I see myself as quite an organized person who likes organizing things in advance, so that I have some time to react if something doesn’t work out as intended. Therefore, studying at a Swiss university I’m used to planning my courses for the next semester around two or three months before the semester starts.
Coming to France in general and to southern France in particular (so I was told from other students from the north of France) I had to learn that things are done differently here. That cultural difference is most noticeable at the faculty. When I enrolled for University in Montpellier, I asked the Erasmus coordinator if she could tell me when the courses I had chosen took place to make sure that there weren’t any overlaps in my timetable. I then learned that she didn’t know that yet because the timetables hadn’t been made yet – one week before the semester started. On top of that, the timetable is not fixed, so time and place of the different courses change every week. My first thought was that that was very unfortunate and probably very stressful for every student who studies at two different faculties or departments, because if the timetables aren’t fixed it’s nearly impossible to study two different subjects. I also wanted to follow courses from two different departments within sport science, but in the first week I realized that it won’t be possible to do that, due to overlapping courses. Then I started asking other students from my class and they explained to me that the layout of the system here is very different. So, in general you study only one subject (instead of two or three back home) and you have to choose a specialty early on. I for example chose the department where you get trained to become a mental coach for sports teams. Once you chose your department you just have to follow all the courses they offer in this particular semester.
At first, I only saw the disadvantages of this system, meaning that you can’t choose as freely as you might want to and that it’s hard to organize your free time activities and your students’ job because you can’t plan in advance, due to frequent changes in the timetable (sometimes at very short notice).
But when I had understood the system, I started to also see the advantages. For example, it’s way easier to create certain time windows for internships, because you don’t have to coordinate it with a second department or faculty. And due to the early specialization, you have smaller classes and therefore a more familiar environment that allows you to build more profound connections with your fellow students and the professors.
After studying a few weeks here, I got used to the different style of organization and certainly more flexible with organizing my week. I also got way more relaxed with the thought of planning everything on a short notice.