Ovi -
we cover every issue
worldwide creative inspiration  
Ovi Bookshop - Free Ebook
Ovi Greece
Ovi Language
Michael R. Czinkota: As I See It...
WordsPlease - Inspiring the young to learn
Tony Zuvela - Cartoons, Illustrations
International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement
BBC News :   - 
iBite :   - 
Memories of the University of Nanterre Memories of the University of Nanterre
by Joseph Gatt
2019-04-23 09:08:01
Print - Comment - Send to a Friend - More from this Author
DeliciousRedditFacebookDigg! StumbleUpon

The University of Nanterre is located near the Champs Elysees in Paris, near the great Arch of La Defense, right by Nanterre University RER station. It's France's second largest university by size, and France does not rank universities, but Nanterre is not part of France's elite universities. So if you say you went to Nanterre, or any other university for that matter, the French tend to look down on you.

Nanterre is one of the only French universities that have a US-style campus, with sports facilities and a large garden, and roads linking buildings. Most French universities are buildings with no gardens or sports facilities. Hunter College New York would be the closest thing to a typical French university, and Nanterre is more like any campus you would find in the US, although much smaller in size.

nanter_400Nanterre campus kind of comes in L-shape, where you have three connected buildings to the left, three connected buildings straight, and the library and cafeteria way back to the left. There are several sports facilities, including an Olympic-style swimming pool, a track, a soccer stadium, and a few tennis courts, outdoors sports fields and indoor sports fields.

There are several small cafeterias by American standards, and people tend to eat lunch alone or in very small groups. The dormitory is not recommended, nor is venturing on campus at night. The police are not allowed on campus (student unions pushed for a law preventing the police from entering campus, to prevent union busting) and there are quite a few drug dealers, gangsters, drug addicts, and a few prostitutes that roam the campus at night.

The first thing you might notice is, because this is a police-free zone, all the people openly smoking and dealing marijuana. The second thing you will notice is all the Che Guevara posters, pro-Palestinian posters and radical left or Communist or Anarchist student unions and all their posters. Religious Jewish students tend to wear baseball caps rather than the kippa or traditional skull cap because they could get lynched on campus if they wore a kippa.

There are no stores or supermarkets on campus, no place can you buy cigarettes on campus (there's a cigarette shop right at the front gate) and there is no place you can withdraw money on campus, although there are a couple of banks at the front gate with ATMs. Cafeteria food is OK by the cafeteria tends to be very, very crowded. The library has a big collection of French books, a lot of them dating from the 1950s or before the 1950s, and the choice of books was not excellent. This was between 2002 and 2005, things might have changed since.

I was on a full scholarship in college between 2002 and 2005 and college was in many ways a full time job. You only get about 15 to 18 hours of class a semester, but that usually means something like 12 different classes a semester. Most classes last one hour, and are very content-intensive. Professors lecture for the entire hour, speak slowly so you can take notes, and dictate so you can take notes. There are mid-term examinations and final examinations, and grading is very, very harsh.

Exam questions tend to be very vague and professors vaguely tell you that you need to “think” and “formulate a problematique.” The French are obsessed by the notion of problematique, which is basically the research method Descartes recommends in his 17th century Discourse on the Methods of Reason. That is you need an introduction, and then a research question, and to orient your essay by trying to answer your research question. Except that teachers never teach you how to do that.

The French count every single year of their life, and tend to look down on “losing a year.” That is unlike Americans or Israelis who have a more relaxed notion of life, taking time to travel and several years off searching ourselves, the French tend to want to finish college in three years at 21, either go to grad school and graduate at 23, or get a job and count exactly 36 (or 40) years of work experience before you earn a precise amount of money as your retirement pension. Losing a year means getting less retirement money, and the French tend to blame themselves for that.

However, very, very few people graduate college in three years, and a vast majority of people lose quite a few years. On my first day of class, there were about 600 students in my department. By the third year of college, there was something like 50 left, enough to pack us in a large classroom.

The main reason so many people drop out of college is the sheer volume of materials you need to memorize for the examinations. Imagine having to take 12 classes a semester that is 24 examinations, for all of which you are expected to memorize every sentence of your notes. You can't bullshit your way through an examination and most questions will involve regurgitating in some form your class notes, usually in the form of writing an essay with a research question and that tends to answer the research question. Grading is done on a scale of 0 to 20; professors rarely give more than 15 even when you provide the perfect answer if there is one perfect answer. Grading is done vaguely, and grades are non-negotiable, and most students get failing grades. Grades also depend on the professors mood a great deal, some professors provide everyone with high grades, while other professors fail pretty much everyone.

