For students who are interested in studying abroad while learning or practicing French, France is an extremely popular study abroad destination, and there are other study abroad locations in Belgium, Canada, and French-speaking African countries. Many students benefit from studying abroad, and fortunately many schools accept credit from these programs, even if their own school offers its own study abroad programs as well.
One of the advantages of arranging your own study abroad experience is that they generally will be much more beneficial for your language skills. For one, summer programs are often longer than most universities’ programs, which may only be two to three weeks long. Also, many universities offer study abroad experiences with a specific “theme”, such as art history or theater, which may not be relevant to the student, or experiences that may involve trips to several countries, not all of which may have as a major language the language you are studying.
Another aspect that can be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on how you view it, is that you probably won’t know anyone on an independent experience, meaning you will have to be more self-sufficient and will probably be forced into communicating in French. The experience can become a great personal growth opportunity for students.
What to Look for in a French Study Abroad Program
In order to get a great academic experience in addition to a great travel and life experience, you need to carefully look at the academic details of the programs you are considering.
First, make sure the credit will transfer to your school. This is the biggest hurdle when you’re selecting a study abroad program that isn’t directly affiliated with your school, and it will probably require several visits with your school’s administration office.
Usually you don’t care about receiving a specific transcript from a certain school if you studied at a local university during your study abroad experience; you can take it or leave it. All you care about is whether your own school will accept the credit as part of your degree plan and will incorporate it into your own transcript from them. Talk to the study abroad department at your school and have them sign off on the program and class descriptions before you apply for the program you are considering.
Next, see what the minimum French language requirements are to see if you qualify. Some have none, some require two semesters, and some require four to six semesters.
Then, look at the specific classes offered. Are they lower or upper level classes? If you can’t get credit from them from your school for your French coursework requirements, can you meet other core coursework requirements with them? For example, will your school accept “18th Century French Poetry” for a required literature class, even if no course like that is offered by your school? (Though it’s ultimately the administration’s decision, the answer is often yes.)
Check whether you’ll have to take French language classes in the program. Usually there will be at least non-credit but required classes, and often there will often be required credit classes. Many students will come in still needing a few upper level grammar classes if they are minoring or majoring in French, so this makes sense.
Finally, find out whether classes are taught in English, French, or both. Some courses will offer normal French university classes, which will make no allowances for non-native speakers. Others may have classes that are taught in French but only open to the program’s (non-native) students or a larger group of non-native international students. These types of classes will generally be taught by professors a little more slowly, with less advanced vocabulary required, so these classes may reasonably be taken by students with intermediate proficiency in the language.
Top French Study Abroad Programs
Though there are dozens of study abroad program providers that are reputable and well-regarded among universities, here we only cover programs that are offered through some of the most well-known providers of IES, CIEE, and AIFS.
IES offers a summer program in Arles in southern France, with students taking two classes out of four available, including humanities, French language, and fine arts classes. All classes are taught in French by IES teachers. The program has weekly excursions to the surrounding areas and weekly lunches with teachers at Arles restaurants. Four semesters of college-level French are required for students.
CIEE has semester and yearlong options in Brussels. A wide variety of liberal arts coursework is available to select from, all of which are all-French courses taught at the local university, Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB). The equivalent of six semesters of French classes is required. It should also be noted that these courses follow the traditional European grading model of a final oral exam being most or all of the student’s grade in the course.
CIEE also offers a business, communication, and international relations program available in English through Vesalius College, and students are able to take classes at ULB if they are proficient in French, as well. Students who are not advanced enough in French will also take French language classes. There are semester, summer, and yearlong options.
Summer, semester, and yearlong options are available through AIFS. Classes taught in English are available, but French classes are also required, and there are multiple upper level classes taught in French. Most classes are relevant to art, history, and theater, as the Provence region has a rich history of producing some of the most influential painters of the past several centuries (Van Gogh, Picasso, Cézanne, Matisse, among many others). Provider: AIFS.
AIFS offers a summer, semester, yearlong, and a three-week January program in Grenoble. There is a French intensive course option, a French culture program (classes available include political science, theater, art history, culture, and international relations), and a business track for juniors and seniors with multiple business classes, all taught in English. The programs do not have minimum French proficiency requirements, but all students will be placed into appropriate level French language classes after taking a placement exam. Provider: AIFS.
IES offers an intensive semester and yearlong program designed for high French language immersion. Four semesters of college French are required. All students take the program’s French language course in addition to a wide array of humanities, social sciences, and liberal arts courses taught in French through the program. Students advanced enough in the language may also take classes in almost any subject at the Université de Nantes. There are also internships available for teaching English to French students.
The IES program in Nice offers access to the international IPAG Business School’s available courses, which cover a broad range of business sub-disciplines at beginner to advanced levels, all taught in English. There are no minimum French proficiency requirements, but all students will be enrolled in appropriate French language courses during the program. There are also several humanities and social sciences programs through IES that are taught in French.
By far, the largest number of French study abroad programs are in Paris. AIFS has two programs in Paris: one through the University of Paris, and one through the Catholic University of Paris. Both have semester, summer, and yearlong options, and they both offer classes in each language and require a placement test in French to be placed in the appropriate French language class. The University of Paris program has courses in literature, art history, political science, and history. The Catholic University of Paris offers classes in literature, political science, fashion, culture, and several classes in art history. Provider: AIFS.
CIEE offers multiple summer, semester, and yearlong programs in Paris. Most offer a traditional French French language, liberal arts and humanities-focused curriculum, but there is also a music composition program, a religious culture program, a cinema studies program, and several art studies programs. The requirements range from no French experience to several years’ worth, and many of the programs have additional eligibility requirements. Provider: CIEE.
IES also offers several programs in Paris. There are semester and yearlong upper-level business courses in English available through the Novancia Business School in Paris. There are also beginner, intermediate, and advanced summer language programs, as well as more traditional semester and yearlong courses in French-taught classes for students with at least four college semesters of French, as well as a similar business studies program for students regardless of their background in French. There is also an internship placement program for students with at least four semesters of French in many career fields. Provider: IES.
The IES study abroad program in Rabat, Morocco (where French is a national and “business” language) focuses on Arabic, North African, Middle Eastern, and Islamic studies. There are no language prerequisites, but Arabic courses are required. French courses are available at the Université Mohammed V for advanced French students. There is also an internship option for course credit. A francophone summer program is also available for students with at least two years of college French. Culture and social studies classes are taught in French. Provider: IES.
CIEE offers semester and yearlong programs in Rennes, which are designed for intermediate (four college semesters or equivalent), and higher French students. Students are enrolled in level-appropriate French language classes, and students with the equivalent of six or more semesters may take classes at the Université de Haute Bretagne as well. Classes are generally humanities and liberal arts courses. One unique aspect of this program is that it offers students the opportunity to work as English teachers and receive course credit for the practicum. There is also a summer program in Rennes for language learning. Provider: CIEE.
In addition to a more typical French culture and liberal arts study abroad program, CIEE also has business program as well as a summer engineering and technology program in Toulouse. The business and culture program offers internship opportunities for interested students. Business and humanities classes are taught in English at the Toulouse Business School, and French language classes at the Institute Catholique de Toulouse are required as well. The summer engineering and technology program offers several engineering courses, most notably an aerospace engineering course, as Toulouse is home to Airbus. Classes are taught in English, and an introductory French class is optional. Provider: CIEE.