Newsletter 13: support for international students at ParisTech
Interview with Charlotte Audéoud, Head of the international student welcome programme run by the Student Union at ESPCI Paris – PSL and Gustavo de Lima Olivo, brazilian student on a double degree programme with AgroParisTech and the University of São Paulo
You’re in charge of the international student welcome programme run by the Student Union at ESPCI Paris – PSL. What does that involve?
CA : When international students arrive in France, I help them with their paperwork and admin and invite them to attend a training session about studying at ESPCI – and at ParisTech in general – because the system is usually quite different to that of their home university. These aspects are often a source of stress for international students. I also manage our induction programme, which helps make the students feel welcome. We organise events like dinners, film nights and sightseeing trips around Paris. I also share information from the Facebook group for each intake, because there’s a lot of information and it’s easy to miss things. I try to highlight the most important events so students can attend those. Lastly, I run a buddy scheme whereby I match international students with one of our French students, so they have someone to reach out to as soon as they arrive. Overall, one of my most important tasks is to listen and build friendships with our international students.
What support did you receive when joining AgroParisTech?
GLO : The school’s support staff helped me find accommodation and deal with all the paperwork.That made coming to France much easier! I also did a training course on intercultural communication to learn about cultural codes in France. Then it was time to join the school and meet the other students. When I arrived, like other international students, I was assisted by AgroParisTech’s student welcome association. They pair up international students with French second-year student volunteers to show us around the city, familiarise us with France and its education system, and organise outings. The academic staff at the school also help make sure international students feel welcome, for example by getting the French students to include us in their working groups.
What does your school do to help international students settle in, and what do you think could be improved?
CA: The school offers conversation classes to give international students the chance to talk with French students, who can correct their mistakes. They already do a French as a foreign language class, which covers grammar, verb conjugations, tenses and so on. But often what they really need is to be able to talk about day-today situations, and have someone correct any minor slips. The school also offers extra academic tutoring in some subjects, allowing students to go over certain maths or physics topics more slowly, in a small-group setting. As well as having a student buddy from the school, it would be great if international students could be matched up with a lecturer or researcher or even a former student who could offer more practical help, for instance with administrative procedures.
How do you feel about your induction experience?
GLO : The administrative and academic aspects were all handled relatively well. However, not all French students are aware of the needs of international students. Many don’t realise the challenges involved in coming to France, speaking a new language, learning how a different education system works and so on. It would be a good idea for French students to do some training to learn more about the other cultures represented in the student community. It would help us understand one another better. I was lucky as I had a buddy who really supported me, but I know it wasn’t the same for everyone. Out of around ten students who took part in the buddy scheme, only two or three felt their buddies really helped them settle in. I think clearer rules need to be drawn up for the buddy scheme, and that the student volunteers need to be made more aware of what international students need. The AgroParisTech student welcome association is made up solely of French students, which sometimes makes it hard for them to understand the needs of international students. We’re already talking to them about that.
In your opinion, what makes for a successful induction experience?
CA : Everyone involved has to be prepared as best possible. In terms of student life, our French students don’t always understand how best to welcome international students, so that’s one point we definitely need to think about. Our French students can make a real difference in helping international students settle in and feel welcome. It’s an opportunity for students to build true, long-lasting friendships too. Those in charge of student welcome activities also need to be attentive. Cultural codes differ greatly between countries. By talking to Brazilian and Colombian students about student nights, I learned that in those cultures it’s normal to have to insist when inviting someone to an event. You need to ask them more than once and remind them several times, including the day before. If you don’t, they may assume it wasn’t a genuine invitation. Chinese students on the other hand tend not to enjoy big student parties. They prefer sit-down dinners. We have to adapt our communication techniques to the culture of the students we’re trying to reach. We need more people on-board so we can organise more events focused on different cultures, so that international students have somewhere to talk about their experiences. The clubs at Chimie ParisTech – PSL and AgroParisTech are a good source of inspiration.