On Going Back to School

Happy Monday morning! Can you believe it’s November already?

I’ve gone back and forth for a very long time about whether or not to make this blog a more personal one. My original thoughts was just to have it be a place to showcase my photos, the things I’d seen, rather than the experiences I’ve had. But honestly, the stories are what make blogs like this worth reading, aren’t they? So today I’m talking a bit about what my experience has been like so far in the Sorbonne’s Cours de Civilisation Française, and the good and bad things about being a student again.

The Glittering Unknown Sorbonne street view

Location of the Cours de Civilisation Française, on boulevard Raspail

Though it’s affiliated with the Sorbonne, aka the University of Paris, the Cours de Civilisation Française are a completely different entity. They are directed entirely at educating foreigners in both the French language and culture and history of France. In order to enroll at public French universities, you must have a minimum B1/B2 level of French (depending on the school), so a lot of people come here in order to obtain that certification (the school gives you a certificate if you pass the course’s final exam). Others, like some in my class, are married to French speakers and are taking the classes in order to better communicate with their spouses and spouses’ families. Still others are taking them to help with their future profession- if they want to work in France, for example, or if they are seeking a career in international relations (the official world languages of diplomacy are English and French, and for many high level positions you need to be fluent in both).

The Glittering Unknown Sorbonne Cours de Civilisation Francaise

The heart is actually there intentionally ♥

The courses are structured into different parts: every day throughout the semester, there is a normal two-hour course where you cover grammar, vocabulary, etc. Mine is from 10am-12pm, which is great because it means I have to get up around the same time as D does for work. It’s really nice to have a regular schedule again, as for the last three months mine has been so sporadic since I’ve been working as a meet-and-greeter for an apartment rental company and the greets are at all different times of the day. This class is where you cover all of the fundamental parts of the language, though honestly it’s much more helpful for writing than for speaking, so I’m lucky that I essentially learned the entire language orally. I’ve only been in 4 French classes of varying length throughout my life- two years in high school, part of the semester in Switzerland and one trimester last year as an au pair. I entirely attribute my proficiency in the language to my time in Switzerland living with a host mom who didn’t speak English and my year as an au pair speaking French with the little girls I watched. It does mean, however, that in some regards I’m a bit behind my peers as there are rules and verb tenses I never formally learned. My entire grasp on the future and conditional tenses has come from looking up conjugations on WordReference when necessary.

Besides the daily classes, we have phonetics and conferences. The conferences are every week and have various choices at different times (2-4pm, 4-6, and 6-8 Mon-Wed, and an option for B2/C1 level students on Thursdays), but you only have to pass two of their final exams to get the civilization credit. The topics range from history to literature to art to cinema to regions of France. There were a couple that I was interested in, but because of my phonetics classes I couldn’t attend them regularly. I now attend two, one on history and literature and one on regions of France. The former is very hard to stay awake in because the professor is very conscious of the fact that there are multiple levels in the room, so she speaks slowly in fairly basic French, and her voice is very soothing… zzzzz. The latter is much more interesting, but I feel bad for some of the lower level students in the class because there’s no way they understand everything our professor is saying.

Phonetics classes are every day as well, but they’re only every other week, thankfully. I have mine in the early afternoon, preventing me from attending any 2pm conferences, but also with a gap in between my regular class and phonetics that makes it hard to know what to do in the meantime. My other option would have been 8:30am, however, and I knew that wasn’t happening- I live minimum 35 minutes from the school by metro, and I’m the opposite of a morning person, as is my boyfriend. Such is life. So far I’m not a huge fan of my phonetics classes- our professor is always late and whenever we’re doing recordings in the audio lab, she never lets us listen back to what we’ve recorded, making it hard to know if we’re making the same mistakes over and over again. Hopefully it will get better.

The Glittering Unknown Sorbonne cour

The cour (courtyard) of the school

It’s definitely weird being back in school, especially as a non-degree-seeking student. I assumed that the next time I found myself in a classroom it would be to get my Master’s, but life goes its funny ways and this became not only (hopefully) a good future career move but also a way to stay in France with my love. I also know that I don’t want to take on the debt of getting my Master’s until I know for sure what I want to be a master of, so for now this is a good move for me (thanks again Mom!). I’m also glad to have some structure back in my life, daily places to be at specific times. Though it’s definitely made me sleepier much earlier!

The Glittering Unknown Sorbonne view from the top floor

View from the student lounge on the 7th floor

Some practical information about these courses: in order to get a visa if you’re a non-EU citizen, you have to be enrolled in at least 20 hours of courses. I’m taking the cours complet, but will be switching to ones with a business focus in the spring once I hit the C1 level. These courses will run you 1880€, with a 300€ registration fee when you pre-register (which will of course be deducted from the total amount). You also now have to pay a 60€ administrative fee as of this winter semester (2015). You pay the rest at registration, which is two-three weeks before classes start. In order to register you have to have an appointment, so you have to go to the school and get one, and then come back for the actual registration. They may not be on the same day! I tried to register as early as possible in order to get priority for my class times. I got my first choice regular course time, but I think that it has more to do with level than anything else. They don’t send you your class time until the day before classes start, which if you have a job can be a ridiculous hassle. There’s a full week of classes before conferences start, and either one or two full weeks before phonetics (since they’re every other week).

Have you taken classes in the Cours de Civilisation Française program, or are you looking into it? Feel free to ask me any questions about the courses!

  • Reply

    Hi Emily,
    I have just a few questions about the course. Moreso about the application, signing up to take the language test(and how that was), how long you have to wait to find out if you passed, the whole visa process afterwards timing wise ( gap between finding out you are accepted and applying for a student visa).

    • Reply

      Hi Pardis, when you sign up they’ll walk you through the process via email. They’ll give you a date for the language test and you’ll find out what class you’re placed in the day before classes begin. Unfortunately I don’t have any information about the visa because I was already in France on an au pair visa and was renewing when I signed up for these classes.

      • Reply

        Hello! I’m actually in the same situation right now, so you changed from an au pair visa to a student visa? Can you help me with understanding how you did that?

        • Reply

          Hi Steph, I just signed up for more French classes and went to the student prefecture and renewed my visas. Au pair visas are student visas, they just intially have a different application process.

          • Steph

            Okay that’s great and exactly what I was hoping to hear! Thanks again!

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