Mixed Feelings August 07, 2017

By (Middlebury College) - abroad from 01/02/2017 to 05/19/2017 with

Middlebury Schools Abroad: Middlebury in Bordeaux

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I significantly enriched my language skills and cultural knowledge while being fully immersed in a French city. I did find the experience ultimately worthwhile, despite chronic frustrations with my coursework.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 1 month - 6 months

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

Study at Bordeaux Montaigne provided excellent French language immersion, but could provide for a frustrating semester depending on which subjects or courses one took. Although the Middlebury program personnel discussed general differences between French and American University systems, they didn’t warn of the vast difference in workload between academic departments or individual courses. The literature courses I took required what I felt was a reasonable workload and were quite interesting. Suggesting I take a bevy of courses in the history department, the program failed to mention that those courses have much more work per week, and as a result I spent most of my time in Bordeaux in my room trying to catch up with French students who had been studying these historical periods for years. This stressful experience seemed at odds from what I heard from the Middlebury program students at Sciences Po and I felt it somewhat limited my cultural enrichment opportunities.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

The Middlebury teaching assistants (French graduate students hired by the program) were very helpful and attentive, and the excursions that they led to other French cities were a lot of fun. The rest of the administration, however, was at times disorganized and unhelpful. Bordeaux Montaigne students in the program didn’t even receive student cards (which were necessary to find out the location and times of our classes) until a week after classes had started. I missed several classes in my first week as a result. Middlebury, instead of pursuing the matter with the host university, chided the program students for not being sufficiently “independent” and set the task to the program T.A. Again, the Sciences Po portion of the program seemed more organized.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

I enjoyed living with my host family in Bordeaux. They were very friendly and welcoming, helping to make my semester more immersive.

* Food:

The food in Bordeaux was good, with a variety of restaurants and supermarkets in town. My host family made good meals as well. The food at the University itself was not stellar, but it was easy to find alternatives (bringing food from home, etc.)

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

It was difficult to integrate at Universite de Bordeaux Montaigne. French students, having already established friends in the fall, were generally indifferent to us. The few friends I made at Bordeaux Montaigne were all Erasmus students from other countries. It was hard to believe that we were in the same program as the Middlebury program students at Sciences Po, who had a variety of activities and associations they were invited to and plenty of friendly and outgoing French classmates.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

The health insurance provided by Middlebury was satisfactory when I had an illness and had to go to the University clinic and the pharmacy.

* Safety:

I felt completely safe in Bordeaux. Although it is a city, it is small enough to be completely safe with basic precautions (traveling in groups, etc.)

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

I would do this program again IF all the students were able to register at Sciences Po. As it is, a student can have a different experience based solely on their major at their home university.

Finances

* 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? About 40-60 Euros.
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? Cooking at home is a good way to save money--bills from frequent restaurant meals can quickly add up.

Language

* 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

We were completely immersed for this program, and thus were always speaking French. Some of the foreigners I met at Bordeaux 3 didn't speak English, so with them I also wasn't tempted to fall back on English.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Fluent
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Fluent
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? A 300 level literature seminar at Middlebury.
How many hours per day did you use the language?
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? Spending time with your host family is a great way to get more language experience. One could also look to go to Erasmus gatherings, where French is often the common language between international students.

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

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • Full Language and Cultural Immersion
  • Complete involvement in French university system
  • Host Families
* What could be improved?
  • Bordeaux 3/Sciences Po divide
  • Course advising and information
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? I wish that I knew about the degree to which different areas of study differ in the France, especially in terms of workload and expectations.

Individual Course Reviews

Course Name/Rating:

Histoire L2: L'Angleterre et L'Espagne

Course Department: Histoire
Instructor: Caroline Mao
Instruction Language: French
Comments: This course was fairly challenging, but manageable. The material was also quite interesting and the teacher engaging, but the fact that the course met only once a week and relied largely on outside reading made it feel disjointed.
Credit Transfer Issues: I had no issues transferring credit.
Course Name/Rating:

Litterature Francaise 6: Un Etude de Deux Oeuvres

Course Department: Lettres
Instructor: Pierre Laforgue
Instruction Language: French
Comments: This course was very straightforward and enjoyable, and Professor Laforgue is a great lecturer. He knows the material inside out, and was understanding of my status as a non-native speaker.
Credit Transfer Issues: I had no issues transferring credit.
Course Name/Rating:

Histoire Contemporaine: Les Dictatures en Europe

Course Department: Histoire
Instructor: M. Champ
Instruction Language: French
Comments: The course material was interesting, but the professor could be very intimidating and the coursework was considerable.
Credit Transfer Issues: I had no issues.
Course Name/Rating:

Litterature Francaise 2: Bande Dessinee Belge

Course Department: Lettres
Instructor: Florence Plet-Nicolas
Instruction Language: French
Comments: This Belgian comics course was my favorite course at Bordeaux Montaigne, allowing us to analyze themes revolving around quests in Medieval comics. Little out-of-class coursework was required, and the professor was very kind and understanding. The course provided an interesting look into a topic that I otherwise would never have looked at in an academic setting.
Credit Transfer Issues: I had no credit transfer issues.
Course Name/Rating:

Histoire Moderne 1

Course Department: Histoire
Instructor: Stéphanie Lachaud
Instruction Language: French
Comments: This course was very informative, laying out the essentials of French history methodology. It covers French history in from the 17th century up to the French Revolution, providing a general survey course which went into detail on certain topics. The weekly ampitheater lectures provided a staggering amount of detailed notes, but the assessments required more of a general understanding of topics with a few details needed as examples. The course was very challenging and rewarding for me as an American student, as I had not studied the period as in-depth as the French students had done in high school. The coursework was doable, but I would recommend that American students take this as their sole history course at Bordeaux Montaigne.
Credit Transfer Issues: I had no history credit transfer issues.