2 Introduction Every year, some 17,000 American students travel to France to spend a semester or an academic year abroad, hundreds more participate in the Teaching Assistant Program in France, and still others go to France to work or to study independently of an American university program. In a world where language skills and understanding of foreign cultures is becoming increasingly important, that number is growing every year. Even though French is hardly considered one of the State Department s «critical languages» and is studied less and less in American public schools, it remains, in many places, the language of diplomacy. In 2005, officials estimated that over 500 million people spoke French as their first language or second language. Other than the sixty or so million speakers from France, the vast majority of those speakers come from fast-growing developing countries in Africa and Southeast Asia. French is one of the six official languages of the United Nations, the European Union, is an official language in 30 countries and an administrative language in 7 others, and is the only language other than English to be spoken on all six continents. If you re reading this book, though, you probably don t need to be convinced that learning French is important. In fact, you probably don t need to be convinced that going to France is important. What you may not know, though, is no matter how much you prepare yourself for going to a foreign country, actually going is hard. It s hard because there s no guidebook. Unless you re paying thousands of dollars for an administrator of an American program to hold your hand, nobody is going to tell you what to do or how to do it. Even if you are paying for aforementioned administrator, there s no guarantee she ll be able to tell you what paperwork you need when you want to get a part time job,
3 or how to find an apartment without a garant, or how to transfer money from your US account to your French one. Even if your university provides guides to doing exposés and instructs you to sign up for a card to the Bibliothèque Nationale, you re not the only student the school has to take care of, and at some point, she s going to say, «débrouille-toi!» That s where this book comes in. Unlike traditional guidebooks on France, this book isn t going to tell you where to go to dinner in Montmartre, or the hidden gems of the Loire Valley. Unlike books on French culture, this book won t tell you that French women don t get fat because even though they eat more fat and cholesterol than their American counterparts, they eat small quantities and drink red wine and smoke with every meal. It won t tell you, as one generalizing «cultural studies» textbook told me, that the French like to keep the doors in their houses closed and that it represents the compartmentalization of every aspect of their lives. You ll certainly read these types of books, and you should. They ll help you to make the most of France s rich history and culture, and to understand some of the more annoying and frustrating aspects of living in France. But that isn t the point of this book. I first had the idea for this book in the spring of I was nearing the end of my second year in France, and I was trying to simultaneously apply to school for the following year at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales and renew my carte de séjour. I rushed to get paperwork to renew my visa, yet couldn t make my appointment on the préfecture s website. Turns out, the site was down for several weeks, and by the time I got to the préfecture to plead for an appointment, there were none available before my departure. I would have to go back to the US and get a new visa in order to stay in France.
4 Like any French person would do, I refused to accept that answer. «C est pas possible!» I said. Rules are for other people. I begged. I pleaded. Immigration officials are tough in any country. They held their ground. I went to the other préfecture office. The woman at the information desk was sympathetic, and told me to check with the regular carte de séjour office. Normally they don t process students, but they might make an exception. They couldn t. Again, the woman listened kindly, and sent me to the Service des Amériques. «N importe quoi!» said the man behind the counter. «I mean, I understand that they have regulations, but they shouldn t screw with your studies.» He sent me to the secret, hidden Service Etudiants on the fourth floor in a hallway under construction. Clearly, nobody was supposed to know of its existence. After some crying and begging, the secretary made a few phone calls and got me an appointment. I told my mother the story on the phone that night. «I don t know how you do it,» she said. «I would never be persistent enough to live there.» How many other students gave up and went home, I wondered, when they faced the obstructionist French administration? And how many never came at all, because the prospect of going to another country was so overwhelming they didn t know where to start? This book is not only a step-by-step guide to moving to France, getting established, and taking advantage of the many opportunities Paris has to offer, it is also a guide to the guides. In other words, this book will tell you where to get advice about job hunting, or cheap tickets to the ballet, or a list of museums that are free for students. Because everything from immigration laws to the price of movie tickets is constantly changing, I decided to publish this guide as an e-book in order to be able to provide periodic free updates. I also wanted to create an English language forum where students can share their experiences and guide each other to the best of Paris. In this format, you can access your book from any
5 computer with your personal code, and I can use the site s blog to guide you to events and deals for students announced throughout the year. If you have any questions or suggestions, or just want to touch base, please feel free to contact me by at I hope you enjoy your time in France unraveling the mysteries of Paris. Allison Grant January, 2011
6 Chapter 1 Preparing to Study in France American Programs versus Direct Enrollment If you re reading this book, you re probably one of the almost 20,000 American college students that decide to study in France each year. Maybe you re enrolled in an American college and looking for an opportunity to study abroad, or maybe you ve already studied abroad and want to return to France. In any case, your two options for studying in France are either to go with one of the many American programs that offer semester or year abroad in France, or to enroll directly in a French university for the year. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each option to help you make your decision. As an American student, the advantages for going to France with an American program are numerous: - You can get college credit through agreements between your program and your university. - You ll have administrators who speak English and are familiar with American culture, and who can help you to speak better French and to understand aspects of French society. - You ll have French language classes and other American-style classes with other students in your program, so your French will get better and you ll be with other students and professors who are used to the same standards as you are.
