Study Abroad

Things to Know Before Studying Abroad in France as an International Student

Before you set off on your adventures, here are the things to know before studying abroad in France as an international student!

Know Before Studying in France - Cristina, FIE Europe

Looking to improve your French, bask in bakery delights, and gaze upon the Eiffel Tower while progressing academically? Studying abroad in France allows you to meet new people and gain international experience while embracing a new and sophisticated culture.

Here are a few pro tips to help you prepare for studying abroad in France!

Why study abroad in France?

Studying abroad in France is a unique opportunity to embrace a vastly new culture while furthering your academia. Whether you’re studying art, fashion, French, business, or science, France is hoped for by many reputable universities in cities such as Paris, Marseille, Lyon, Montpellier, and more.

Studying in a country which has a strong international presence, prestigious educational system, and an inviting culture will benefit you personally, academically, and professionally.

1. Learn basic French phrases

Graphic showing french phrases and english translation

In France, you can find many courses taught completely or partially in English, however, you should learn some of the language to benefit your social and cultural experience while studying in France.

Learning the local language is useful in a practical sense, however, you’ll also be able to make friends and form wholesome relationships with members of the community. Speaking - even with great inaccuracy - to someone in their native language shows that you care and they will warm to you greatly.

Think about it - why should they accommodate your needs if you won’t compromise by learning their language? Learning French will not only turn fleeting encounters with people into more meaningful interactions, but can also help you make new friends and enrich your experience.

Read more: How to Study in France if You Don't Speak French

2. Understand classroom culture

Two people creating a heart sign by the Eiffel Tower

Cultural differences can transcend social interactions and influence the school system and classroom etiquette. It’s important to read up on some of the differences in classroom culture that France may have compared to your home country.

Much like any other country, the classroom culture will vary from one city and school to another in France. The teacher demands absolute authority in the classroom, and chatty or disruptive students will be disciplined or sent out of the class. With a 2 hour lunch break in France, students can enjoy a generous break between their classes. Here, they can eat at school or even afford enough time to go home before returning to class.

While grading in the US utilizes scoring systems from 0-100 and letters to reflect grades, the French education system uses a 20 point grading system. Scoring 10 or more means that you pass.

When it comes to studying, you may be pleased to hear that you won’t typically need to buy additional books to do your studying in France. Homework in France is generally less common than in US schools and universities for example, and additional reading is not often required.

There are frequent public holidays in France which means students can look forward to time off. Students in France can expect around two weeks of holidays in December, February, April, October, and also a 5-6 week summer break in July.

3. Pack light!

France can be blissful in the summer, but freezing in the winter, especially eastern regions. So, it’s important that you take into account the time of year that you’re studying abroad in France when it comes to packing.

You should also pack light, as you’ll have access to many of the things that you’ll need in-country. Did you know that Paris is one of the biggest art and fashion hubs in the world? Save some room to buy some stylish clothes while you’re there!

However, there are some essential things that you’ll need to do before you leave. Firstly, if you have any prescription medication, be sure to bring a doctor’s note and medical records with you so you can access these medications in France. Additionally, you’ll need to notify your bank about your study abroad, that way, your card won’t be blocked once you’re spending it abroad.

Read more: The Ultimate Study Abroad Packing Guide

4. Set a budget and take advantage of student discounts

While the cost of living is typically lower in France than it is in the US and UK, don’t let this go to your head. When things are cheaper, you may be inclined to spend more because everything is so cheap.

However, bigger cities such as Paris can be expensive. Make use of student discounts at restaurants, cafes, cinemas, online shopping, and anywhere you can while can to save money! Additionally, instead of eating out every night, cook your own meals and shop at local markets.

When it comes to tuition fees, while private universities in France can be expensive, public universities generally offer lower tuition fees when compared to countries such as the US, for example. Public universities are subsidized by the French government, making it more affordable for domestic and international students alike.

There are plenty of scholarships and grants available right here on Go Overseas. Thousands of dollars worth of scholarships often go unclaimed because people forget to apply for them! Applying for scholarships is free, and if you’re one of the lucky ones, it can make your budget stretch much more.

Read more: How Much Does it Cost to Study Abroad in France?

5. Get familiar with France’s public transportation system

Transportation is very effective in France, particularly in large cities such as Paris. Not only is the metro system swift, reliable, and effective, it’s inexpensive. A monthly transportation pass in France costs around $70 or €64.

France has an efficient rail network which makes traveling around the country (and nearby destinations!) easier and at an affordable cost. Intercity links are effective, but you may need to get a bus or rent a car if you want to reach somewhere more rural. French culture and topography varies significantly from region to the next, so be sure to take full advantage in order to stretch your budget and see the great sights of France.

Read more: The 10 Best Cities for Studying Abroad in France

6. Embrace cultural differences

A person staring out towards the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

Studying abroad, and travel in general, is all about embracing new cultures. Whether you’re in Paris, Lyon, Marseille, or rural France, you’ll experience some degree of culture shock.

As they say in France après la pluie, le beau temps which literally means “good weather after the rain”, culture shock isn’t forever and you’ll actually come out the other end stronger, more independent, and self-assured.
Cultural differences can not only make you appreciate what you have at home, but it can also make you realize where your country’s culture may fall short.

It’s important not to reject these feelings or differences. It’s also important not to try and change aspects of this culture. Remember, you are visiting and living in their country and culture, not yours! It’s important to be open minded and embrace these cultural differences when you’re studying abroad. Doing so will make your experience more insightful, easy going, and transformational!

Staying with a host family can help you gain cultural insight and anticipate these differences. Furthermore, integrating with course mates will grant you greater insight into cultural quirks and differences to your home country.

Read more: How to Make Friends While Studying Abroad

7. Understand pop culture and politics

It’s also important to understand what’s considered taboo or what people enjoy talking about. While in some countries it may be taboo to talk politics, this isn’t the case in France.

Known for being heavily vocal, politics can predominate many aspects of social life in France, and is a constant talking point. Peaceful demonstrations to advocate for social and economic justice, the climate crisis, and other issues are common in France.

However, just because politics - an often divisive subject - is a talking point, doesn’t mean everything is. Like you would in most countries, show some sensitivity when it comes to subjects related to sexual orientation, religion, and finance in particular, and so on. Furthermore, snapping your fingers may be considered to be offensive, as is eating before everyone else has been served their food.

8. Frenchify your palette

Croissants in a French bakery

In France, food is culture! While it can be argued that quantity is emphasized over quality when it comes to food in some countries such as the US, there is less of a fast food culture in France, and moderation is emphasized.

However, that doesn’t mean that they don’t like to eat. For example, France has some of the lowest rates of obesity in the developed world, but they spend more time eating daily than any other country!

While bakeries and grocery stores are rife, you’ll still see plenty of organic wholesale food markets. You can find a range of fresh produce at inexpensive local markets which will offer a range of local French ingredients rather than imported goods. Often, businesses will close during lunch hours, which emphasizes the importance of food in France!

Also, your beloved iced coffee isn’t as popular in France as it is in other countries. So, if you order an “iced coffee”, you’re likely to end up with something along the lines of an ice cream coffee.

Start off your study abroad in France experience right!

There are many cultural nuances which you should know about before you study abroad in France, however, researching can only help you prepare so much! You’ll encounter a range of cultural differences in France which you’ll learn to embrace and adapt to. Regardless of how France compares to your home country’s culture, you’ll appreciate the nuances between both, and you’ll benefit from immersing yourself in a new environment.

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