While living here in Paris, I find myself often discussing – with both other foreigners and French people – the complexity and frustrations with the highly structured systems that exist in France. More specifically, with the education and work systems, and most importantly, their crossover. Although I tend to look at The United States with a critical eye, I’ve always appreciated the flexibility and value placed on creativity and individual choice. I think that these cultural values manifest themselves within our education system. For example, even at the high school level students have a choice of electives, sports, clubs, etc. Then further, at the university level, with the plethora of degree programs – even within themselves having course choice options. Then after studies, the idea that your degree doesn’t have to correspond precisely to your work field(s), because it’s important to have a diversity of individuals within a team who can each offer a unique perspective/input.
I think that this conception of flexibility and ‘interdisciplinarity’ in degree and field of work shows how our culture emphasizes the importance of looking at the entire history of an individual in a broad, yet critical sense. While preparing my masters applications for French universities, and speaking with people already working here, I get the impression that this same flexibility isn’t as prevalent. For example, having changed courses of study, or having studied multiple subjects, is often considered as a lack of focus, or making a wrong decision. Further, it can be hard to integrate into a new field of study, since even at the high school level, the final diploma has a specialized mention. Even more difficult is to change career fields. This also puts a lot of pressure on students at a young age to commit to a specific sector, when later they may come to realize that they are better suited for another domain, yet cannot necessarily go back to get the appropriate training.
While there are certainly French universities and French companies that break beyond these severely structured systems that seek formulated, specific, and similar individuals for program/career placements, it doesn’t appear to be the norm. There are several universities that appear to actively seek international students, and in these cases, I think they represent a more modern, creative, and flexible system than the ‘old French education system.’ This idea also makes me wonder how globalization – both within education and work – will impact the French systems. My prediction is that it will slowly alter France to become more open and malleable, to the benefit of both native French and foreigners. After all, how can we know what we want to do or who we want to be without having a variety of experiences – educationally, professionally, and personally? Maybe it is because I’ve gone down paths in all sorts of directions, but without having done that, I think I would be lost.