Masters in France: First impressions as an Expat Student

Three weeks back, I moved to Paris from Pune, my hometown for nearly 30 years, to pursue a Masters in French and European Law in order to make a international career as a Francophone lawyer. 

It feels surreal. Nine months back, as a tourist, I came to the Quartier Latin of Paris and very timidly, dared to dream of coming here to study. At that time, I had no idea what exactly I wanted to study, whether I would be eligible, whether it made sense to study in France after working as a lawyer in a common law country like India, whether my French was good enough for these elite institutions to admit me, and a plethora of other doubts that are second nature to me!

Yet, here I am, a student of Panthéon Sorbonne Université Paris 1, studying French and European Law in French language, my grip on it notwithstanding! I have three primary reasons for choosing France – my love for law, my desire to combine it with my knowledge of French language, and my goal to create a niche for myself.

I love the world of academics; I not only enjoy studying law but actually appreciate it, unlike a lot of my peers who treat it just as a source of income. Studying another country’s legal system truly excites me. I also speak French; though rusty, I know if I take some classes, I’ll pick things fast. For the longest time, I have hoped to find a way to combine these two disciplines. Further, I wanted to do something different and create a niche for myself (still do!). Given our colonial past, UK is the most logical step for LLM for most Indian students; too many people discouraged me and questioned my sanity for pursuing masters in France! 

There came a point when I told myself, “Alright, so nobody seems to be studying the French Law (France isn’t a common law country) after studying Indian law. So that, at some level should be a good enough reason for me to do it!” 

A college senior fortunately was there to encourage me and his advice, both practical and philosophical, made a lot of sense.

As my goals cleared, I researched the course and the institutions and figured out my finances. I succeeded in getting into one of the best institutions as well as the best LLM programmes of the country. Thinking about the history of Pantheon Sorbonne Université Paris 1 (Or just to even think of big words like Panthéon and Sorbonne!) gives me the goose bumps.

The actual visit to the Centre du Panthéon was an experience that would be etched in my memory, forever. To visit and see the tombs of Pierre and Marie Curie, Voltaire, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Simon Veil and to truly understand what it means when the French say “Aux grands hommes, la patrie reconnaissante” (“To the great men, from a grateful nation”) has been phenomenal.

Classes started two weeks ago and already, quite a few things have made a lasting impression on me.

I cannot possibly speak about studying in Sorbonne, without mentioning the obvious difference that is quickly evident to most students leaving India behind. The academic integrity here is refreshing and so frustratingly missing in India. 

When I say academic integrity, I mean absolute dedication to the pursuit of education. This is evident from the effort of the teachers and the administration, the expectations laid down for the students, from the university’s approach towards evaluation and from the fact that the administration is willing to bend any rule that will come in the way of education if they see the desire and hard work from the student.

This is also crystal clear from the fact that nowhere in the sphere of discussion is education limited to anything like – exams, marks, job, career, or anything other than the pursuit of education itself. And that taught me my first lesson here – That the pursuit of education for education itself is a worthy goal.

Not once till now, no matter the subject of study, have I been handed the proper tools of education. Therefore, I couldn’t help but feel almost self-taught, like millions others in India. For instance, it is now, after having completed more than a decade in the study and practice of law that I know how to read a legal text! Or how are we truly supposed to research a subject. That made me think what I (and so many others) would be capable of doing had we gotten all the tools of education I have begun respecting the good teachers that I had in India even more, for they surely were also self-taught!

The French are master jurists but truly Cartesian! The French have a legal system which is fundamentally different from the common law one, representing their unique history and point of view which if you bother to think about profoundly, reflects all the values this country stands for. International law plays a much bigger role in France than it ever can or will India, mainly because of European Union. That by itself, is fascinating for a student of law.

Also, most of my fundamental instincts as a lawyer in a common law country like India, are going to be utterly wrong in France! I’m referring to Precedents, Ratio Decidendi and Obiter Dicta here. 

Despite the French being known for their linguistic pride, I met more French interested in other languages than the arrogant monoglots whose first language is “English” in this world. It makes me wonder if the French get so much only because they refuse to care about English! Tant mieux (so much the better) for them, really. As a professor pointed out on the first day “English is a beautiful language, but it is far from being the most beautiful one !”These remain my first impression that might change or get more nuanced as I study further in Paris.

Tejaswita Apte

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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