Honors student and Ambassador Stephen Todey is spending the summer in France working in a chemistry internship in a French university. In his time abroad, when he’s not enjoying French food he’s been musing on the differences between French and American universities:
Having been in Toulouse, France for a month now, the most interesting thing (as well as the most relevant to me) is the concept of a university. In the United States, our Alma Mater is important; it is something of which we want to be proud. This is manifested in sporting events. Thinking about a typical football game at Jack Trice, the vast majority of attendees are out of college, many of whom are former students of Iowa State. Because of this, there is a sense of community that comes from going to a certain university. As a student of Iowa State, I am automatically part of the Iowa State family. This is a “family” I have always been a part of though. I was born and raised in Ames, and my time in Toulouse is the first time I have left Ames for more than three weeks. My dad went to Iowa State for both his undergraduate and graduate degree, my oldest sister is currently getting her graduate degree at ISU, and my other sister just graduated with her undergraduate degree from ISU. Many of my cousins on my dad’s side attended or are attending ISU, and 4 of my dad’s siblings went to ISU. I used to be a Lil’ Clone Club member, which meant I would go to almost every football, men’s non-conference basketball and women’s basketball games. My dad’s entire family is an Iowa State Family, I am a member of the Iowa State family, and I always will be.
This was strengthened when I came to Iowa State in the fall of 2011 and lived in Harwood, the Honor’s Floor in Lyon Hall. It was a family within a family and served to strengthen my ties to Iowa State. I will always be a Harwoodian as well as an Iowa Stater. When I eventually have kids, I know I will bring them to VEISHEA (hopefully every year if I live close enough) as well as to at least one football game. Whether they like it or not, they will be forced to wear ISU clothing and will be strongly encouraged to attend a university other than Iowa.
This sentiment does not exist in France. I currently am a student at the University of Toulouse. I did not realize this until I arrived in France and received my student ID card and noticed that it said “University of Toulouse” on the back, in French of course. My internship is through INP, which translates to the National Polytechnique Institute. However, within this, the “campus” I go to is called ENSIACET, which is the chemistry and chemical engineering part of INP. What is interesting, though, is the University of Toulouse has over 100,000 students, yet no one says they go to the University of Toulouse. I live on the campus of Université Paul Sabatier, which is a part of the University of Toulouse, but when I was being shown around by a student, one of the first things the student said to me was “we don’t belong here, this isn’t us.” He also attends INP-ENSIACET. The closest thing I can think of to compare it to in the US is imagining that ISU was 3 times the size it currently is. Then every department is its own “university” or has its own name. Except some “departments” offer multiple majors. I won’t pretend that this is correct at all, but it is the most sense I can make out of the university system here.
Another interesting observation I have made is that there no one wears clothing with University of Toulouse or INP or ENSIACET on it. I saw one shirt a week and a half ago that had something to do with the university, but compared to ISU and US universities where approximately 100% of students will wear a piece of clothing with their university’s name on it at least once a week (if not every day), this is quite unusual to me. The most shocking thing though is the lack of community in the university. There is no University of Toulouse family. My general sense so far is that you try to get into the best university you can, you get your degree, and then you’re gone. While ENSIACET may have some community to it, it is small compared to that of ISU. It is odd to me that there isn’t more of a community feel at ENSIACET because it is almost like attending high school again. The labs and classes all take place in one giant building, and though the cafeteria is separate, majority of students and faculty eat there every day.
These observations are perhaps the most important part of my internship. Though I am here to learn chemistry, I believe it is the experience of living in another culture and learning their views that will stick with me the longest.