Course Structure: the difference between the French and US way of teaching


The entrance of Butler Library

One of the biggest differences between a French Business School and a university such as Columbia relies on the courses structure. Indeed, within the Transcontinal Track, we have two courses taught by GEM’s teachers and two courses taught by Columbia. At Columbia, I personally have selected one course about Economic Growth and Development and one about Geopolitics in the Middle East region, and in both courses the way to teach is very different from the French one based on what I have experienced in my background.

Economic Growth and Development

In Economic Growth and Development, which is a course taught by the great Xavier Sala-i-Martin,  one of the leading economists in the field of economic growth, we have two sessions of lecture and one recitation section per week. The lecture is the theoretical part of the course, taught by the teacher himself. They are very intensive hours during which you take a lot of notes. The recitation is taught by teacher assistants (TAs) to better understand technical aspects of the lecture, ask questions about the various homework and the final paper. I personally enjoy this course because it is a great mix between macro and microeconomics, and the teacher is passionate and arouses interest about his topic.


Xavier Sala-i-Martin

Middle East Conflicts and Security System

In Middle East Conflicts and Security System, we have one session per week during which we debate about a clear and defined topic. Each week, we discuss a different issue – e.g. Syrian civil war and international relations, Iran’s nuclear deal, US intervention in Iraq and the aftermath. To prepare for the session to be able to debate in class, we need to read at least three texts about the topic and ask two questions on, Columbia’s web platform. These questions are the basis to our debate in class. What is very interesting is that students are coming from the entire world, thus, they have very different points of view. Participation is very encouraged; it takes 40% of your final grade. In parallel, we play a big “game”, during a session, our teacher has organised a UN security council to find a transitional government in Syria. Each student had a role (e.g. I was Iran) and has to defend its position and its main geopolitics interests during the game. This allows us to learn in different ways and develop new point of view – not only our Western point of view.


Butler Library

More generally

In both courses, and I think it is the case in all courses at Columbia, we have a few hours in class but a lot to do at home. Columbia has more than 16 libraries! Plus, although teachers and administration rose awareness about plagiarism during our integration seminar, groups study and collaboration between students is very encouraged and welcomed. Finally, office hours are set up to meet our teachers individually!  This is the last huge difference I have noticed between the French and the US systems.

To conclude, you are going to study a lot during this program, but it is a real pleasure and an amazing opportunity. Experiencing this new way to learn and study is one of many benefits of the Transcontinental Program at Columbia University. You will able to meet great and talented students, teachers and TAs. Enjoy!

(By Leina Caubet)


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