By Clara Weber
Clara did her first semester in Groningen before attending the University of Strasbourg in the second semester. She just arrived in Osaka, Japan, for her research track. In the following article, she describes the academic lifestyle in Strasbourg, based on her and other Euroculture students’ experiences.
Strasbourg is a very vibrant student city with over 55.000 students, 20 percent of whom are coming from foreign countries. Situated at the historically symbolic French-German border, it hosts several European institutions and organisations. The Université de Strasbourg was first founded in 1621 and it emerges among Europe’s foremost research universities. What does studying in Strasbourg look like? To give Euroculture students an idea of what they can expect from academic life in France, this article concentrates on the teaching style, the courses offered for Euroculture students and the studying culture at the university in Strasbourg.
Studying in Strasbourg without any knowledge of French?
Although the French system has the reputation of establishing a separation between teachers and students and being close to a ‘strict school system’, the Euroculture environment has been experienced by the students as ‘a more relaxed hierarchical structure,’ based on dialogue, group work and intellectual exchange. The diploma aims at combining the search for discipline and clarity coming from the « French » side, and the desire to promote student involvement characteristics for neighbouring countries such as Germany and Switzerland.
As per the experience of former Euroculture students, life at university could be a little bit more challenging for those who do not speak French: the university library system has a large database in French only, and most classes outside of the Euroculture programme that Euroculture students could attend are in French as well. Even though the teaching staff and university personnel are very friendly, getting around at the university to look for a book in the library, getting a new student card or joining a language class can be challenging without any knowledge of French. It is possible to manage everything in English, but with an A2 level it is definitely easier to get around in the university environment, and for the local environment a B1 or B2 level is very helpful. Learning French is indeed quite an effort but as a little extra study motivation and introduction to academic life, it is important to mention that it is possible to visit the Council of Europe and attend hearings from the European Court of Human Rights or public speeches in European institutions.
The academic content from all the semesters offered in Strasbourg
Disclaimer: This article is based on former students’ experience and not the official schedule given by the university in Strasbourg. Therefore, there is no guarantee that the courses described below will also be offered to the students in the following years. This article is not aiming at giving a detailed description of the courses future students can expect when selecting the university Strasbourg, but rather to share the experiences of former students and to give a broad overview of what type of study can be expected for future students.
Euroculture in Strasbourg is hosted by the Faculté des Langues (Faculty of Languages and Social Sciences). All courses are mandatory, and it is not possible to select specific courses, since the timetable is completely organised by the university’s Euroculture programme. The organisation of the available courses has been described by former students as ‘rather chaotic’ since the timetable and the workload can change a lot throughout the semester. As experienced by Euroculture students, this can make it difficult to organise regular activities like sports classes or extracurricular courses next to the programme. All classes are in English and for Euroculture students only. This allows for group work and interesting discussions, but also makes it more difficult to get in touch with French students.
In their first semester, Euroculture students get an overview of Euroculture-related topics and attend all of the following courses:
- European Integration (10 ECTS)
- History, institutions and policies of the EU
- Understanding human rights in the European context
- Fascisms. European history, current challenges
- European Cultural History (10 ECTS)
- The impact of the Strasbourg Organs in Europe
- Minorities, immigrants and cinema
- European cultural history
- Eurocompetence I (5 ECTS)
- One of two elective courses (5 ECTS): “Paris, capital of Europe” or “The EU and the world economy”
In the second semester, the Euroculture programme in Strasbourg focuses on the institutions of European integration, most notably the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights, and the European Parliament. Further, students learn about transnational cultural cooperation, shared cultural heritage and cultural studies, including human and minority rights. Normally, the semester in Strasbourg starts at the beginning of February and ends with an exam period beginning in June.
Note: the exact dates and whether this also applies in the future have to be discussed with the staff at the university Strasbourg itself.
