by Pierce Abrahamson, CCI Greenheart Travel High School Exchange Student in France
Wow, it has been over a month since I’ve last blogged or zerged my Facebook with a million pictures! Time has went by way too fast…I’ve already starting my first vacation here, and its two weeks long (vacances de la Toussaint)! What would be a better way to start it off then a blog post to home? After all, it would be nice to sit down and chill for once; my head has been spinning around too fast lately, and though that might make me a great Halloween character, no one would allow me to go to their house and ask for candy in that case!
Anyways, today I’m going to take you all to the French classroom – after all I’ve spent my time there, and with 9 weeks under belt, I hope I can at least call myself an [amateur] expert. So, allons-y!
In France, just like for the SAT, everyone freaks out, loses their hair, kicks, screams, directs their prayers, all towards the infamous B.A.C. With no clue of anything anyone said my first week, I still understood the importance of doing well on the single standardized test that determines if your life is accompanied by the career of your dreams or as pooper scooper at the zoo. As the teachers have reiterated the word a few times too many in deep, suspenseful, spooky tones (with 2 lighting bolts striking down and a witch with broom going by screeching “hehehehe” in sight through grand French windows). Preparation for the B.A.C is what teachers almost entirely base their lessons, tests, and lectures on. If you thought “teaching the test” was a concern in the U.S, wait until you sit in on a class in France!
The B.A.C, and the French school system in general, is not the same for everyone as students are divided into séries, or section courses. I believe the students choose the general direction they want to go (for example economics, literary, or scientific) and then there are different levels of difficulty for their choosing (for example terminal TeS is much more basic than 1eS, or premiere economique et sociale). I’m not exactly sure how difficulty level is determined as I had zero choice in all matters (I’ve arrived in France and was told I was in 1S1, or premiere scientifique) but I do know that the courses are tailored to the students in these set classes. Thus, your schedule is almost entirely with the same exact students doing the same specialized school work related to the série. This is unlike the US in that classes at home, such as Biology, will be the same for all except those in AP and honors. In the US, you also play mix and match with the courses you prefer and with possibly only a handful of the same students for each class.
This makes for students themselves associating for the most part within their own série (for example 1S1 sticks with people of 1S1, TeS sticks with TeS). Not that there are any rivalries (I think there are actually) but the kids are with the same 30-35 others for as long as 8:00-5:30. I would assume for the previous years too since the séries have to be chosen early on as I’m told. Furthermore, the lunch hours are not in sync for the majority. As a result, the greater “Freshman” or “Jr” class community of hundreds doesn’t exist at all, rather you are restrained to the “we are the 1S1 [or insert here] class of 35 kids.”
Going back to the actual academics, my teachers have all been, in some sense, understanding of my situation and mission here. I really do appreciate some of them who have really went out of their way to further my progress with some 1 on 1 attention. Nevertheless, the courses are nothing short of daunting. In France, the teachers favor a strict lecture teaching philosophy, where the whole hour period will just be the teacher speaking and the kids jotting down notes. I think we can all imagine how that works out for foreigners like myself! Things definitely are getting better though. The first week I was just sitting there in class with my jaw dropped down with some daydreams of a blip floating by with a banner “what the freak is going on!”. A month in, I was able to pick up glimmers of ideas, and now (9 weeks) there are times where I walk out of class feeling like I grasped the basic concept. It’s a struggle with strong winds, but if you don’t let the light go out, you’ll just one day have something spectacular come about when its sunny.
No school can be without its dreadful exams of course, and you wouldn’t want to count the French one out! For the good news, there is only one exam allowed per week. Each exam however, is of one subject, and can be from 2-4 hours long. That’s just about as long as an AP exam, each week! They are insurmountable if you plan on a 90% +. The French just laugh when you mention 18/20 or 19/20 (20/20 is the max grade). Consider 15 + an A and the mean score 10. While these exams may seem terrible, there is an upside in that you always know what to expect and thus prepare yourself. The subject of the exam for each week for the whole year is preplanned. Each student receives a copy of the schedule at the beginning of the year, so no surprises! Except of course, teachers somehow figured out that they still have the freedom to hand out quizzes, so never be too comfortable.
To put a wrap on this, I would like to say that I’m grateful to everyone that has been so welcoming at the school. From the kids to even the school administrators, who like to checkup on me and see how I’m doing. I hope that everyone at their schools at home or elsewhere in the states realize how much of both a blessing and a challenge it is to be a study abroad student, and that if they run into any foreign kids from Asia, Europe, or such that they engage them! It will not only make their day, it goes a long way to their progress and they will really appreciate a local’s efforts. Don’t fret if you don’t know their language either, they came to study English just like I’m here to study French.
If you have any questions or comments please comment below! I will have a new blog post coming up sometime soon, so stay tuned!