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In spite of its reputation and great academics, there were a few drawbacks to being a student at la Sorbonne. Here are a few of them.
Class participation? Low.
The classes were lecture-heavy and left little opportunity for student participation. It was common to have more than a hundred graduates in the amphi (EN: lecture hall). In addition, the most brilliant teachers were often high-brow and out of reach.
College social life? Not so much.
Young people who dream starry-eyed about living an exciting campus life in Paris will not see that dream come true at la Sorbonne. Because there was no decent cafeteria or canteen in the university building, students brought their lunch or got something to eat at a nearby eatery. The historical buildings and their Harry Potter-like atmosphere (with a touch of rococo style) didn’t include any student areas so we had to spend our lunch on the public benches outside. It wasn’t great, considering that there are an average 167 days of rain in Paris per year!
In addition to having nowhere to gather for lunch, there are no dorms or student housing, so everyone has to find their own place to live in Paris. Because housing is expensive in Paris, we all lived far away from each other and most of us had a long commute, which didn’t leave much time for socializing. I don’t remember any romance or bonding between students.
Graduation Ceremony? No.
Years later, when I first encountered the American education culture, I was amazed to see all the traditions surrounding graduation in the United States. I would find stickers of congratulations for new graduates in shops, postcards with all sorts of You did it!, So very proud of you!, You’re a total genius, and other congratulations slogans printed on them. I also remember seeing young people in the park in Northern Virginia, taking portraits with their graduation regalia on, and their proud parents standing at their sides in the photo. When I graduated from la Sorbonne, there was no such celebration. All of the students, including me, just received our usual bulletin de notes. It’s a document with our grades arranged in a formal table with the teachers’ comments in it. That was it for our graduation!
Bureaucracy. Oh oui !
When you live in France and have to deal with the everyday administration, expect to hear a lot of “Non, non, non.” Also expect to see a lot of frowning faces and absurdly bureaucratic situations. La Sorbonne is no exception! Due to the school’s ridiculously long bureaucratic process, it took four years for my bachelor’s official certificates to arrive in my mailbox. Can you believe that??
Dark Corners in the City of Lights
There were downsides to living in Paris too. Young women often experience street harassment. I was often pressured to walk fast when I felt unsafe. For that reason, I recommend any woman who plans to live in Paris to research the neighborhoods and get some advice about its occupants before renting a place to live. Aside from the harassment, Paris can be a hyperstimulating city. The noisy traffic, the smelly metro, the public strikes and the train delays during the heures de pointes (EN: rush hour) can be exhausting.
Parisians can be Rude
Finally, Parisians deserve their reputation for being rude. They can be rude with tourists, but I think that they’re even worse with their fellow citizens. Some of them are young professionals stressed about their careers, and just giving a smile seems too big an effort for them. Some others are Paris-born people who tend to think highly of themselves, simply because they are des vrais parisiens. Many are low-wage immigrants who struggle to speak French and they only engage in conversation with members of their communities. The London-like weather during autumn and winter doesn’t help everyone’s mood either. Rest assured, I met the sweetest people in Paris too! It just takes time to make real friends.
If I Were to Do it Again
- Vive la Bureaucratie. Blog article by an international student in Paris (in English)
- Et si on revoyait les clichés sur les Parisiens. (in French)