School in France v.s school in America

School in France v.s school in America

Jeanne Hecquet

   The cold darkness of the morning faded away as the radiant lights of the bus approached. As the bus screeched to a stop, herds of people filed into the bus. The two sliding doors closed behind me. Taking my spot amongst the masses, I put in my earbuds and prepared myself for the day. A sliver of orange highlighted the French horizon in the window beside me. 

   In America, an alarm sound blasts into my ear as I reluctantly roll out of bed and grab the first pair of clothes I can find. Instead of taking the famous “American yellow bus,” my host brother, Grafton, waits outside to drive us in his black suburban.

   In France, my mom is my natural alarm, more pleasant than the sound of a real one. I don’t have a lot of time in the morning, so I grab a quick breakfast and run to catch the 7:30am bus. On the bus, I sit next to my best friend as we listen to our favorite songs for 30 minutes, trying not to think about the taxing school day ahead . 

   My host siblings and I find a spot in the vast high school parking lot. Car brakes screech as students drive recklessly through the parking lot to get to school on time. When I enter the school, the clock in the hallway displays 7:30 am, but I am still half asleep. I rub my tired eyes and linger in the cafeteria with my airpods until the bell rings. Around me, a thousand students pour into the building, meeting up with their friends and heading to their first hour. 

   All the students gather in front of the high school. I joined my friends and laid against the blue metal guard fence. Usually, we stay about 15 to 20 minutes talking about our lives, homework, and plans for the weekend before school. At 8:35 am, my first hour begins. 

  As I walk into my classroom, loud conversations between students fill the room. As soon as our teacher enters, we rush to our desks. In complete silence, we stand and wait for our teacher to say “you may sit.” 

   At the end of my first hour, I rush to the North building and find my second hour classroom in the labyrinth of West Ottawa High School. When I get to class, every student pulls out their chromebook instead of taking out notebooks or pencils like I am used to. I feel as though I am studying in a futuristic high school where students are allowed to bring their phones wherever they want. Here, I feel that people spend more time on screens instead of talking to each other. 

   Unlike American students who are used to rushing all the time, French students like to take their time in school, too much time in my opinion. In France we don’t have to walk between buildings, the teachers change classes for us. We have the same classroom all year with the same people, so I get to know everyone in my class and grow up with them. 

   French people are very talkative, and we have lots of time to socialize during our school day. During the day, we have two 20 minutes breaks and a long lunch break. Lunchtime is my favorite part of the day because I am able to spend time with my friends. The amount of time students get depends on their schedule. Students may have an hour and a half for lunch, two and a half hours, or even three and a half hours of lunch time. 

   Most of the time, lunch is at 12:30 pm and students have a lot of options of where they can go to eat. The cafeteria (which is not very tasty), the mall (which is close to the school and has a lot of options), or someone’s house. Sometimes if the weather is sunny everyone brings their lunch and speakers to the public park so we can all eat together outside.

   In America, lunch is only 25 minutes, a large contrast from long French lunches. In France we call this the “fast life” of the American culture. Unlike the French cafeteria, the American cafeteria offers a wide choice of foods. From Mexican tacos, to Italian pizzas and pastas, and American burgers and fries. In France, we call this the “American Dream Cafeteria” even though the options are mostly junk food. 

   At 2:00 pm, my school day is far from being over, in fact I still have four classes left until the end of the day. The school day is very taxing in France. We are required to be focused for eight hours a day, write countless pages of notes, stay seated and quiet, and listen to the teacher who will talk for two hours straight. In France, we call this the “Academic System,” as student, you are expected to sit, listen, write and occasionally ask questions

   The school bell rings at 2:43 pm, signaling the end of the school day. That was unusual for me and really unsettling at first. I asked myself,  “How am I going to figure out how to occupy all my afternoons during a whole year?” This freedom was unusual and strange; I didn’t know what to do with myself.

   But quickly, I started to like this freedom and learned that I could use my time for activities other than homework. I realized I had multiple options that could fill my afternoon. I could play tennis, hang out with some friends, or just chill at home. Relaxing at home after school was something I was never able to do in France.

   At 6:00 pm in France, I finally have no more classes! However, my day is far from over, and I have tons of homework. Luckily, I have athletics practice at 7:00 pm to decompress from school and give my brain a break before starting my mountain of homework. After practice, my phone displays 9:00 pm next to a low battery notification. I am exhausted, but I still have to take the bus home and study for my tests for the next day. I get home, take a shower, eat dinner, and study. Normally, I am not able to go to bed until 11:00 pm or 12:00 pm, if I work quickly.

   The “sport spirit” in America is something that I always dreamed of. Three seasons, with more than ten sports and opportunities to practice throughout the year is something unimaginable in France.

   I was very surprised how many people were involved in sports in high school. As soon as the school day is done, American students practice up to two hours for their sports. They also have a variety of after school clubs, more than students in France could imagine. In West Ottawa, there is a cooking club, a drama club, a women’ rights club, and even a French club. After school activities are rare in France because we believe that to be successful, students must work, work, and work to always continue improving their grades. 

   Overall, France and the United States are totally opposite. On one side you have a short school day, very fast and with little time to socialize but a very impressive variety of sports and activities during the day that improve the well-being of the students. On the other side you have a very “academic system” with very long and tiring school days. But with a lot more breaks and relaxation time during the school day, with an emphasis on social life and interactions between the students. 

   Both of these systems have their pros and cons, and I think both systems could improve aspects of their systems by sharing and comparing with each other to further help students reach success and improve their well-being.