France: a country known for its food, history, romance, monuments – perhaps this description is a bit too “cliché”? A country’s description should not be only a tourist guide, but should include daily life too. You start experiencing real life when you settle in the country for a longer period. This is exactly what I have done, as I left for France with my family during my entire grade 11 year. What was the prominent part of my daily life in France? School, of course – French school.
I started classes on a rainy 3rd of September. The first hour was spent outside waiting to be sent to our designated class. In the French lycée (equivalent here to high school), students cannot choose their schedule. Instead, they choose their area of expertise: scientific (S), economy (ES) or literature (L). Each area of expertise varies in the courses taught and the weight each course has on the global average. I was sent in Premiere S (Grade 11 scientific), along with 29 other students with whom I spent the rest of the year. It’s easy to meet people when you are locked together in a room for one year.
The subjects taught are similar to those here in Canada. It is mandatory to take not one, not two, but three language courses: French, English, and German or Spanish. I was lucky; English was easy! Spanish, on the other hand, was “mucho duro”. In France, “citizenship class”, the study of the French political system, is also mandatory. What was my favourite class? Call me a geek, but it was Physique-Chimie (Physics and Chemistry combined).
School hours in France are quite long. Classes start at 8:00 am and finish at 4:30 pm. Yes, math guys, that’s one and a half hours more than here at CCH. This is to compensate for the two hour lunch break. Why two hours? Eating the French way takes some time, as most students either eat a hot meal provided by the school or go out to eat in town. But it’s not only lunch time that is long, French vacations are also longer. Along with the usual two months summer vacation, there are: two weeks in October-November, and in December-January, and in February-March and one more in April-May.
But when French students are in school, they have it tough. I had a lot of written reports as homework. Assignments had to be handwritten in fountain pen. Exams never consisted of multiple choice questions, but rather long written responses. In addition to being marked on the answer, teachers marked the method used and the overall cleanliness of the paper. Everything is marked out of twenty, with the idea that “no one is perfect”. So, forget the 20/20. One of the things I found lacking in French school is that there is very little “life” in the school aside from the academics. There are no equivalents to our athletic teams, and our great musical.
For us Canadian grade 12 students, the big thing is those pesky diploma exams. French students have them too, called “Examen du Baccalaureat”, but they require more work than simply answering multiple choice questions. They are divided in two parts: the French language exam is taken in grade 11 and the rest in grade 12 in a short two week period. The exam includes 20 minutes of oral presentations, essays, written responses and in-lab experiments. They count as 100% of the final course mark, which means that your whole school work boils down to this exam. I had to take the French exam, and now I am very grateful to take the diplomas here in Alberta, as they are a lot easier.
“Do you prefer Canada or France?” This is a question I hear often and I have a hard time answering it. School-wise, I like both equally. Although France is a lot harder, I find it an interesting challenge. Canada has a lot to offer, notably with its very active school life and its co-curricular activities. One thing is for sure, I am glad to be back here in grade 12, ready to tackle even the most difficult exam out here. Although, I will miss the two hour lunches.
Quentin Golsteyn is a Grade Twelve student at CCH. When he is not working on his latest experiment as an evil scientist, he enjoys biking, playing piano, and programming. His favourite thing about CCH is the incredible school spirit.