5 Common French Language Mistakes to Avoid

By: Andrea Bouchaud

Speaking French while studying abroad in Paris is more than important; it’s critical. Your ability to speak French will take you very far in terms of academic, social and immersion success. In order to maximize your French speaking success, there are a couple of language blunders that you need to avoid. Follow me to Student Universe where I break down the top 5 Common French Language Mistakes to Avoid.


Thanksgiving: A Day That Never Existed

By: Andrea Bouchaud

Well… in France, I mean. The French are always fascinated by le thanksgiving (pronounced le ‘tanks’giving in a French accent). It is a day that has such a huge historical and cultural significance in the United States but they don’t know why. In speaking with French friends of similar age, I found out that early American history is not taught to French students. A recent conversation with a young French person confirmed the mystery surrounding this day when he said he thought Thanksgiving was the word Americans used for Christmas Eve!

As born and bred Americans, we can be unaccustomed to someone not knowing the history and current traditions of Thanksgiving because we know it so well. It’s important to remember that it is unique to us and our history. When I studied abroad in Paris, my program director tried to make the American students feel at home by having a potluck Thanksgiving dinner at her house. It was a very nice thought but all the details weren’t exactly right. The American students brought things like cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and stuffing. Don’t get me wrong the turkey and food was good… but it wasn’t the same.

Maybe it tasted different because there was no significance to the meal. It was a normal Thursday in late November in France and not a day  when 2 different peoples came to together in peace to share a bountiful feast, if only temporarily. There were no turkey and pilgrim decorations in every store; no commercials on TV to announce up coming sales; no big parades; no palpable holiday cheer in the air. Thanksgiving is a day that never existed in France. It’s a weird feeling to be somewhere in the world on day that has held cultural meaning to you all your life and now means nothing to those around you. Fascinate your French classmates and friends by explaining to them the history of Thanksgiving up to current traditions of eating, sleeping, watching football games and then getting ready to shop at midnight for Black Friday. They will be amazed and will help you recognize your cultural tradition in the process.

If you’re studying abroad today, I hope that a little Thanksgiving finds its way towards you.


The Divine Code

By: Andrea Bouchaud

With a title like that, of course I am referring to something biblical, right? Wrong. The French collegiate grading system is completely different than its American counterpart. Do not fear! Your study abroad program is well aware of this (refer to below photo) and they will work with you to ensure that you receive a grade that accurately reflects your intelligence and academic capabilities. Now let’s find out more about this divine code.

The divine code describes the French grading system. The French grading system is based on a system of twenty possible earned points, not one hundred. One would think that the maximum grade one can is earn is a 20/20; however this is not correct. My first day of class at the Sorbonne which really was not the first day of class for me is when I found out this information. Another American student advised me that the French grading system goes as follows: 20 is reserved for God, 19 for professors. This little vignette did not really make sense until a few days later when I was on the metro and saw an advertisement for a tutoring company. The ad showed a young man posing with a skeleton and holding a report card, a big smile on his face. He was tutored for a biology class, hence, the skeleton. The report card showed a 14,5/20 (the French use commas where we use decimal points). If you calculate that grade to the American equivalency, it means he earned a 73 in the American system. This grade is not something that would merit pride, but this boy was smiling- obviously elated that he was able to raise his grade in biology. It was at that moment that I realized that the theoretical grading system started at 20 but the “real” system that everyone bases the weight of their grade is 15.

When you are in France, it is important that you are not aiming for the highest possible grade in the grading system. It is nearly impossible to earn any grade above 15. Do not let this discourage you or encourage you to slack off. 15s are not given away like candy and they do have to be earned. Do your best and when you are struggling, reach out to French students in your class, your French professor and your Parisian program director for help.




5 Things to Avoid When Choosing a Study Abroad Program

By: Andrea Bouchaud

Studying abroad is more than an experience. It’s another investment in your future. You have to think about your major and career needs and goals; not just the adventure. It’s important to choose the right study abroad program or it could cost you more in the long run. Let’s take a look at 5 Things to Avoid When Choosing a Study Abroad Program

  • Thinking only about the experience. According to a 2013 study from the British Council Education Intelligence, American students tend to choose study abroad programs/locations based on fun and cultural experience and not how the program’s courses and experience will impact their major and their future career goals. When looking at study abroad programs, be sure to think about how studying abroad will meet your major and career needs and goals, not the experience you’ll have abroad, to get the best return possible from this investment in your future.
  • Choosing a program based only on your financial situation. Studying abroad can be expensive. However, there are ways to fund it and offset costs such as fundraising websites like or, using student loans and possibly working abroad. Don’t choose a program that’s not right for your career goals and major needs because it costs less. If the cheaper program does not help your career/major, you will pay more in the long run by staying in school longer and not getting that good paying job.
  • Selecting a country only because it speaks your language. Everyone is more comfortable speaking their native language. Not having to adjust to a foreign language while transitioning to life abroad can save a lot of headaches. However, don’t choose a program simply because it’s in a country that speaks your same language. If the program that will benefit you most is in a non-English speaking land, you can linguistically prepare by taking classes and you’ll impress future employers with being bilingual.
  • Picking the right country and program. Some students have a preferred country that they want to study abroad in. Sometimes the best choice is not the preferred one. For example, China study abroad programs might be best for business but not fashion design. If your major is fashion design, you need to realize that having studied abroad in Hong Kong is not going to impress future employers in your industry. A program in Paris or Milan would be better as these are fashion capitols known for their fashion/art programs.
  • Signing up for the same study abroad program as your friends. Transitioning to a new culture, language and college system can be tough so it’s natural to want to study abroad with friends. If your friends are not the same major and don’t have the same career goals, their program may not be best for you. You can overcome homesickness and loneliness by keeping in contact with friends via Skype, email, text and visits if they are studying abroad in a nearby country.

 Choosing the right study abroad program is equivalent to choosing the right college and major  for you. Make sure to thoroughly investigate the program to ensure that it will benefit you, your major requirements and your future career. Most importantly, be sure to avoid the 5 things below when choosing your study abroad program to help you succeed in this experience.