Paris – Sorbonne University

Reasons people went to this university /place

  • My first two choices were in England but those places were given to DiplomstudentInnen, so I choose Sorbonne as third option because I like Paris and I thought it would be a good chance to improve my French.

Recommended semester to go there

  • I choose the summer semester because it was the only semester that I had time to go abroad.

Before going there

Accommodation experiences

  • I lived in the Cité international Universitaire de Paris, in the Collège Néerlandais. The Cité is a complex of student homes in the south of Paris. I originally wanted to fly to Paris, stay in a hostel and search for a flat there but about a week before I flew, Sorbonne send out an email that there are still rooms available at the Cité, so I thought I stay there since it is much easier. The Collège Néerlandais was very nice. It was newly renovated when I moved in. I had my own room with a (tiny) bathroom. The kitchens were communal. The rooms were cleaned once a week. The Cité in general is in a beautiful park with the various student homes scattered in-between. Many of them have really interesting architecture. At the main building of the Cité students can visit a small library (great if you need a library-like environment to study). There also is a pool and the possibility to take various sport classes.

Special items to pack

How people who went there handled their finances

  • I had to open a bank account to get a RIB (which is a 25-characters code, which is similar to an IBAN but you only get that if you have a French bank account) because one cannot get a French phone number without providing a RIB. So even if you can use your Austrian bank card in France, you might need a bank account. This was really inconvenient because it meant additional costs and also because there were some problems with both my bank and the mobile service provider. In general, be prepared for a LOT of bureaucracy. I studied in Canada before and doing the same things in France (opening and closing bank and phone account, etc) took three times the amount of work in France. Also, when you live in Paris, even if you’re not a French citizen you can apply for CAF (www.caf.fr), which is financial support for rent/living costs. I received about 90 Euro/month if I remember correctly.

University Information

Rough semester schedule

  • The summer semester started at the beginning of February. I attended a free French course that the Sorbonne provided in the two weeks before the semester started. There was very little information on when the semester ends and information on the website always stated the end of June as the end. However, I had all of my exams between 9th and 20th May and no more classes after that. The university provided very little information on many things (among them semester and exam dates, how the library works). Be prepared to be confused or be just more forward than me and actually ask a lot of questions, rather than thinking that all information will be provided for incoming students.

Holidays during the semester

  • One week off in the first week of March
  • Two weeks off at the end of April
  • There is no Easter holiday (although Easter Monday is holiday).

Number of ECTS the university expected former exchange students to do

  • I don’t remember whether there was a minimum but I took 7 courses (6 English courses and one French course). The were all seminars (2 hours, compulsory attendance). Two of the seminars had complementing lectures (1 hour, voluntary).

Course restrictions and when the university informed students about those

  • There was a special course list for exchange students. One could take most of the courses that regular students could take. Registration was done in person by going to the department. It’s a first-come-first-serve system.

Did the university actually offer the classes students originally planned to do?

  • Yes. The course list for the whole academic year are published online in autumn.

Recommended courses/modules

  • To be honest, my academic experience at Sorbonne was extremely disappointing. Although all the English courses I attended were for third year students (i.e. advanced students that would get their BA after this semester) there were no critical discussions, no group works, no need to come to any individual conclusions. No class required a research paper (or really going to the library in general). The seminars had only 20 or so students but were basically lectures. The professor talked for 2 hours and the students took notes. Except for the oral presentation, a student would never have to speak in class to pass. When the course covered literature, the professors told us what metaphors, themes, etc. meant; we did not have to think for ourselves. Also they used a very specific, detailed approach to literature (I mainly took literature classes because that’s what I like most). In one course, we talked about Hamlet for half of the semester, then about Great Expectations for the rest of the semester. There was no interest in the context of these works, their place in literary history or how they influenced/were influenced by other works or literary theory, rather the professors wanted an extreme close reading of texts, which meant that students had 30 min. presentations on 1,5 pages of Hamlet, which contained detailed analyses of each metaphor etc. mentioned. I found that extremely tedious and not how I like to approach literature. Moreover, one grammar/linguistics course that I took was taught in French. My French was good enough to follow the class (and I do the presentation and write the exam in English) but to analyse English texts in French in a course for third year students makes no sense for me. Professors generally often slipped into French while teaching.The only courses that I liked were, first, a course on contemporary British theatre that was taught by a British guest professor (who organised classes more like I preferred and was used to). The second good class was the one on French culture (FOU Civilsation française). This was a course especially for exchange students. It was taught in French and gave an overview over French history, art and literature from the Renaissance onwards. The teacher was great and the course content was really interesting. The teacher knew that we weren’t French native speakers and still could convey information really well.

