The French words international students in France need to know

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The French words international students in France need to know
Students in a classroom at Paris I Pantheon-Sorbonne University in Paris. Photo: AFP

Studying abroad can be a challenge, and in France it's not made easier by the multitude of administrative terms swarming academic life. As universities reopen, we have made a language survival guide to help you navigate the new semester.


Seeing as this year's rentrée universitaire (university semester start) is so different due to Covid-19 health conditions, it's almost comforting to know that some things remain the same, like the French language laying out a cobweb of traps and challenges foreigners must overcome.

This is especially true in academic life, which is rife with administrative terms that will make you dizzy just by looking at them.

Here's a selected list of some of the most common ones and what they mean.

Pré-rentrée: Before the real rentrée (the day universities reopen), there is a pre-rentrée, an orientation week where students get information about the new year. This usually consists of presentations where faculty staff explain administrative procedures. Sometimes you get to meet your teacher, some universities organise group tours around campus. Usually student organisations take part too. Some universities hold special pre-rentrées for international students, but not all of them, so you may have to sit through some presentations in French.

READ ALSO: Why la rentrée means so much more in France that a new school year

Dossier d’inscription: This is the file that, once filled out, will validate your registration into the university. Know that the administrations of French universities are known to be slow and not very responsive so brace yourself for a wait. Generally you will be asked to provide an ID and record of your grades, while having to file forms with your personal information (where you live, what you studied before and where…).


Pass NAVIGO: A Navigo pass is the travel card used by most Parisians to get around. It’s quite pricey (about €800 for an annual subscription), but as a student, you can benefit from the Imagine R pass, which is cheaper (€350 for a year, knowing that this sum of money can be spread on 9 months). For that you will need to provide proof of your student status when creating your pass either online or in a NAVIGO agency.

A Navigo pass. Photo: AFP

CROUS: It’s a regional organisation providing many things for students such as student residences (with cheaper rents), student restaurants (inside and outside of universities) where you can get a meal for €1 if you benefit from a bursary (also granted by the CROUS) and even cultural activities for students.

Résidence étudiante: These two words generally refer to the accommodation proposed by the CROUS. In order to obtain a room or an apartment from the organisation, you will need to apply on their website. Be aware that in very popular regions such as Paris, it is quite complicated to find one.  


READ ALSO: What international students should know before apartment hunting in Paris



Bourse: It’s a bursary that is normally granted by the CROUS to students who’s parents’ earnings are not enough to support them throughout their studies. European students who have studied in France for at least one year are eligible to apply for the CROUS needs-based bursary.

Carte étudiante: It’s the student card that will be given to you once you are enrolled. You’ll need it to pass your exams as well as to benefit from student discounts in many shops, cinemas and museums.

TD: Stands for travaux dirigés which are seminars, or small groups lessons. 

Amphi: Technically it’s amphithéâtre but you will always hear that your next class is held in the amphi – the lecture theatre.

UNEF: This acronym stands for French national student union. It's the biggest representative student union in France (its members are present in every university). 

Blocus: In reaction to a specific government decision that could negatively impact schools and universities, it is common for students or members of the university staff to organise a "blockade", or a strike where students demonstrate in front of their university building, in hopes that the decision will change. It can lead to entire campuses being shut down for weeks and, if it happens during exam period, for these to be cancelled or held online. 


Students march against the planed university fee rise for international students (2018). Photo: AFP

READ ALSO: Anti-reform students blockade French universities

Manif: Short for demonstration, a manif is often organised in tandem with a blocus but a lot are also organised throughout the year to support different causes (students' rights, women's rights...).

Salle: This word will be everywhere on your timetable, it means 'room' and indicates you in which part of the university your class is taking place. They are usually written as "B23", with the letter standing for the building and the number for the floor where the classroom is located. 

Licence: It's the word for Bachelor's Degree, in France, it's 3 years. 

Master: It's the word for Master’s degree, in France it lasts 2 years. 

Doctorat: Doctorate is the name of the degree (PHD), often confused with thèse (thesis), which is the word for the research dissertation you have to write and present to a jury in order to become a Doctor. 

Mémoire: It's the word for the research dissertation or the document you write on a specific topic and then present to a jury of professors to validate your degree (a bachelor’s, master’s or PDH). 

BDE: It stands for bureau des étudiants or the student association. Its members organise sports events, parties and even trips for students. 

Apéro: The soirées étudiantes (student parties) are held on Thursday nights, which generally start with an apéro (pre-party/dinner drinks).  

By Gwendoline Gaudicheau



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