Studying Chemistry in French

by Lucie Taylor, FCLC ’21

Hello, Fordham friends (and others)! My name is Lucie and I’m a Junior at Lincoln Center studying Natural Science and French. I’m writing from Paris where I will be for the school year with a program called CUPA. As I write this I am about to finish my sixth week here (!!). Time flies faster in France than even the normal blur of a college semester; it’s the socialism or something. I’m living with a host family- a mother and young daughter- in a town just outside the western border of Paris called Neuilly (as hard to pronounce as it looks). Since you must be dying to know my class schedule, I am taking two chemistry classes at the Sorbonne Faculté de Science et Ingénierie, a Sociology of Police, Justice, and Prison class at a different campus, and a Phonetics and Diction class at a third campus.

The process of registering for classes here was long and chaotic. Never again will I whine about Fordham’s registration system. There are multiple universities in and around Paris, most with multiple campuses. Each department releases its course listings basically whenever they want, up to a couple of days before classes start. Schools start at different times and I happened to be the first CUPA student to have a class (I’m the only science student). My chem classes started three days after I arrived, which I only learned about the day before! You’ll be glad to know I survived the first day and now, five weeks later, have also survived a quiz, test, AND, most recently, actually talked to and befriended a few French peers in said classes. Feeling pretty proud of myself. 

Since college is free here, there is a different feeling to university. On one hand, my friends who are in first-year classes have been surprised and frustrated by the attitude of (albeit younger) French students, saying that it feels like being in high school. Someone explained to me that in France students have a right to higher education, but not necessarily to a degree. So in some ways, the French system is more competitive than in the US because a good number of students are expected not to get past the first year. There is a sort of weeding out, especially in very prestigious, difficult fields such as medicine where there are a limited number of spots for the top students (see the movie Première Année, or The Freshmen in English). Because of this it is not uncommon or looked down upon to redo years of undergrad to try to get better marks, or to change one’s field, since it’s free. However, my chem classes are second year and the students, I think due to the challenging nature of the Chemistry program, are overall pretty serious and actually want to be there. My friends have said that Master’s level classes in other subjects are similar, which makes sense. The first year of university here is almost an extension of high school since there is no risk for French students to attend. Then a ‘natural selection’ occurs with each subsequent year, yet there is little stigma about redoing a year or taking longer than three years to finish your license (bachelors). As someone who hates making decisions, I envy that lack of time pressure, but even more, I appreciate that college is accessible to everyone here.