7 - You ll have the opportunity to take classes in at least one, or maybe more, French universities. - You may have tutors to guide you and help you write assignments for French university classes. - Your program may organize trips and cultural exchanges during your stay, provide a stipend for cultural activities, and host events with French students. - Your program may provide or help you find housing, set up your bank account, provide support for the visa process, find a job or internship, or help you with other problems you may encounter. - Your program may help you communicate with professors, reschedule exams, and get you the right to use a dictionary during exams. Aside from the many benefits American programs offer, consider also the following disadvantages: - You ll pay the American tuition rates of your home university, plus a program fee for the program you choose. - You may get credit but not grades. - You ll meet many American students, but probably not many French students. - You won t necessarily get lots of opportunities to practice your French, and you may end up speaking English most of the time. - Your program may have strict attendance and travel requirements that the French universities don t have. - Your program will probably have classes two or three times per week, or every day for language classes. - Many programs require you to complete extra coursework for French university classes. Advantages of direct enrollment in a French university:
8 - You ll pay the same rate as any other French student (about 237 ) and have a year of health insurance for You ll meet other French students, get information on student groups, and get to practice your French a lot. - You ll take the same number of classes and do the same work as French students (which is either an advantage or a disadvantage: this means more classes if you re an undergraduate, and fewer if you re a master s student). - Your professors will probably be somewhat indulgent if they know you re an American student enrolled on your own. Disadvantages of direct enrollment: - You won t have administrative support for finding housing, getting your carte de séjour, doing other administrative tasks. - Your home university may not award credit, so you should check in advance. - It can be hard to make friends with French students in a university setting. - Nobody will help you communicate with professors, and you probably won t get special advantages like the use of a dictionary if you re directly enrolled. Your professors will assume you speak French sufficiently well to complete all regular class work. Since you have this book, you already have support to guide you through the administrative and academic requirements of living in France, and if you are enthusiastic and persistent, you will certainly be able to te débrouiller tout(e) seul(e). When considering American programs and their fit, ask yourself whether the benefits they provide are worth the thousands of extra dollars you ll have to pay for them, and read the sections of this book geared towards directly-enrolled students to decide what is right for you.
9 Applying to French Universities If you ultimately decide to enroll in a French university, you ll need to follow the procedures and timeline for applying and enrolling from abroad in order to get your paperwork and student visa before the fall semester begins. Because French high school students don t apply to school until they ve passed the bac in May or June, applications for French universities generally become available in mid-april, and admissions run until mid-october, a few weeks into the fall term. Schools are closed from July 14 to September 1, so you ll want to apply in the spring, so you ll get your paperwork during the summer. To get accepted to a public university in any department, all you have to do is prove that you ve successfully completed the level below the year for which you are applying. In other words, if yo want to do a master s degree, you have to show that you ve completed your bachelor s. If you want to enter L1, you must provide your high school diploma. And if you want to spend spend your junior year abroad as a directly enrolled French student, and you ve verified that your college will accept your course credits, you ll have to provide a transcript showing your grades for the first two years. You must get a certified translation by a translator listed on the French consulate s website to accompany your English-language transcript. For some of the grandes écoles that require a high level of English, this is unnecessary, so check with the school you re applying to before dishing out $50 or $60 per page. In addition to proving this level equivalence, foreign students who did not attend French high school or pass the bac in French must prove that their level of French is sufficient for succeeding in a French-only higher education system. To do this, you ll have to take one of the French language exams sponsored by the French government and administered in France and in major US cities a few times throughout the year, and get an attestation of your French level, valid for 2 years.
