Where should I go to college? Student stories, INALCO of France

August 6, 2015
National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations (Angelina Widener/Korea Times)

National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations (Angelina Widener/Korea Times)

Angelina Widener

Angelina Widener

By Angelina Widener, Korea Times Los Angeles intern reporter

In France, students have to choose what they want to study as early as high school. After the Baccalauréat, France’s equivalent of the United States’ SATs, students can apply to any kind of school they want in order to pursue their studies.

So, you might ask, where did I go?

Did I study day and night to get into one of the “grandes écoles” (elite schools in France)? Or did I apply for the world-famous Sorbonne University?

I chose to apply to the INALCO (National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations).

The school was first founded in 1669, and then in 1795 began specializing in oriental languages. As of 2015, close to 100 languages are taught at this university, with the most popular being Japanese, Arabic, Russian and Chinese.

I chose my major based on what I wanted to study and in accordance with where I could see myself in the future.

I started learning Chinese in sixth grade, and after seven years of Chinese, I wanted to continue the language but also start learning another one, Korean. After high school, it became clear that my future was somewhere in Asia.

Of the most prestigious universities in all of Paris offering the usual languages, none had both Chinese and Korean. Since my choices were more particular, I looked into universities offering more “rare” languages. Only two universities had the options I wanted, and the INALCO became my first choice and also my dream school.

In Sept. 2013 I stepped into a modern brick building that would become my second home — my alma mater, as Americans like to say — for the next three years of my bachelor studies. In France, undergraduate is only three years.

On my second year, I started a minor in international business, as only languages would not secure me a job after graduation.

For international students wanting to study in France, exchanges are possible, especially through Erasmus Student Network, an international exchange program. However, a basic knowledge of French is mandatory, as a majority of the classes use it as the teaching language.

With my experience of learning Chinese through junior and high school, I felt prepared for learning Korean. Learning a new language, especially if it is different from your mother tongue, is difficult. When you find yourself in front of a text that “looks like drawings” for anyone else, you can easily feel discouraged but hard work and motivation will always pay off.

Starting this September, as I enter my third and last year, I can already tell that my school has taught me a lot, in and outside of the classroom.

Every day at my university is a cultural exchange — while walking to class or eating at the cafeteria, all kinds of languages can be heard. From Russian to Japanese, without forgetting African dialects and many Asian languages, a simple walk can turn into a travel around the world.

Every other week, student associations of different language departments organize “cultural days” to introduce the music, food and literature of their countries to the students. This allows INALCO students to be open to the world and become knowledgeable about a variety of countries.

Free conferences are also held all year long. The university invites researchers and professors to talk about different countries’ challenges and futures in our world.

For me the INALCO is a cultural and language exchange hub and a meeting place between students and the world.

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The Korea Times is looking for college students or graduates who would be willing to share advice regarding the search for the right school.

If you or someone you know has a story to share, please contact us at news@koreatimes.com.

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