I Miss Minerva

19 Oct, 2011

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Students gather outside Paris Dauphine.

After having spent the first few weeks at the University Paris Dauphine, I feel qualified to complain about the horrible bureaucracy, cherish the more than affordable lunches, and comment on the overall school spirit.

Usually, I take the metro to school – a comfortable ride that takes roughly 35 minutes. Upon resurfacing, I find myself facing the idyllic Porte Dauphine, not far from the Champs-Elysees. A few steps toward the left a massive gray building marked with the slogan ‘Universite Paris Dauphine’ arises from the ground. The construction evokes the classic concrete utility blocks typical of Soviet-era architecture. In the architect’s defense, the building initially served as the NATO headquarters, from 1959 until 1967. When the organization was moved to Brussels, the business university was founded and put in its place. The school is currently under renovation and is supposed to have a fresher look by April 2012. That’s not much of an excuse for the questionable conditions of some bathrooms. To be fair, ever since the regular semester started, the building has been cleaned up significantly. Nonetheless, Dauphine seems not to care much about first impressions.

The school’s cafeteria, a great spot for cheap meals.To be frank, the tidiness was the least of my concerns when I first attempted to figure out my class schedule. The school is an organizational chaos. Prior to arrival it appeared simple to sign up for courses online through the so-called ‘learning agreement,’ but the nightmare begins when one realizes that many of the courses got cancelled, were moved to a different semester, cease to exist, or the specific department representatives are just ‘not sure’ about them. Problems can’t be comfortably dealt with online, since the website is outdated and inaccurate. The various schedules for classes are posted on pin boards all over the school.

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The school’s cafeteria, a great spot for cheap meals.

For a newcomer, it is very hard to detect a meaningful course structure, even though I am convinced that there is one. The departments MSO (Master of Science Organization), LSO (License of Science Organization), as well as the various subdivisions, which offer the majority of courses at the school, are not well coordinated. Thus, the only way to progress in the query to get a schedule is to individually speak to the representatives of each sub-department. The administration is really nice and outgoing but unfortunately the most popular answer during my first week was: “Aucune idée,” as only the folks truly responsible for a given course can provide any meaningful information. Nonetheless, a decent solution is always in sight even though the amount of people one has to talk to is staggering.

It took me almost two weeks of tiring negotiating before I finally found four courses which do not run at the same time, are transferable to McGill (hard), and which allow me to take the final exam in advance, as I need to return to Montreal in January. On the bright side, I got to thoroughly practice my French, and gain some helpful insights for folks interested in studying at Dauphine. First, expect to take some management French courses, as the English offerings are mediocre at best and tend to be decimated to the minimum as the semester starts. Second, make sure you can figure out a way to take the final exams in December, if you are applying for the fall semester, as not all Professors are very accommodating when it comes to crafting alternative finals, and lastly try to get as many courses preapproved at McGill just to have a backup plan.  Most importantly though, stop bashing Minerva, as the system is superb compared to anything provided at Dauphine.

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The Dauphine building, formerly headquarters of NATO.

On the bright side, judging by the first two weeks of classes, the level of difficulty does not seem to be comparable with McGill. The courses in English are designed to accommodate all exchange students from around the world. There is definitely time to party, travel or discover the city. Nonetheless, I found many interesting lectures and impressive professors at Dauphine, especially in the Masters department.

For recreation, the university offers a wide array of opportunities for recreational sports, ranging from Yoga to Badminton. But like the academic courses, they do not seem to be as easily accessible as described in the booklet. The gym, situated in the building’s basement, is pretty small and ill-equipped compared to McGill’s facilities but suffices for the occasional workout. Of course, in order to enter, one needs to run through various organizational steps including a medical exam, a 49-euro fee, online sign up, card re-initialization, and other paperwork. The doctor’s visit can be an experience in itself. Personally, I was not subject to any exuberating tests, but my friend from Boston was quite shocked when the nurse asked him to strip to his underwear and complete 20 high jumps in front of her.

Lastly, the school’s cafeteria deserves to be mentioned. The built-in food court offering daily menus, pizza, pasta, and various salads and deserts is quite impressive, and the price of 3.60 euros per meal is unmatched by anything offered at McGill. The quality is mostly decent and a great money-saver in the rather expensive city. The only problem is that the cafeteria is often very crowded; thus the waiting time can be extensive.

The student body that I have been in contact with so far is very accommodating and if one does not feel comfortable enough to speak French, there are around 200 exchange students at Dauphine ready to close the communication gap. Lastly, Dauphine has an excellent reputation in France as many natives told me, which leads me to believe that the quality of education must be impressive as it seems to be able to make up for the unimpressive ambience and very frustrating bureaucracy.

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