Exam period

  • The written exams are in the last class of the courses at the end of the semester (in the middle/end of the May)

How exams look like

  • Most courses follow the same scheme. Students have to give one oral presentation and write one exam (each worth 50 % of the final grade).The written exam was in the last class of the course. It is basically the same as the presentation, i.e. writing an essay about a short text. The professors do not specify (AT ALL) what they look for in the essays so other exchange students and me had troubles to really know what to do. It is really important to figure out what they want. For instance, if you don’t follow the French 3-part-structure it will be wrong, no matter how good your presentation/exam was. Find a French student that explains stuff to you because it is nearly impossible to get good grades because the professors have (in my opinion) really weird expectations of what a ‘good’ essay/presentation is. The presentations are usually 30 min. and have to cover a short text or about 2 pages of a book. Presentation skills or a PowerPoint presentation are not really needed. Many students simply wrote an essay, then stood in front of the class with three A4 shorts and read the text. Few professors asked follow-up questions.

Other information

Recommended restaurants, cafes, bars, shopping centers, etc.

  • It’s Paris, so it’s easy to find cool places online. One thing I found really cool is that the national museums (which are most museums including the Louvre) are free if you’re under 26. I love the Louvre and if you become an Ami du Louvre (15 Euros for a year if you’re under 26) you can use a special entrance, which means no waiting periods.
  • Other places that are great and you might not have seen even if you were in Paris before are:
    • Cimetière du Père-Lachaise (lovely for a walk)
    • Galaries d’Anatomie comparé et de Paléontologie in the Jardin des Plants (a collection of skeletons of hundreds of animals)
    • Musée de l’Armée (is huge and has great interactive elements)
  • Many restaurants are around Rue Montorgueil (there is a pizza place named Caldo Freddo that has amazing truffle pizza).
  • Not particularly French but there is a great Ramen shop (Ippudo) at 14 Rue Grégoire de Tours. In the same street there is also a great Dim Sum and burger place.

Recommended secret spots in the city/town

  • Find one of the small parks/squares (such as Place Daphine, Place des Vosges, Palais Royal, Jardin du Luxembourg), read a book and just sit in the sun.

Recommended day trips

  • Paris offers enough to see for a semester, but Versailles is definitely a must.

Recommended places or events to meet new people/make new friends

  • I did not use it, but the university has an Erasmus society that holds events for incoming exchange students.

Public transport offered in the city/area of the University

  • I used the monthly Navigo card (70 Euros/ month). It covers all of Paris.

Is this University the right place for me?

You should spend your semester/year abroad at this university or place

  • if you want to live in Paris.

You should not spend your semester/year abroad at this university or place

  • if you want to finish your studies quickly (Uni Wien only accepted one of the courses I took as a required English course, all the others were only accepted as Alternative Erweiterungen). Sorbonne simply does not offer courses that are similar to LIU, EPCO, PPOCS or linguistic (pro-)seminars.
  • if you want an intellectually challenging academic environment.
  • if you want great grades (Since the professors do not really specify what they want, it’s a trial-and-error system to get good grades. One gets only 2 grades in each course (the presentation and the final exam), which means the final exam is the only chance to improve one’s grade after a bad presentation.

(all information provided is based on 1 filled out questionnaire)