Despite the campus being large with all the facilities, there were no sports clubs or leisure clubs, at least none I had heard of. Most clubs were either professional clubs (like the lawyers' club or the politicians' club) or ethnic (the Jewish association or the Association of Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, American, West Indian students) or political (socialist, Communist, Trotskyist, Anarchist, and a couple of much smaller right-wing organizations). But if you want to play chess or tennis, you have to find a partner on your own. There are no formal sports teams or university sports league that I knew of, I did join the university's television station, very amateurish, but mostly students who were trying to develop shows to compete at festivals or try to sell to television networks.

Socializing is a little complicated in Nanterre. There are three rules I learned about the French in Nanterre: the French are not excited about meeting new people, are not excited about making friends, and you have to beg really hard for someone to join you at the coffee shop, even harder for someone to join you at the pub.

Oddly enough there is one place the French tend to socialize in: the classroom, while the professor is lecturing. That's right! The professor is lecturing and you're trying to take notes, and that's when the crowd sitting next to you or behind you start asking you to tell them the story of your life. And when class is over, that same crowd goes back to acting like they don't know you.

The main dilemma is had trouble with is saying hi to classmates when you meet them. On the one hand, if you say hi to them, they will stop and greet you, but with a confused look in their face. Once you get too many confused looks, you stop saying hi to people, and that's when your classmates start giving you the silent treatment because you did not greet them. In some cases you greet them and they ignore you, but that's the safest bet, otherwise they will hate you for not saying hi. But this whole greeting thing is a personal thing, because the French only greet like friends who are really, really close to them. But as an Israeli or whatever you want to call me, I tend to like meeting people and have really intense conversations with them, which means I should then greet them afterwards. Anyway, social relations in France are really complex, and if I wanted to make friends, I should have studied in the US or Israel.

The main advantage French colleges have is they are (were) tuition free! And bureaucracy-free! You pay a symbolic fee (back then it was 105 Euros tuition and another 175 Euros for health insurance) and you get your student card and bye bye administration. You then get assigned to a group, and you don't get to choose your classes or professors, just like in middle school, they give you a timetable you have to stick to.

There is no graduation ceremony either. Nor are there any school festivals or events. OK there are a couple of festivals, but students don't show up to the festivals. There are also conferences which are basically empty, and the only conferences that pack lecture halls are those of former Communist presidential election candidates, or perhaps high-profile actors.

Professors can be absent, a lot more than they would be in the US or Korea, and professor absences tend to be excused and there are no makeup classes. In some cases professors even inform that they are cancelling three or four weeks worth of classes, and there are no makeup classes either. Professors also go on strike quite a lot, and there are a few student strikes where buildings are barricaded. Police is not allowed on campus, so strikes can't be broken down. Our building was barricaded once because Communist students were trying to prevent an illegal alien from being deported, and locked the illegal alien in the building. Ah those French!

There are no concerts, no music bands, no soccer games, no university t-shirts or jackets, and certainly no brands advertising on campus as advertising is strictly prohibited on campus in any form. There are a lot of AIDS and STD information campaigns, a few blood donation trucks and lots of Palestinian flags. There is one (only one!) small pub at the front gate, but there are no restaurants or franchise fast food joints.

There are no lifelong friends and no reunions. I believe there is no alumni association, or at least not one I've heard of. Students tend to disappear into obscurity, not that I knew any of them in the first place.

If you're looking for a job outside France I could recommend Nanterre, if you're a loner who likes to study. But getting a job in France with a Nanterre degree is complicated. While you'll get a job for sure, your pay scale will tend to be lower, your rank will be lower, and you will be overlooked for promotions as the French tend to reserve higher pay and better ranks and promotions for those who attended elite schools. More importantly, the French don't reveal their education background to strangers, in some cases to their own husband or wife. So don't go around yelling that you went to Nanterre!

In sum, very few friends made, but a lot learned from the classes I took as classes tend to be very information-rich. But a lot of time spent alone, a lot of sleepless nights trying to memorize class notes, a few failed exams, but more importantly, I didn't lose any years back then. As for my retirement pension, I don't think I'll be getting any.

Print - Comment - Send to a Friend - More from this Author

Get it off your chest
 (comments policy)

© Copyright CHAMELEON PROJECT Tmi 2005-2008  -  Sitemap  -  Add to favourites  -  Link to Ovi
Privacy Policy  -  Contact  -  RSS Feeds  -  Search  -  Submissions  -  Subscribe  -  About Ovi