The ESCP exchange is not your stereotypical study abroad program. A couple of things about this school make it special, and, as simple as it may be, the name “ESCP-Europe” says everything you need to know about it.
European, not just French
Although this school is in Paris, it is more of an international institution than a French institution; this is why the “Europe” in the name is significant. ESCP-Europe has four other campuses on the continent (Madrid, Berlin, Torino, and London); at the Paris campus more than 50% of the students come from outside of France, and not just from other European countries. There are students from just about every corner of the world studying here, and because of that, being here can really open your mind to different cultures. If you think the differences between a “coastie” and a “sconnie” are huge, try thinking about those between an undergrad exchange student from the University of Texas and a grad student from the Indian Institute of Management, joined together in Paris at ESCP.
On our first day of orientation week, the 100 or so exchange students beginning their semester or year at ESCP gathered in a lecture hall for our introduction to the school. Our first exercise was to pass a microphone around the room and have each exchange institution’s students stand up in groups, and then say a quick hello in as many languages as they knew. In that session, I heard languages that I didn’t know existed, and I was immediately impressed, and humbled, by my peers. With English as a common language, it was still easy to make friends with the other exchange students.
I now have friends from Portugal, Switzerland, Poland, Argentina, the Netherlands, Venezuela, Mexico, and so on, but as I look back on these friends I made last semester, I can’t help but thinking about how these people had learned English as their second, or third or fourth, language, and here I was with 9 years of studying French under my belt and I still wasn’t fluent. Granted, English is the most global language and I happened to be born in a country where it’s spoken, but I was still somewhat embarrassed to be monolingual in a room full of multilingual peers. This brings me to the next distinguishing feature of this exchange program, its supériorité.
A Supérieure Institution
The acronym ESCP stands for l'École supérieure de commerce de Paris (The Superior Business School of Paris). In my time here I’ve learned that it really does earn the supérieure descriptor. To understand why, you need to understand the education system in France.
In addition to being more centralized and uniform throughout the country, the French system is structured quite differently than the one we’re familiar with in the U.S. What makes it unique is that, after lycée (high school), the French system takes a turn. Students who have finished their terminale (the final year of high school), then take the baccalauréat which is an exam that assesses how prepared the students are for higher education or for professional life. Anyone who passes the bac, as it’s known, will then automatically be admitted to university. But for those who wish to study at one of the Grande Écoles, which are the most prestigious of French universities and are known to be quite selective, the bac is followed by two years of prépas classes, which are designed to prepare students for studying at a Grande École. If admitted to a Grande École, students then complete three years of school before earning their Master’s degree.
ESCP is one of these Grande Écoles, which means that it has some of the top business students to come through the French education system. The extremely competitive entrance exams to ESCP consist of three parts: a written portion which takes two or three days and includes two tests in math, one in English, one in French, and one in another language; an oral portion which takes a day and consists of tests in the same subjects as the written; and an interview with three school staff members which lasts about 45 minutes and is described as “anything goes.” While critics of this system rightfully point out that it favors the rich and socially-gifted, one cannot deny that it prepares these students to be young professionals.
What I’m trying to get at with all of this is that the students here at ESCP are an utterly impressive collection of Europe’s top business students. Everything about them oozes professionalism—the way they dress, the way they make presentations, the way they present themselves, and especially their assuredness of what they want to do with their education.
And it’s not just the students who live up to the school’s name, it’s the professors too. What has impressed me about most of my professors is that they remain active outside of the classroom to the point that it seems their work as professors is their second job. The fact that they’re working in the fields that they teach about gives credibility to their teachings and lets them teach with a passion that otherwise might be long gone for a career professor. They can bring to the classroom real-life examples from meetings they had with clients just days or weeks before and relate them to the course material so that we can understand how it can be applied. I sometimes find myself in classes at UW that are taught with PowerPoints that regurgitate the textbooks, and I find it hard to get interested in these courses. ESCP has some classes like this (I’m in one now), but nearly all of my classes I’ve taken here have been extremely stimulating.
Aside from those two main points—the internationality of the school and the superiority of the students and professors—I’d just like to add a few things about the school, and I’ll put them in bullet format.
- Extracurricular activities: club sports teams are offered and can be joined by exchange students. I didn’t choose to do any, but I have friends who played volleyball and soccer. Perhaps the most frequent extracurricular is the get-togethers thrown by the student organizations at ESCP. These are great events (parties) to meet people, both exchange and full-time students, and can introduce you to some of Paris’s nightlife. Also, you can sign up for conversational language practice, if you want to improve your French.
- Courses in English and French: ESCP offers courses in both languages. Last semester I enrolled in three taught in French and one in English. The courses in French were definitely challenging, but not unbearably difficult. If you are confident in your level of understanding spoken French and you read and write it well, you can definitely get by in these classes.
- Course format: Classes that equate to 3-credit UW courses typically meet weekly for 3 hours each class. This system is nice in that you can potentially create a 12- or 15-credit schedule that gives you five-day weekends, which means a lot of flexibility for travel plans or exploring Paris. Group projects are common and each class has an exam in its final session. Just be sure to utilize the coffee machines to stay alert during those 3-hour classes.
- The campus: ESCP consists of six buildings, five of which are connected on this inside and encircle the courtyard. I’d say it’s comparable in size to Grainger Hall. There is a cafeteria open during the lunch hours which has good food (I’m not that picky), and most importantly, it’s cheap (full-sized lunch for under 5 euros). There’s also a café that has breakfast items, pastries, coffee, and sandwiches.