French teenager moving to the US


I’m helping a French teenage girl (14) prepare for her imminent move to the US. She is in 4ème at Collège here in France and does not know what to expect from school in the US (what’s an average day like, amount of homework, exams, etc.). Any info/tips you could share would be greatly appreciated :slight_smile:



Things have really changed since I was in grade school and high school. I graduated from high school in 1959. Then there were no such thing as drugs and the worse thing a student could do was to smoke. Not many kids had cars. We came to school walking or on a school bus. We always took our lunch and no one thought it was uncool. I never saw a fight in the school. We did get homework but I don’t remember it being repressively heavy. Grades were given according to performance and students were failed if they didn’t achieve and had to repeat a year. Of course, I’m not sure about the star athletes who might have been passed “for the benefit of the school sports program”. We would never consider speaking back to a teacher or the coach because we would be sent to the Principal’s office for punishment. Of course, we didn’t have computers, cell phones, and other distactions. TV itself was just coming into it’s own and our Black & White TV was difficult to watch since it never stayed in sync. Some things have improves and some things have become worse.

I am a high school teacher in the US and I know the French system very well also.In my district 4e(8th grade) is in middle school. High school starts in 9th grade.
In general the work is much easier here and the level and expectations lower; teachers are there to help students when classes are finished if needed, and the system is a credit system.An A grade is common. Group work is often the norm for practice and applications. Students who come from other countries are often put in ESL classes (English as a second language)to help them learn English. This sometimes defeats the purpose in some situations and French kids I have known who went to the US were better off in mainstream classes to learn the language quickly.How long will your young friend stay?
I don’t see a lot of homework, but is is often scored for points. The day is really one class after another and lunch is terribly short (30 minutes here)from 8 or 8:30 to 2:30 or 3 PM. If a teacher is absent for a day there is always a substitute and not much gets done.
I hope this helps…

I hope you are right about where they will live, bc Philly is not a very nice city in many ways. My son has recently lived there for 2 years as a university student and was thrilled to leave and move to NYC. A dear friend of mine just moved to Philly with her husband and children and lives in a suburb outside of the city bc the schools there have such a poor reputation. It is a great city for tourism, but not to live in.

All of that said, this is my perspective: the French system of education may indeed by taken seriously, but the outcomes are no better than the American system. The system here is more stressful and oppressive to children and offers little if anything outside of academics. If you are a competitive student it the US, academic pressures can be very stressful. In the US, sports, theater, music and many more activities are offered to the kids within the school framework. That, IMO, is a good thing.

OTOH, bullying, violence and drugs are a huge problem. Parents are far more involved than they are here. School lunches are…well, poison would be my best description. Absolute garbage and most kids either eat them or skip eating bc bringing lunch to school is “uncool”. School begins very early–usually about 7 am and is out early–about 2pm. IMO, kids get far too much homework everywhere.

There has also been a move in past years towards creation of magnet schools in many communities and kids often no longer attend schools in their communities, but will go to school that have a specific theme. She is young, but most kids, once they are 16 get their driver’s licenses and very often have part-time jobs after school.

My children were or still are (they are 22, 18 and 12) homeschooled, but my older two attended a part-time public high school for the performing arts with other kids from many other towns. Such programs are more and more common, as attempts are being made to rescue the failed public schools. My general impression is that American kids have more freedoms and more available to them in many ways (at least middle-class kids), but are also probably less responsible for themselves in many others.

Alexandra, one thing I forgot. In American schools, kids come to the school and cannot leave the school until the end of the day. If they don’t have class at a particular hour, they are assigned Study Hall which is a room where the kids go to do their homework or study. It could be the library or the cafeteria. I see high school kids here wandering around the streets at all hours of the day. The school system in the US are supposed to control the presence of the students at all times during the day so the kids are not allowed to leave unless they present a written note from the parents for a doctor’s appt or religious service they have to attend (eg, burial of a family member). Therefore, the American schools are more controlling of the students time than the French schools or at least that’s the way it appears to me. BTW, I did my MBA in Philidelphia and some sections of that city are dangerous. I hope she is going to one of the suburbs of which there are some very nice ones.

Alexandra, that’s a difficult question to answer because every school and school district is different. There will be homework. How much depends on the quality of the school. Exams are determined by the teachers so there may be periodic quizes and larger tests as well. I would suggest that she go to the school as soon as she arrives and present her questions to a student counseler who can give her the details about that school and about her courses, teachers, etc. She will have to register at the school and they will assign her a class schedule as well. In terms of Math, she may be better prepared than the US students. My grandson is 15 and in 10th grade (normal level for a 15 year old) but his girlfriend is a 15 year old German exchange student and they put her in 11th grade. European schools may be teaching subjects like math and science courses one year earlier than US schools. My grandson’s school day starts at 7 am and finishes at 2 pm. Then there are after school activities like sports team practice, band practice, or student clubs, etc. if the student wishes to engage in these things. They are voluntary. One thing that may be different culturally between the French and Americans is that Americans have a school loyalty and take great pride in their school wearing clothing like Sweatshirts, with the school name on it. I don’t see that here. There is also great rivalry between high schools in sports. I’m not sure that exists here. I hope this helps.

Hi Alexandra,

Does she know which state she’s going to? Depending on where she ends up, I think it will best be summed up in one word: easier. We moved over to France from California when our kids were 7 and 13. The school day in California is 7-8 hours long and there is no Wednesday break–you go straight through for the full 5 days. She’ll also probably be going to a closed-campus meaning she’ll eat lunch on site. In the US, kids can bring their lunches from home, they don’t have to eat in the cafeteria. We found that the expectations of the students in the US were considerably lower than in France and the parents and students in France seem to take education much more seriously. She’ll show up on her first day with a better grasp of English grammar than her American counterparts. If she’s an average student in France, she’ll be above average in the US. Homework and exams are a fraction of what she’s used to in France. She’ll also find that a majority of the schools are much bigger and more modern than those in France and teachers tend to cram lots of stuff in their classrooms (multiple computers, TV’s, animals, etc) Although it adds personality to the room, it’s just a lot of distraction for the students.

A recent sign of the times are SRO’s or School Resource Officers; plain-clothes or uniformed, armed police officers who spend their entire shift at the schools. I was a police officer in California and unfortunately on day shift, a good deal of our time was spent at the schools or dealing with school-related fights and disturbances. Violence at American schools is becoming a big issue and it’s sad that we have to use police officers in this capacity.

That being said, ay her age, she might find the US school system as ‘fun;’ assemblies, pep rallies, school dances (really wish our kids could have experienced that in France) and plenty of extra-curricular activities. I hope this helps her; my son is 14 and is now a top student in his French class.