Transcending Sciences Po’s Language Divide

By October 3, 2017 No Comments

By Diana Glebova

Sciences Po Reims, the site of the Euro-American and Euro-African programs, has a student body consisting of 1,000 students and 100 nationalities. In stark contrast with other French institutions, international students make up 47% of the student body, creating a diverse atmosphere on campus.

Despite this melting pot of languages and identities, a definitive rift exists, which is a source of frustration for many students : the divide between the Francophone and Anglophone.

The Student Body

It is at the regular lunch-hour sight, when students gather at the steps and tables of the courtyard, that the divide becomes most apparent.

Francophone with Francophone and Anglophone with Anglophone, discussing in their respective languages. The linguistic divide doesn’t stop in the courtyard; it is evident in the entirety of the campus life, in associations, and at parties.

Concerning the divide, a Euram 1A states “It’s getting better with time, and it’s completely understandable. If I was at home, I would be with the people that share my same culture. Sadly, I would rather hang out with people who I share an identity with. That just says something about us as humans though.”

Certainly, it is human nature to be at ease by being with those that share your culture, language, background and your sense of humor. When students come from all over the world and are emerged into a foreign, angst-inducing environment, they may well be drawn to those that share their common background for safety.

It is hard to imagine changing who you are, how you speak and the jokes you are able to tell as a French student attending the Euram program. Speaking with other French students, they make it clear that their transition to an all Anglophone track is prone to cause some headaches, as the copious amount of texts are not in their native tongue. It is understandable to gravitate to others like you; to find a sense of comfort in the chaos.

When asked how to mend the divide amongst the student body, a Euraf 1A proposed several suggestions relating to the it, more specifically in terms of the Euram and Euraf relationship. “It’s a shame that there is an apparent fear of mixing. We should have Euram and Euraf mix together, have more activities together, maybe even have some classes together. We need to learn a new way of communication.”

Yes, a new form of communication is in order. Not outright, but metaphorically. As the Anglophone and Francophone student bodies continue discovering themselves in a foreign atmosphere, it is important to remember who we are at the core: Beavers and Elephants in the pursuit of wisdom and friendship. As the year progresses, conceivably we will all find our voice in friendship no matter what country and language we come from. But today it is important to acknowledge the exclusion and work to immerse ourselves with our respective foreign tongue.

The Administration

“The bureaucracy is all in French!” exclaims a frustrated Euram 1A.

Indeed, the administration has to balance between the French system of Sciences Po and the Euro-American program on campus. This means choosing between French and English in every situation, including emails, staff, speakers, and associations. For some Anglophone speakers, who do not know a word of French, the unintended exclusion of a French based bureaucracy is exasperating.

This was evident from the very first day of integration week: at the welcome ceremony of Science Po and our respective programs. The ceremony would last one and a half hours, with speakers addressing the student body for the first time.

Approximately 90% of the ceremony was in French. Despite, understanding that Sciences Po Campus of Reims is a predominantly French campus, with the French population making up half of the student body, this language divide struck us with surprise.

Our surprise continued through the following weeks, as we received slews of emails and syllabi in French, participated in sports taught by French coaches, and attended another commencement ceremony presented entirely in French.

Sure, it is important for Anglophone speakers to be thrown into an ocean of French bureaucracy, culture and language with no safety net, for this is the quickest way to learn. Yet, as an Anglophone who knows very little French, Science Po’s administration can be a source of great confusion. Perhaps, a life vest is in store.

If anything, it is crucial to not let a language barrier divide us. We must remember to acknowledge those that do not speak French or English in social settings and on campus by including them in the conversation by translating or inviting them to events.

Additionally, the administration needs to acknowledge that many students in the Euram program do not speak French, and have all emails available for translation. It is understandable that it may be impossible to have an Anglophone local trainer for sports, and that speakers at commencement will only speak French. However, it needs to acknowledge what this means for the new students; frustration and confusion.

Of course, there is no way getting around all of the biases and frustrations, no matter your identity. Our lives at Sciences Po are characterized by adaptation, whether that be learning in a new language for the Francophones, or adhering to the French administrative system for the Anglophones. It is a source of growth and diligence on this campus: finding yourself in others, and finding yourself in this microcosm of vast and varying identities.

Diana Glebova is a first year student at Sciences Po Campus of Reims. Born in Donetsk, Ukraine; growing up in the land of 10,000 lakes and six month winters: Minneapolis, Minnesota. Has a passion for long runs, poetry, and pot luck dinners. The Grapevine runs the first Tuesday of the month.


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  • Marie-Helene says:

    While Sciences Po offers an education fully in English, it is hard to discount the fact that it is a French school located outside Paris. English as a second language has progressed a lot in the overall population but it remains a second language in a country that is very proud of its linguistic heritage… Good luck any way, at least French students speak English and are able to help, don’t they ?