Assessment. Not a word that I welcome with open arms, nor one I appreciate being a factor of my life à Paris. Unfortunately, there is an academic requirement to this time abroad that cannot be ignored, however hard we try, given it contributes a percentage to our overall degree qualifications. During my second year in Birmingham, it seemed every text studied or every test taken clearly fitted into the grand scheme of graduating, and although I maintained a sometimes chaotic 60:60 split of credits between French and History of Art, I always felt a vague cohesion throughout my studies. Life at Diderot lies in stark contrast, with many of my modules largely different from what I have studied up until this point. So where do you find the balance between work and play when everything seems so far removed from UoB life?
The system doesn’t always seem fair
One of the first questions that arise from any conversation with a fellow foreign student. “Does this year count for you?”. Before beginning my Erasmus year, I was unaware as to how different the requirements can be from other UK institutions. The number of credits per semester, the number of hours a week, whether a class can be taken in English or not – all varies per individual university, and this can sometimes lead to a bitter aftertaste. It certainly can be hard to slave away in an overheated, overpopulated library to concentrate on a class I didn’t want to take, but was assigned due to the complicated system. This is made harder whilst viewing social media snaps, knowing that for some friends abroad their marks mean nothing in relation to their degree.
Most of my classes have a 3 absence rule; after this, you either fail the class completely or have to resit the exam in July, regardless of your other results. Dragging myself to a 9am, knowing that for other students their attendance isn’t an issue, certainly does not make that early morning metro journey any sweeter.
The French education system at degree level is at times another world from what I have grown used to in Birmingham. The largest difference is the idea of continual assessment. Each module consists of several different assessments throughout the course of the semester. I have previously described how chaotic this can make each week and having survived two semesters, I can confirm the juggling act does not get that much easier.
Luckily, I have an insider opinion on this exchange in reverse. My cousins, having grown up in Lyon, all attend British university. They have reassured me that although I am finding this increase in tempo hard to deal with, they also were shocked in the opposite sense upon starting their UK studies. Claire puts it perfectly; “Imagine having only one opportunity to prove your knowledge, just one panicked exam, rather than knowing you have several chances?”
I can’t lie. No matter how often I tell myself that one class in Diderot will not affect the rest of my life, I can’t escape the panic or stress that each assessment brings. I’ve struggled through 29 exams and completed 9 pieces of coursework since September, with 6 finals remaining before I can wave goodbye to Diderot. It’s safe to say I’m pretty exhausted. At the start, I thought this level of constant evaluation would be kill or cure for my exam-driven anxiety. And as I approach the end of my studies and this gruelling exposure? I’ve survived, just about. Perhaps I’ll see the benefits of this when I take my next exam in England, knowing I have a wealth of experience behind me.
Is this work worth it?
The number of assessments endured and credits taken don’t translate that well into UoB’s system. In fact, this year is only 12,5% of my overall degree. Having that said, I know I worked hard last year, for modules I am genuinely interested in, for the same percentage. I could have marked this year down to freedom and fun ignoring the academic side completely, but I know that deep down I want to give this everything I’ve got. If I try and fail then at least I’ve always got the other half of my degree to rely on…
I know final year is far from a walk in the park or stroll by the Seine, having witnessed my friends slight breakdowns and countless library trips from the (relative) safety of Paris. I also know that I cannot wait to be back in a seminar class talking about a subject I have chosen to study, in English, with people I feel comfortable around. There’s nothing more frustrating than wanting to answer a question only to have the idea lost in translation. Similarly, there is nothing more petrifying than attempting to pronounce a word in front of native, francophone, stony-faced teens. I’ve learned to laugh at myself a lot this year but there’s a limit to how much I’m willing to embarrass myself. Part of me wishes that this year didn’t count, so I could have the confidence to put myself out there without fear of it impacting negatively on my hard-earned second year result.
I find I cannot stress enough the difference I see between enjoying Paris and struggling with the university life out here. I don’t want to come across as ungrateful in the slightest because I know this is not an opportunity that everyone gets to experience. I’m sure I will look back on living in Paris and miss many aspects. I also am not entirely sure how much of my dislike for studying is to do with Diderot, and how much is the French system itself. At least I know I am not alone in my dislike for the systems currently controlling my life.
Just two weeks to go until I am commitment free, cramming in as many Instagrams, croissants and cocktails that I can before I wave Au Revoir to this Parisian section of my life. Who knows? Maybe I’ve even grown up a little along the way.