10 Finally, you ll have to fill out the very brief application on the university s website, stating your personal information and the department in which you d like to enroll. Depending on the school, you may have to provide a copy of your birth certificate with its certified translation, something you ll need to get anyway for your visa and carte de séjour applications. Applying to Grandes Ecoles While there is no definitive list of grandes écoles, the schools that are most often recognized as such are engineering or technical schools (School of Mines) or schools that lead to careers in politics. As American students, the two schools that you are most likely to apply to are Sciences Po (for undergraduates or master s students) or the Ecole Nationale Supérieure (graduate students only), the more generalized schools with social science and literature classes. Ecole Polytecnique, a science school, is also an excellent choice for those who wish to pursue medicine or graduate careers in the sciences. There are many other engineering grandes écoles open to international graduate students and exchange students, but since the vast majority of American students coming to France are in the social sciences, we re not going to discuss those schools here. Note that the procedures outlined in these pages have to do with students who want to apply directly and who plan on spending the entire undergraduate or graduate career at these schools; the application procedures for studying abroad at Sciences Po, for example, are vastly different from the direct application procedures, which are far more demanding. While Sciences Po requires its third-year students to study abroad and thus has a complete third year filled with international students, the ENS has far fewer temporary study-abroad students, and the procedures are not as standardized.
11 If you plan on applying to one of the Grandes Ecoles, keep in mind that you re not accepted until you ve passed the exams, and it s impossible for you to have your visa paperwork before you go to take them. If you don t want to make two trips and prefer to spend the summer in Europe, however, you can get a visa provisoire a visa contingent upon your acceptance at the school to which you are applying. In this case, you ll need to submit your application online and contact the school s international office. They will sign you up for the exams and send you a certificate proving your candidacy. You can get a visa based on this candidacy, which is only valid and renewable if you are accepted to the school. Once you are accepted, the international office should be able to provide you with the paperwork and instructions you ll need to convert your temporary visa into a full-time student visa. Since there are not a lot of international students who apply directly to these schools, this procedure is not very publicized. Of course, you can also go to take the exams on a regular vacation, then return to the US and await your paperwork before applying for a visa. Sciences Po (Institut d Études Politiques) Sciences Po, an undergraduate and graduate grande école, is unusual in that it accepts students who have just passed their baccalaureat, instead of taking primarily students who have taken cours préparatoires. Ranking 203 rd in the international ranking of universities, it is the 6 th French university to place, after the ENS-Paris, Ecole Polytecnique, Université Pierre et Marie Curie (public), the ENS-Lyon, and the Sorbonne (Université Paris IV, also public). As its name suggests, its primary focus is political science and economics, and many of the French students plan on applying to the famous Ecole Nationale d Administration (ENA) after graduation. It also offers courses in social sciences, like literature, sociology, and history.
