we become aware of changes in the terms of participation for their program.

-Detailed information about mainland France can be found here.

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

-If you’re planning to bring your prescription or over-the-counter medicine on your trip, you need to make sure your medicine is travel-ready. More information can be found here, and please contact your Student Services Officer and Host Coordinator with any additional questions. 

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.

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/france#in-detail
Lonely Planet: France in Detail 

RECCOMENDED READING 

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


Guides

Lonely Planet France, 2019

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

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