December 14, noon, I’m done with my last final, and starting a 4-week long break. A month! That’s long, I thought, when I saw the academic calendar at the beginning of the semester. In my home country, France, most universities, as well as lower education schools, have a 2-week-long Christmas break. It is long enough to include both Christmas and New Year’s Eve, but short enough so that your work rhythm isn’t broken by a month of nothingness (in terms of studying). In some institutions, such as Blaise Pascal University, where I spent my first year of college, they spoil everything by putting the finals after the break. So you spend your pseudo-vacations studying. In others, they are considerate enough to have the finals before.
4 weeks. Well, I’m not complaining. It is, after all, rather nice to have a long break. It gives enough time to travel far and adventurously, or even both to see your family and your friends, and to travel to new destinations. Still, I would have liked it better to have a one-week break within the semester, and a three-week winter break. This is how we do it in France, we spread the breaks over the year, which I believe makes more sense. Smaller breaks still give you enough time to have fun. And more frequent breaks mean you get time to rest between your papers, readings, and other school assignments, so you’re more motivated and productive when you start again, anew and afresh!
So 4 weeks. What am I going to do? Let’s go to Argentina! Look up the airfare… oh no no no, too expensive. Uhm, where else could I go? The American Virgin Islands, it shouldn’t be too pricey… 700 dollars for a flight. Too expensive. So I look up airfares for all the other territories of the US and France, and the UK too. Well basically, close destinations where I won’t catch rabies, where I won’t need a VISA, and where I can travel for a reasonable price. I found none.
So I thought of going back to France to see my parents before I undertake grad school in the US and don’t see them for at least another year. Forget it, the airfare to France is even more unaffordable. Makes sense.
So instead, I decided to be reasonable. 4 weeks. That’s a lot of time. And I have a lot of applications to work on. Applications for grad schools of education. Applications for financial aid. Applications for more financial aid. And letters to write to all the Rotary clubs, and the Lions clubs, and the Alliances Françaises, and the consulates, and the Teachers of French Associations, and all the other affluent organizations that might want to give money to a teacher-to-be —just picture me digitally begging in the streets of the cyberspace, with a sign reading “Future poor grad school student, need $35,000 to get out of misery, even a penny will help, God Bless You!”
The essence of what I did over my break —sleep, work on University of Oregon application, eat, work on NYU application, breathe, work on scholarship application, use the bathroom, write a letter for financial aid, have a cup of tea, study for my grad school tests, sleep— resides in two fundamental differences between French and American universities: 1) tuition fees. In France, in most schools, tuition costs less than 200 euros (260 dollars) per year, and this can even be waived for lower-income families. In the US, well, you know, it’s almost 40,000 dollars for a year at Willamette. 2) Admission. In France, if you graduate from high school, you are allowed to go to any college you want to go to, and in any fields. After college, most people apply to a master’s program, and it is fairly easy to get in the one you want if you are a good student, and depending on the field. I speak mainly for humanities, which is what I study.
So at this point, you’re probably thinking, well, why does he even want to come to the United States to study then? Well, the thing is that our universities, in the humanities, are not as good as yours —according to me. And also, I actually think admitting all students is a huge mistake. As for tuition… well, I agree, super low tuition like in France is rockingly better!
Anyway, I want to study in the United States. So I spent my break working on my grad school applications, trying to make them perfect in all ways, especially the University of Oregon’s application, because this is where I really want to go. And since I have to accept that tuition is enormous in the United States, well I did it the American way, worked my break away on financial aid applications as well. All in all, the only true break I had, my break from my break, was a week spent with my beloved in Denver. It was a relief…
So, 4 weeks. In the end, it wasn’t that long, considering all the things I had to do. In fact, it was almost too short. So why did I tell you this story, when you guys are yourself busy applying to the Harvard business school or the music section of Berkeley and don’t fu**ing care about my own applications? Well, simply to show you that different countries have different systems. Those different systems entail different concerns, different uses of your time. Different lengths of the academic breaks, but different ways to spend the breaks. This year, I guess I spent my winter break the way most American juniors and seniors spent at least part of it, applying to schools and scholarships 🙂