It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. January 22, 2017

By (Middlebury College) - abroad from 09/01/2016 to 12/16/2016 with

Middlebury Schools Abroad: Middlebury in Bordeaux

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I improved my fluency in French and gained experience living on my own in a foreign country.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 2 weeks - 1 month

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

I give four-and-a-half stars for the academic rigor, as this program was an intense, full-immersion experience. This rigor, however, is a double-edged sword, and my rating is not completely positive. The academic intensity of the Middlebury program, though necessary (to an extent) for improving fluency, makes for a stressful experience. The Middlebury School in France holds participating students to a high standard and demands academic excellence as well as a complete commitment to attaining fluency. These pressures are a catalyst for improvement and growth, but can also be limiting—I, for example, found that I spent the majority of my time in Bordeaux, France either in class or in the library, bent over my textbooks. Furthermore, most of my memories of my abroad experience are of the hours I spent studying, not of the hours I spent exploring, speaking, or interacting socially with other students (both French and foreign). In fact, as a result of the academic workload, I did very little traveling at all, either within the Aquitaine region or elsewhere in France. Rather than placing extreme emphasis on the academic aspect of study abroad, I wish that Middlebury had more emphasized the benefits of cultural exploration, and had made it easier for students to travel, explore the city in which they were studying, and spend time outside of the classroom. I'm grateful for all that I learned during my time in Bordeaux, France, but I'll admit, I was relieved when this program came to a close. By the end, I was absolutely exhausted. One final, important distinction: My American peers in the Middlebury School in France program who hailed from other competitive U.S. colleges (Bowdoin, Bates, Amherst, etc.) were permitted to take all of their coursework Pass/Fail, therefore not affecting the ever-important GPA, and permitting them a much richer cultural experience through travel, entertainment, etc. Conversely, Middlebury students like myself were required to enroll in classes for a letter grade that then impacted our GPAs. Therefore, I, as well as my Middlebury peers, felt the constant pressure to achieve stellar grades in order not to jeopardize our academic standing at Middlebury.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

The administration at the Université de Bordeaux-Montaigne is, in short, a bureaucratic nightmare. Middlebury personnel were able to provide some assistance in navigating the French university system, but due to recent administrative changes at the Université, registering for courses, joining clubs, etc. was quite a headache.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

* Food:

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

It was extremely difficult to integrate into the French university system/French student culture.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

Healthcare issues that might arise while studying abroad were briefly addressed during orientation. I was lucky enough not to have to ask for healthcare assistance during my stay in France.

* Safety:

I felt safe throughout my stay in Bordeaux.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes

I need to clarify: I would choose to do the Middlebury program again PROVIDED THAT Middlebury give their students the option to take courses Pass/Fail.


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? 70 euros/week


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

Students on my program were required to speak solely in French for the duration of the program. Failure to do so resulted in being discharged from the program.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Advanced
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Advanced
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? 300-level French courses at Middlebury College
How many hours per day did you use the language? 10+
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? Speak the language as much as possible.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Local Students
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with? 0

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • Language Pledge
  • The two group trips that Middlebury offered to students
* What could be improved?
  • Academic stress/academic advising
  • Process of obtaining social insurance/house insurance (required by Middlebury) was extremely complicated and badly organized
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? I wish I had known how stressful the program was going to be; perhaps having known how hard I would have to work, I could have better prepared myself both academically and mentally.

Reasons For Studying Abroad

To help future students find programs attended by like-minded individuals, please choose the profile that most closely represents you.
The Academic or Linguist
You went abroad with specific academic goals in mind; the program credentials and rigor of your coursework abroad were very important to you. You had a great time abroad, but never lost sight of your studies and (if applicable) were diligent with your foreign language study. Good for you!

Individual Course Reviews

Course Name/Rating:

Histoire contemporaine de la France (1814-1870)

Course Department: Histoire
Instructor: Nicolas Champ
Instruction Language: French
Comments: This course was fast-paced and extremely challenging. Had I not been required to take this course by the Middlebury French department (I am a French major at Middlebury College, and the French department requires all majors to take a course on the history of France while abroad), I would have dropped it. If you have a strong background in the political, social, and economic history of 19th-century France, then this course might be for you; I, however, having not had much instruction in this specific era of French history, found myself constantly struggling to stay afloat in the class. In regards to the modes of assessment, students were assigned readings, research, and an accompanying written assignment each week. These assignments were then randomly collected and graded the following week. In addition, each student was required to do a research project (consisting of a 20 page paper and a 15-minute oral presentation) on an assigned subject. Students also sat for a midterm (2 hours) and a final exam (2 hours). The one (slightly) positive aspect of this course was the professor; though he was demanding and tough, he was willing to meet with me to review aspects of the course that I didn't understand. (This type of professor-student communication, though common within American liberal arts colleges, is never a given in the French university system; for this reason, I was grateful to my professor.)
Credit Transfer Issues: I didn't have an issue transferring this credit to my home institution (Middlebury College).
Course Name/Rating:

Littérature et cinéma autour de la Révoultion française

Course Department: Littérature/humanités générales
Instructor: Philippe Ortel
Instruction Language: French
Comments: This course was one of the only courses that I truly enjoyed at the Université de Bordeaux-Montaigne. Professor Ortel is a gem—he's a good lecturer (he lectures calmly and slowly, which makes it easier for American students, like me, to understand), and he takes an interest in the success of his students, both French and foreign. The coursework was reasonable: over the course of the semester, we watched 3 movies and responded to discussion questions about the movies each week. Students were required to give one group oral presentation, and there was one final exam (2 hours).
Credit Transfer Issues: I did not have an issue transferring the credit to my home institution (Middlebury College).