University News

Strikes disrupted studies in France but not students’ return to campus

By
Senior Staff Writer
Sunday, October 4, 2009

Coming back to Brown after studying abroad usually means a return to more homework and a rekindled love for the Rock.

But for those returning from a spring semester in France, it also means a return to a stable class schedule free from student-led strikes.

At several universities in Paris and Lyon, student protests fueled by unpopular government reforms regarding the standardization of European university degrees under the Bologna process disrupted more than half the semester.

The disruptions left universities with the challenge of salvaging the semester for their local students, said Annie Wiart, last year’s director of the Brown in France program. This included canceling spring break, lengthening class hours and extending the semester into the summer.

The Brown in France program took measures to ensure that Brown students would be able to return with a full semester’s worth of credit. In Paris, the program organizers put together four courses — taught by French professors — for Brown students only. In one-on-one meetings, the program strongly encouraged students to take advantage of these courses, Wiart said.

Some students who wanted to be certain they would receive sufficient class credit took three of these Brown-organized courses. But others tried their luck at French universities, remaining enrolled in courses there. Most students ended up taking at least one of the Brown-offered courses, Wiart said.

“Nobody wanted to take the risk” of ending up with too few credits, Wiart said.
“Students who wanted to get a full load certainly had the opportunity,” said Kendall Brostuen, director of International Programs. The majority of students received the equivalent of four Brown credits for the semester, he said.

Brostuen acknowledged that creating separate courses was “not a perfect system.” Some students were disappointed they had to take courses with other Brown students instead of with French students.

But there were advantages. The courses offered by Brown in France were smaller and more intimate than typical French university classes, Wiart said, giving students more access to their professors. They could also go on field trips — to the Louvre and other museums, for instance — that would not have been included in university classes.

Meredith Weaver ’10 studied at Universite de Lyon II and Sciences-Po, where strikes ended after Easter. She took three of the Brown program courses offered in Lyon. That way, if French university classes didn’t re-start, she would still get credit during her time abroad, she said.

Once classes resumed at the universities, Weaver ended up being able to take some of the courses she had originally signed up for. That left seven courses for Weaver, who said she was “relieved” to be in classes despite the increased workload.

It was also a lot of work for the universities themselves — schools had to make up at least 80 percent of the class time missed by extending class hours and doing away with spring break, Weaver said.

Though Weaver was frustrated by the uncertainty the strikes brought, she said she now appreciates her unique experience in France.

Last semester’s protests have not affected this year’s application numbers for Brown in  France, Wiart said.

“France is a destination,” Brostuen said.