The courses offered can differ a little for each semester, but a general overview can be found here. Former Euroculture students experienced that the workload of the first two months of the semester is ‘more relaxed,’ whereas most of the assignments and workload take place in the last two months (keep that in mind when organising your weekend trips! 😊). A bonus and great occasion for travelling is one week of winter holidays in the middle of February and one week of spring holidays in the middle of April. Euroculture students usually have 1-3 classes per day (2-3h per class), 3-5 days a week, however, the timetable can change quite a lot throughout the semesters. One of the reasons for this might be that the classes held by several teachers are not offered regularly but depend on the individual availability of the teachers. The courses offered in semester II in 2021/22 were:
- Research Seminars: 10 ECTS (split between three classes)
- Old and New Minorities in contemporary Europe: The class explores concepts like minorities, migrants, racism and discrimination. The focus is on nationalism and minorities, international instruments for the protection of minorities, religious minorities, transnational communities, new minorities as a new concept for a European identity, Muslim minorities in Europe and Racism Theories. Students write a research paper in pairs and present their work in class.
- The Legal Culture of the European Court of Human Rights – Understanding Human Rights in the European Context (Academics as well as experts from EU institutions and committees take part in the teaching): In this class, Euroculture students learn the main concepts and principles of Human Rights law, and get an insight into how judgments are written at the ECtHR from an application to a final judgement. A special focus lies on the Conflict of Rights and the European Protection of Human Rights, as well as on the Right to Life and the Prohibition of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. The course is taught by three different professors and each class includes preparatory reading material. The exam takes place at the end of the semester: students analyse three questions that treat Human Rights issues.
- Religions in Europe: In this course, students analyse the minority concept from three scientific perspectives: Sociology, Law, and Political science. Different aspects of Religions in Europe are discussed from historical and sociological perspectives, and at the end of the semester, each student writes a research paper with a teacher of his/her choice and is also free to choose the topic.
- Methodology: 10 ECTS
- Methodology Seminars and IP preparation: Different Methods, Qualitative and Quantitative Methods and Discourse Analysis: This class provides students with detailed information about different research methods and prepares them for the IP and writing the IP paper. Throughout the whole semester, students get feedback and support for their papers.
- Against Eurocentrism: Decentring Europe: Students acquire conceptual and theoretical knowledge in the domain of critiques of Eurocentrism and deconstructions of Europe. The focus lies on decolonization, human development, and alternative perspectives on modernity and Europe. For each class, students have to prepare readings with questions which are later discussed in class. The exam consists either of a research paper or a take-home essay. This is one of the favourite courses of former Euroculture students! 😊
- Eurocompetence II: Project management: Cultural project and communication (5 ECTS): Eurocompetence II concentrates on project Management and working in a multicultural team. In two groups students will work together to come up with an idea for a realistic project and, under the guidance of the tutors, manage on their own the conception, organization and implementation of their projects. A big plus is that Strasbourg is one of the few Euroculture cities where the students implement their projects instead of only planning them.
- Intensive Programme (5 ECTS): Summer School at one of the eight partner universities
- Optionally, students can take language classes, especially French as a Foreign Language (Niveau A1 or A2/B1, once per week). Moreover, the university offers an intensive French Crash Course before the start of the semester, or language classes without validation or ECTS.
The third semester is a research track and therefore students only have one class: Academic Writing. Besides that, they have individual work with a researcher, and the class and the researcher-student collaboration count together as 30 ECTS. To organise the research project, students have to write a proposal before the start of the semester and try to find a professor with whom to work on the project.
In the fourth and final semester, Euroculture students write their Master’s thesis (25 ECTS). Finding a supervisor for a thesis written in English can be a bit challenging, but luckily students get the support of the coordinator of Strasbourg’s Euroculture programme, currently Valentin Haumesser. As with all students of French universities, an oral defence of the thesis will be required. To support students in this process, the Eurocompetence III (5 ECTS) course takes place once per week. Two professors each cover one of the following two topics: Writing a Professional Project and Writing of a Research Project.
Even though a semester in France without any knowledge of French can be challenging, this should not stop you from choosing Strasbourg for its academic lifestyle! Former Euroculture students described the courses as ‘highly interesting and thought-provoking,’ the professors as ‘super friendly and supportive,’ and that they expect future students to have ‘an amazing time if you chose Strasbourg’ during the Euroculture programme.
Picture Credits: Author and Pokaa
One thought on “Academic Culture in the Heart of the European Union: Studying in Strasbourg”
Thank for sharing this article.