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Forks, Portland, Lyon - France, Paris - France, Portland and ending up in Bellingham.... the adventures of my life!

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Mastering the Art of the French Master's Degree

First off, I should probably explain what is going on at the moment and why I disappeared for about a month.

I've been getting many helpful comments and nice things being said about me but I barely have had a moment to log on and to even say THANKS!

September of this year I officially started a Master's degree in International Business Management in Lyon.  In order to create more of a challenge I decided, given the choice between two programs, to go with the program entirely in French.  Even better I decided to pick the intensive Master 2 Professional option which meant about 32 hours of classes a week.  Oh, let's just add that I was working, as well, around 18.5 hours a week at Wallstreet Institute.

You can imagine my typical day, as detailed in my last blog post.

Well, there truly is an art to the French Masters, even an art to studying in France.  It started with the intensity of the courses for me and wounded up in a climatic end of term finals where I about ripped out my hair from stress.

Shall we?

What Happens in Class
After a sleepless night and nightmares where I lost all ability to communicate in French, I arrived in my Master's class with my college-ruled American notebook and a single pen.  As I settled into the uncomfortable plastic seats and nodded around the class, practically whispering, bonjour, I noticed immediately that I was not well prepared.  Three girls glimpsed over my 'school materials' and then pulled out their own lumpy pencil bag, deftly picking out three different colors of pens, a ruler and either white sheets of paper or lined paper that gave me a headache to look at.

I scoffed to myself, what a bunch of overachievers, until I noticed even the laziest looking guy in my class had at least 2 colors and a ruler laid out in front of him.  My throat began to become dry as I suddenly felt like that dumb American foreigner and quickly reached into my bag to see if I had another color of pen.

Before I could find the second color, the teacher came exploding through the door, "Bonjour classe, donc, je suis veille France et donc je ne supporterai pas les ordinateurs, téléphone portables ni les SMS" I sighed quietly as I glanced over to see if I was supposed to start noting or what, she continued, "Et je n'enverrai pas les Power Points donc prennez bien vos notes" Well merde at that one.  I was at least relying on some back support in my American in France learning struggle, but I prepared my hand for the noting battle.

Looking back on my notes for that day I almost feel pity for myself, I had tried to note as fast as possible, but got lost in the dialogue, the questions my colleagues posed, the language itself.  Many of the passages said things like, "Une entreprise ????  donc important de ???" Where I was meant to miraculously fill in the blanks at home and try to get the sense.

I noted as the others used abbreviations, multicolors to change the theme and rulers to create perfectly level lines.  The precision was utterly disgusting but yet somehow exciting at the same time, I find the French people to be, in my opinion, the most apt to OCD in the world.  I also suddenly had an urge to use those weird multi lined bloc notes to organize and create some absolute precision in my writing.

Oh, and, the teacher's do not really want your opinion, even though they ask.  If you have the balls to answer, be prepared to be grilled on the topic until you turn a beet red in frustration and shrivel into your shirt.  They are talking at you, the underling, and you must simply note what they say.

Also, no homework. Everything is based on tests.

So advice for those wanting to pursue a degree in France?

  • Let go of the College Ruled paper, embrace the Bloc Notes
  • If possible, bring a computer
  • If possible, bring a charger
  • Don't eat during class, otherwise you will here some rampant mumblings about the American stereotype
  • 3 colors of pens
  • A ruler for lovely lines
  • LABEL LABEL LABEL (otherwise you'll end up like me and freaking out during dead week)
  • Buy a classeur to organize your notes
  • Ask if the teacher sends the slides
Team Work in France
I am lucky enough the have the experience to be in a class with 85% French people.  The only foreigners are myself, a girl from China, from Cambodia and from Spain.  In a class of 25 people, we are almost forced to work in a team with at least 2 Frenchies.

My first experience in a team was, well, lost in translation.  In the States I was the queen of leadership and team organization, toujours type A personality.  The biggest challenge was suddenly being thrown with 3 Frenchies for 3 hours to create a team presentation and project.

Their version?  Shout, debate and argue until we are exhausted enough to drag ourselves to get a coffee, drag ourselves back and argue once again until we vomit some form of work.  Luckily, I was able to organize the team enough to create an agenda, minimalize the arguing and come home with a freakin' awesome grade for my team.  Oh, if ever curious about grades, I wrote a blog on that: Grading in France, and we received an 18/20, because 20/20 only God can get, and 19/20 only teachers can get so we were 3rd.

  • Don't be afraid to Be American, make an Agenda and stick to it, even if they follow some random chemins of conversation
  • Speak slow and deliberate, even if they are shouting and speaking quickly
  • Understand the topic before you try and traite it
Les Partiels aka Final Exams
I got the handle on the note-taking during classes enough to start high-lighting and multi-color pen using to my heart's content.  I, however, was not prepared for the final exams.  As a girl in class warned me, Prépares-toi, j'ai reçu un 3/20 dans un examen l'année dérnière.  I gasped at that revelation and proceeded to memorize, and rememorize the material in order to simply barf it back up during the tests.

With my book size of notes I memorized facts, dates, chemins, charts, graphs, exhaustive explanations on Theories of Economics.  In French.  When the day of the test came it was like this:

  1. Read this 20 page case
  2. Analyse the case
  3. Regurgitate any relevant information on these University marked Sheets
    1. IN PEN
  4. You have 2 hours
Oh my goodness.  By the end of the week and 6 final exams (12 hours of writing in 3 days) my hand was literally cramping, my vision was blurry and I broke down crying on the Friday.

Did it pay off? Sure, the first exam I received back was 13/20, knowing the highest grade was 15.5... so I was not a dummy American who couldn't speak French!

  • Study constantly throughout the term
  • Record classes and relisten to difficult sessions (I relistened to the last two sessions)
  • Use black or blue ink, white out for mistakes
  • Use scrap paper to write thoughts and nice paper to rewrite
  • For a week before the exams restrain from English
  • GET SLEEP, staying up all night to study will not guarantee a better grade
So Now What?
Well, now, Wallstreet Institute is done, my last day, sadly, was last week.  I continue my tutoring, hoewever, pulling in an average of 8 students a week on top of classes I am taking.  I write my notes, retype my notes and relisten to classes.  My goals are to get the highest grade on one of the tests during the term, but it's only an over-achiever American hope of mine.

Next step is an Internship.   Oh LORD!


1 comment:

  1. AnonymousJuly 20, 2012

    (I just tried to comment, but my browser seems to have hiccupped and lost it--sorry if this posts twice.) I cannot thank you enough for writing this post. Although I've been living here almost a year now, I'm starting a master's in the fall and have been having mild panic attacks about not understanding anything that's happening, flunking everything, pissing off franco-français teammates with my awkward grammar...it's good to know another American (and fellow PNW expat! ;) has done it successfully! The note-taking bit is especially enlightening, thanks again. :)


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