12 French students who apply to Sciences Po are accepted through their master s degree (M2), and study there for five years, completing their third year abroad. They must have an excellent level of English, and must usually speak the language of the country in which they plan to spend their third year, although English-speaking American universities are highly sought-after. Thus, Sciences Po has exchange programs with many American schools, inviting third-year American students to spend a year on its campus (sorry, no semester-only students) while its students go in exchange. Some American schools also offer a dual-degree program with Sciences Po, allowing students to leave after their third year to complete a master s degree in Paris. Those who want to apply directly will have to choose which Sciences Po campus they wish to study at. There are several Sciences Po campuses, and the ones outside of Paris are the easier to get into than the Paris campus. To be admitted to the regional Sciences Po schools, you need only to complete an application on the website. If you are a candidate for acceptance, Sciences Po will contact you for an interview, which they do all over the world. Applying to Sciences Po Paris for the full term of studies, though, is a more intense process, and you ll be required to take the exams, or concours, along with the French students. The exams take place over four days at the end of June, around the same time as the French baccalauréat, and students are often taking both at the same time. In fact, students may only apply between July 6 and 8, right after the results of the baccalaureat are released. Those who receive Mention très bien on their bac do not have to take the Sciences Po exams, but of course that only applies if they submit their applications the following year, after receiving the results. In any event, students must receive an average grade of 12/20 on the four exams: 20 th century history, a dissertation or commentaire de texte, and an exam of the student s choice in literature, mathematics, or social sciences. All students must also take a foreign language exam and score at least 7/20.
13 Those who receive grades higher than 14/20 are exempt from the interview and admitted automatically; those who pass the exams with a 12 or 13/20 are invited to an interview, and the acceptance list for those students is determined after interviews have been completed and their applications have been examined. Students with strong academic records who received a grade just under 12 on the exams can be considered and admitted by the jury as well. Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS) In 2010, the École Normale Supérieur ranked 33 on the list of Top Universities in the World as determined by international scholars, and it was one of only two French universities to break the top 100. (The other was Ecole Polytecnique at number 36,) which we ll discuss next). The ENS is one of the most sought-after French schools, and not only because their students receive housing and a stipend. It s also a very prestigious line on a résumé, and proof of being among France s best and brightest. Nomaliens are held in high esteem, obtain top jobs, and often go on to pass the difficult aggregation exams to become the top professors in France. The Ecole Normale Supérieure is the only Grande école to offer studies in both social sciences and hard sciences, and their entrance exams and procedures are designed to attract the best students from around the world in these domains. Students usually apply to the ENS after their second or third year of university (L2 or L3), although, as an American student in a fouryear system, one could make the case for applying after graduation. Keep in mind that while the ENS doesn t require a specific level of French, and won t ask for the results of a French language test for admission, the coursework and lectures are generally in French. Intensive language classes in the fall before the start of courses and during winter break are generally offered to
14 those who need them. There are four different ways to apply to the ENS, which we will outline here. By passing the concours The most obvious way to get into the ENS is to take the exams held every spring for French and international students who wish to apply for the status of fonctonnaire-stageaire, or intern-employee of the state. These students are housed near the ENS (in the posh 6 th arrondissement, nonetheless!) and given a stipend of 1250 per month after taxes for four years. It s a good deal. Non-European students are awarded a scholarship. There are two sets of exams: one in letters, and one in hard sciences, and they are both extremely competitive. Taking the letters exam leads to studies in language, literature, or an area of the social sciences, while taking the science exam leads to the biology, physics, medicine, and computer science departments. Each year, only 100 students pass the literature exams, while 94 are accepted from the science exams. Students can take the exams twice, in two different years, but no more than that. By submitting an application Students can also apply for the «Diplôme de l ENS» after completing L2 or L3 by submitting an application to be evaluated by a jury. First, the student must declare his or her intent to apply online, and print the application from the website. After selecting the course of study, the student sends his or her application, including passport-sized photos, grade reports, and a cover letter directly to the department in which he or she wishes to enroll. The juries of each department meet in the beginning of July and the beginning of September to select their students. These students do not receive a
15 scholarship from the ENS, but if they have outside scholarships, they can sometimes get housing from the school. By competing for the international program Students who wish to apply to the ENS as international students must first submit an application online between January and March for the following fall. Those who are selected are invited to Paris in July to take exams and pass an interview, and the final admissions decisions are released at the end of July. Anyone accepted to this program is awarded a stipend of 1000 per month for the duration of the three year program. Through university exchange Several universities have exchange programs with the ENS, usually at the graduate level, and the Fulbright program offers between scholarships annually to study at the ENS. Applying for Master s Programs While admission to undergraduate programs in France is automatic upon receipt of a high school diploma, master s programs admit students based on applications, and can be more competitive. To choose a master s program, you ll first have to decide what you d like to study, find a professor who specializes in your topic, and have that professor agree to direct your thesis project. You ll probably have to do some research.
