Clémentine Brunet – a French exchange student in her second semester at UW-Madison and current French House resident – is a Marseille native pursuing a master’s degree at Sciences Po-Aix in Aix-en-Provence, France.
Can you describe Sciences Po, since most Americans are likely are unfamiliar with it?
It’s one of the “Grandes Ecoles” (literally, the “Grand Schools”) of France and it’s a political science school but we also study history, languages, economy, and more. We study everything initially and then we specialize in our fourth year. In our third year, we all have to go abroad, so you can spend either one year at a foreign university or one semester doing an internship. Sciences Po-Aix is pretty small as compared to an American school; there are about 1,000 students in one small building, and you have to pass a competitive exam to get in. For example, 8,000 students took the test with me and there are only about 1,200 spots. We also have student associations, clubs, and parties every week! We love our school and we love our colors (which are gold and red)!
What types of professional opportunities will you be looking for upon graduation?
I want to be a judge. But since I came to the US, I don’t know if I really want to do a job where I have to stay in one place. Maybe I want a job where I can travel and don’t have to stay in France. I’m unsure! I want to do something to help people and I think you can actually help people by being a judge. And in France, you have to change what kind of judge you are every 10 years, so it’s not always the same for 40 years. That’s another thing I like about it.
In your opinion, what’s one thing UW-Madison could learn from Sciences Po? One thing Sciences Po could learn from UW-Madison?
I would say something that Science Po could learn is how to be closer to students. [At UW-Madison] you have office hours, you can meet professors, professors are there for you, trying to help you and not just coming and giving lectures and that’s it. And the other way around, I would say maybe less homework [at UW-Madison]! Laughs. If I have to be honest. It’s a different system, so it’s hard. I only have 12 hours of classes here but with homework it’s double the time. In France you have maybe 30 hours of class a week and I maybe do between 4 and 8 hours of personal homework each week.
One thing that sticks out in my memory about my time at Sciences Po-Aix are the oral exams – which were terrifying! In what way do you think student expectations and responsibilities differ in the US and in France?
I feel like they guide you more here in the US. You’re never alone if you need something; you can go to the writing center, for example, or office hours. Here they give you a prompt in advance and in France they give you a question and you do it and you have your grade. They treat you more like an adult in France. They help you less and it’s harder to get good grades. I’m not sure France has the money to offer the same services as in the US. I’m glad that we don’t pay the same tuition though! I remember the first time I came here and visited the campus, I saw Apple computers everywhere and thought that’s where all the money goes. Maybe you could pay less if you expect to have a little bit less.
Do you have a favorite class you’re currently taking or have taken at UW?
I would say my favorite class that I took was Introduction to African American History because I actually learned about US history and discovered a lot. In France, when you learn about US history, it’s more like you guys helped us in WWI and WWII and even if we try to be independent, like under Charles De Gaulle, we’re still really close to the US. I learned a lot and I understand way more what’s happening now in the news because of what happened earlier in history. The professor was really good and really passionate. And that’s also something you miss in France sometimes. There, they don’t have to convince students to come to classes, whereas here you actually select which classes you take. Here you can rate professors. In France you don’t have a choice.
What’s one new word or phrase you’ve picked up since you’ve been here?
“Low key.” My roommates taught me that!
How would you translate it into French?
I know what it means, but we don’t have a word to translate it!
I’ve heard that you are a part of “BRIDGE”? Can you talk about your experience?
BRIDGE (Building Relationships in Diverse Global Environments) is an association that partners American and international students. And you’re also in a team and you can do stuff together as a team. We had events like going to Devil’s Lake together, karaoke night, bowling, prom, and then you can do your own things with your partner. I saw my team pretty much every week or every couple of weeks and we hung out and went out to the bars – we were the over-21 team! – which is also part of Wisconsin culture. I met a lot of people from a lot of different countries, from China and South Korea and even Europe.
Since you’re from Marseille, do you want to weigh in on the debate about “le savon pur” (pure Marseille soap)?
I think there’s only one place to actually get pure Marseille soap. If you buy it on “le Vieux Port” (the Old Port) it’s not the real “savon de Marseille”. It’s like bouillabaisse. None of them are actually home made, you just have to know where to go. Every time I have friends who visit, I tell them where to go. Same with “Calissons” from Aix and with champagne. Some might call it real, but it’s not! But I don’t want to upset people, so usually I don’t say anything!
Anything you’re missing from home?
Raclette. A true Raclette. We had one here but it’s not the same. With my friends back in Aix, we’re like, when we do our next party we have to do our Raclette, even if it’s in July. We don’t care we just need it! It was our thing, we’d have a Raclette and crêpe party pretty much every week during winter.