The French Connection

Looking at how American schools work as a French exchange student

Lyse Prentout, Staff Writer

Being in the US as a French exchange student, I have the opportunity every day to discover the differences and similarities between two cultures and ways of life through my high school experience here at Frederick High School.
I studied high school in France for a year and noticed the school system and high school life in these two countries have significant differences and few similarities.

During their three years in high school, French students will study subjects similar to those surveyed in the US. These subjects help prepare French students for their final exams, called the French baccalaureate, which they take in their second and third years of high school. The French baccalaureate is necessary to enter university, similar to the SAT for US students. This exam is very intense and because of that, the French school day is long, as students start at 8 am and finish at 6 pm, however, there are several breaks during their school day. In general, French students also have more school vacations, as well as two weeks of a break after every six weeks of classes, unlike US students. In my opinion breaks during the day are very helpful but 6 pm is a very late time to finish the school day.

The lives of French and American high school students are very different, particularly in terms of the way they work, the way the school operates, and their rules. In France, there is a ban on the use of cell phones, tablets, and computers in the school unless authorized by a teacher for work purposes unlike in FHS, where students can access technology as needed. Therefore, French students use their lockers more due to the fact they have to use textbooks and school supplies during their school day. In my opinion, using an IPad as a work tool is much more convenient for teachers and students and more easily transportable.

Additionally in France, there is a stricter dress code that prohibits the wearing of jogging suits, jeans with holes in them, crop tops, extravagant makeup, and even religious symbols. In my opinion, high school in the United States allows these students much more freedom and autonomy, which is very positive for the proper development of adolescents into adulthood.

Transportation to and from school can also be different. French high school students usually take the school bus, which is not yellow, or they can walk. For those students who wish to, or have no other way to get home, they can sleep from Sunday to Thursday at the school’s boarding school. The bus and walking are the main transportation options for French kids because they start learning to drive at the age of 18, unlike 16 years of age in the US. I didn’t choose to go to boarding school because there is little separation between the school day and personal time.

In their free time, both French and American students can go to the bookstore to do their homework or read, or go to the study hall to work individually. They also have the option of going to a place called “le foyer” where they can relax by reading, watching television, playing foosball, or talking with friends. As a French student, I love going to « le foyer » because it allows for a time during a busy school day to rest my mind or get ahead on homework, so I can eat dinner and spend time with my family when I return home.

I highly recommend that anyone interested in the experience of living and studying abroad find out what programs are available and embark on this wonderful adventure to discover for yourself the differences and similarities with your country.