16 Project Proposal The project proposal is the most important part of your application, because it shows your ability to come up with an interesting research idea and to formulate research questions on your own. Since the professor s job in France is more to evaluate the quality of your work rather than to guide you in creating it, it is important that you be able to organize your thoughts on your own and figure out what s important without your professor s help. If you don t have an obvious project that you d like to undertake, the first thing to do is to write down a list of all of the topics you re interested in. Try to be as specific as possible. Don t say French history, or even World War Two, say women s history and the French resistance to come up with women s contributions to the formation of the French Resistance in And even that is more of a dissertation topic than a Master 1 forty-page thesis. Write down some authors you ve enjoyed reading, and then read a little bit about their time period and politics contemporary to that time. Once you have a list of maybe 10 broad topics or authors, pick a few of your favorites, and try to link them. I had folklore, Algerian immigration in France, bilingualism, Algerian women, and education in Algeria/education of immigrants in France. I ended up proposing the topic of Transmission of folklore in Algerian immigrant families in France, and the topic I ended up working on for my Master 2 thesis in Comparative Literature was Initiation and Emancipation of Women in Nora Aceval s Algerian Libertine Folklore. The topic I proposed was too complicated for one year, according to my professor, and we ended up modifying it to a more text-centric project that could be completed in one year. But I was able to combine several items from my list and come up with a few good project possibilities.
17 If you re struggling with combining the topics, come up with a few ideas, and then discuss them with your departmental advisor at your school. He or she might be able to guide you to some questions that haven t been fully developed yet by academics, which will make your topic seem all the more intriguing to your future professor. Try to avoid developing topics that have very little research, though, because French professors are generally not great believers in their students having original thoughts. In master s programs, students are learning how to research, organize their thoughts, and argue, and most French professors prefer that students do so within established research domains. In their eyes, masters students are in training, whereas doctoral students can try to find out something new. After choosing your favorite topic, you re going to have to justify it. Make some notes on a piece of paper to answer these questions: (It goes without saying that writing your notes in French will make transferring them into a coherent proposal much easier) How did you come up with your topic? (I don t mean the process above; I mean, what questions were you asking yourself that led you to thinking up this topic?) Has the question you re asking been asked before? By whom? What were their answers? How are you asking the question in a different way, or looking at it from a different angle? What have you already found out about your topic? What conclusions do you expect to get from your research? Why is your topic important? When you ve answered all of these questions, you re going to have to synthesize the answers and develop your topic in a 2-3 page paper that will serve as your project proposal. Don t write your proposal without going to the library. Find a few books on your topic, flip through them, and see if they mention people or sources that would be particularly helpful to you. If so, write down their bibliographical
18 information. Since you ll also need books in French for your bibliography, search on the site of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, find a library or two in Québec, and even search on Amazon.fr. Your bibliography doesn t necessarily have to be as broad as it would be for a paper you ve already written, but it should show that you know where to look for information related to your topic and that you know how to do some research. Be sure to model your bibliography on the French bibliography in Chapter 4 instead of using the MLA style. When you send your project proposal, you ll have to include your curriculum vitae in French as well. A model French CV is included in Chapter 3 in the section on Working in France. Sample Project Proposal Transmission des contes algériens en situation décontextualisée: Vecteurs et formes de cette transmission Je propose une étude de la transmission de la tradition orale dans des familles d origine algérienne ayant immigré en France, afin de mieux comprendre la place du savoir traditionnel et de la transmission de ce savoir dans des familles qui ont été déplacées d une culture à une autre. J aimerais étudier les circonstances et les modalités de cette transmission : pourquoi les mères partagent (ou ne partagent pas) cette tradition avec leurs enfants, quelles traditions ou rituels accompagnent cette transmission. Ayant enseigné l anglais en écoles primaire à Drancy cette année, j ai pu nouer des relations professionnelles avec trois enseignants de CM2 qui travaillent sur les contes en cours d année. J ai proposé à ces collègues et au directeur de l école Romain Rolland de mettre en place un projet sur les contes algériens des recueils Contes du Djebel Amour de Nora Aceval et Traditions Algériennes de Jeanne Scelles-Millie avec ces élèves pour compléter leur formation littéraire avec un projet culturel. Ensemble, nous demande-
