Welcome back to the November edition of this blog! This month, I would like to talk about my study experience in Toulouse – the differences to my undergraduate degree, what surprised me, what I like, and maybe what I don’t like that much.
First off, the French do really know how to keep their students busy. From my French friends here I’ve learned that instead of a three-year undergrad, you can actually do a two-year Prépa (a kind of general education) and the third year of e.g. an Economics Bachelor. This Prépa is considered to be very hard and stressful, and it’s clearly visible that my colleagues who have struggled through it are used to a very high workload.
This hasn’t changed in the Master’s Degree. This first semester is the first time in my life that I’ve been initially overwhelmed by my tasks, and I know no one who hasn’t had the same experience. Eventually, you adjust – but we are all working 7-day weeks. This was to be expected at graduate level at a name-brand school of economics, but coming from a German undergrad, it was still a little bit of a shock.
Generally, I like the mode of the studies. There is a good mix of exams, practical homeworks, and applied projects, and it’s timed in a way where you switch foci every month or so – it doesn’t become too monotonous. Granted, some teachers are pedagogically better than others, but that was always going to be the case.
We have mostly international teachers, but the majority of them carry the French spirit in that they don’t encourage interaction too much. Often, lectures and tutorials will be fairly one-sided, but the ones that aren’t are all the more enjoyable. For example, I have a class in Political Economy with a professor who spent his last eight years teaching in Harvard, and you can clearly see the difference in teaching style. It’s a much more collaborative atmosphere, and he tries to interact with everyone and remember their names. It makes a difference.
The one thing that really bugs me is that almost no teacher introduced themselves, not even with their name. They just started the class. That might be a minor thing to some, but I personally want to know a person I will spend three months learning from, at least their name, and what they do in their research. As much as I enjoy the classes, hearing about the teacher’s passion is almost always more interesting than the contents of the class.
All in all, it’s truly challenging, but it is also a good challenge. Right now, we have a week off to recover a bit. I’ve gone to the sea with friends, and experiences like that restore balance.
November 2021 | Peter Kamal