19 rons aux parents d élèves d intervenir en classe s ils détiennent des contes de tradition orale qu ils aimeraient partager, et nous demanderons également aux élèves de raconter un conte de leurs parents et d en écrire leur propre version. M appuyant à la fois sur ces textes et sur des interviews faits auprès des élèves, je poserai des questions sur la culture d origine de leurs parents et leurs voyages «au pays» pour mieux comprendre leurs histoires. Une analyse des interviews des interprétations des contes faits par les enfants révélera l importance de la tradition orale et la culture d origine pour ces familles, et les idées que se forment les enfants de la culture de leurs parents. Il sera intéressent en même temps de voir quels ateliers et activités sont proposés par les écoles et les centres culturels de Drancy, de Bobigny, et du Bourget pour mettre en valeur la culture maghrébine. Si les enfants assistent à des cours de langue, des évènements littéraires, ou des concerts de musique maghrébine en dehors de l école pour connaître la culture de leurs parents, nous pourrons apprendre ce qu ils pensent de leur double culture. Évidemment, tous les élèves dans les classes seront invités à participer à ce projet dont j espère faire une sorte de spectacle à l école, mais mon mémoire portera uniquement sur les contes des élèves maghrébins. Mon étude se concentrera en particulier sur la place des femmes dans ces contes dans le récit comme dans la transmission et les interprétations des rôles familiaux que les enfants se font de ces histoires. Ce thème est particulièrement intéressant parce que mon mémoire sur cinq contes merveilleux algériens collectés par Jeanne Scelles-Millie a montré que ces contes sont très riches en personnages divers à analyser et que les possibilités pour les personnages femmes sont distinctes des possibilités pour les personnages hommes. Si les femmes ont une certaine liberté d action dans ces contes lorsqu elles quittent la maison, elles n ont aucun pouvoir sur les hommes, et les sexes ne sont pas égaux. Par contre, mon mémoire sur les contes libertins de Nora Aceval a révélé que dans ces contes, ce sont les femmes qui détiennent le véritable pouvoir, et elles arrivent souvent à faire ce qu elles veulent. Recueillis à l époque contemporaine, ces contes (de Nora Aceval) reflètent-ils des changements dans la société algérienne depuis
20 les années 1970? Comment les élèves conçoivent-ils la masculinité et la féminité dans les contes de leurs parents? Puisque une polémique qui se trouve au cœur de la politique française de l immigration est justement l égalité des sexes et la soumission des femmes dans certaines traditions musulmanes, cette étude est importante parce qu elle montrera jusqu à quel point les enfants biculturels s identifient avec la culture de leurs parents et acceptent ou rejettent les rôles familiaux dépeignés dans ces contes. N ayant pas grandi dans la même société que leurs parents, il se peut que les enfants issus des familles immigrées n arrivent pas à comprendre ces contes de la même manière que leurs parents. Élèves dans l école française républicaine et laïque, ces enfants ont peut-être une conception de l égalité des sexes et des rôles familiaux bien différente que celle de leurs parents. Leur interprétation de ces contes serait donc influencée par leur héritage biculturel: étudier ces interprétations des contes traditionnels et les comprendre montrera comment ils négocient ce biculturalisme, et illuminera la valeur que le conte peut avoir comme modalité de transmission des valeurs traditionnelles en dehors de son contexte d origine. Choosing a Professor Choosing a professor to direct your master s research is the next step in applying to a French university for graduate school, and you shouldn t even begin to think about professors until you have a good idea about what your project is going to be. After you ve written a project proposal, think not only about where in France you d like to go, but more importantly about what department and/or specialty your project falls under. Most topics can be in several categories, depending on the research approach you want to take. The topic on folklore in Algerian immigration, for example, could be literary if it s the text of the transmission that s important, or anthropological if the recording of oral traditions is a priority. A literature professor may reject the idea of doing interviews, while an anthropology professor will
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