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The international face of Emlyon

By François Versteegh, redactor at Verbat’em

They come from all around the world and have chosen emlyon to pursue their studies. Some of them come from faraway countries like China, India, Canada or even the United States. Some others are our European neighbors. Maybe you’ve already met them in the long hallways of building A, played with them in the gym, shared some discussions in the cafeteria. Perhaps you are even one of them. If this indeed is the case, I’m ready to bet my student card you still barely speak French. So let me reassure you, you are in the right place.

It’s therefore in the language of Shakespeare that we are going to take an interest in the opinions and remarks of our dear international friends about their experience at emlyon business school. Through these few pages, I tried to describe as best as I could the thoughts of the dozens of students who agreed to answer my questions. Before going further, it’s important for us to clarify that this article is an initiative of the association Verbat’em which is pleased to promote the international atmosphere within the campus. The objective of our approach is to give an overall idea of the student’s feeling on emlyon but in any case, we don’t speak on behalf of the establishment.

Finally, I would like to sincerely thank the editorial department of Verbat’em who gave me the opportunity to write my first article in the magazine Le M. I also have a special thought for the international students who sacrificed some of their time to answer my questions and without whom this article would not have existed.  

With that said, let’s get straight to the point, and enjoy reading.

“The Welcoming week organized by the BDI permit me to meet a lot of people while discovering my new city”

The first topic I put on the table was the integration of the students into the school. The comments I gathered on this point were generally positive. None of the people interviewed said they were disappointed with their integration and the way they have been treated when they first arrived. Many internationals appreciated the work provided by the BDI (international student’s office) which organised many outings in the first weeks to introduce newcomers to the city of Lyon. A Chinese student confided in me that the welcoming week remains one of the best memories she had since the beginning of her scholarship in emlyon because it helped her to find her bearings and “to meet a lot of people while discovering her new city”. The majority of international students also describe French people as friendly and party-loving (which I assume is a good thing). Despite this, communication often remained difficult with French students due to the language barrier. Some people I interviewed had the impression that the French were not very comfortable with the English language and were not inclined to use it. If many made efforts in the beginning, they quickly grew bored and avoided speaking English when they could, “which had the effect of marginalizing the internationals” according to their own words. Some also report their sport teacher don’t speak English when they give the instructions which can cause confusion.

Another negative point that was noted is the amphitheater welcoming speech at the beginning of the year because this one was fully in French. The administration made translation devices available to foreign students so that they could understand what was involved. But some were offended that there was not an english version of the speech. “If emlyon wants to have the image of an international school, it should make a presentation in English”, one of the interviewees told me.

Knowing that some students came from far away regions where the culture is totally different, I asked the interviewees what were the elements that surprised or even shocked them when they arrived in the school. Many of them had so far only known the public universities in their country and were therefore surprised by the number of foreign students, and the number of countries represented. An European student I interviewed told me of his disappointment to see some countries under-represented in terms of the number of students while others had a lot of students like China or India. He was looking for native English speakers in order to practice his English but could not find a perfectly bilingual student. Another regretted that students from the same country often stay in groups and form several communities. This sentiment was shared by a number of people, so I sought to find out more by asking those concerned.

After approaching several international groups and listening to their opinions, it turned out that if they sometimes prefer to stay in a group with their compatriots, it’s mainly because of both language and cultural barriers. “It’s very difficult for us to join an association, there are not many places and the members are afraid to recruit people who do not speak French” a Chinese student sighed. Some foreigners hesitate to join an association because they are afraid to be in a 100% French environment and don’t feel supported in their approach given the low number of people recruited for each recruitment period. “Why not create an association for foreign students? Certainly the BDI does a lot of things for us, but as an international student it is always difficult to become a member and take part in the organization of the events” an interviewee told me.

“We don’t really know how to start a conversation in a natural way in France”. But in general, this mix and plurality of cultures was viewed very positively. Many told me that they were very curious about students from other countries and that it was a good opportunity to meet interesting people.

Regarding the building itself, the rooftop seemed to be a great success considering the number of times I have been told about it. “We didn’t have such places in my previous university in China” a student confessed excitedly. He seemed satisfied with the fact there was HH (Happy hours) in the school every day so it’s very convenient for him since many foreigners live near the campus.

“The Rooftop is so great ! The HH (happy hours) are a good way to socialize”

Talking about the rooftop is a good opportunity to introduce the things the students liked the most about the school. Beyond the rooftop, the Learning Hub is also very popular thanks to the gaming room “which allows you to take breaks between two work sessions” or the silent room for rest. An interviewee told me that he had never seen such equipment in his previous school. “The main building is functional and the rooms are indicated in English which is very convenient”.

About pedagogy, contrary to what some may have experienced in their country, group works are very common at emlyon. It is a good opportunity to learn to work in collaboration with others but also to meet new people, according to them.

The two weeks of integration at the start of the year were viewed very positively. This makes it easier to give a little time to find your bearings in the school and to meet people before the start of the classes. In terms of the activities offered, we can of course cite the BDI’s events tailor-made for internationals such as the International Night. “In traditional nightclubs I don’t necessarily feel comfortable. I have been told a lot of stories about nightclubs in France and people often have problems there. When events are organized by emlyon, we feel more secure. In addition, the music is more suited to a non-French speaking audience “. The associations and activities are very diverse, moreover the prices are reasonable.

For these events, a special list has been created for internationals to facilitate their access to the evening despite the shotgun system. The shotgun system is indeed a real plague for internationals who do not yet know it well. “I haven’t been able to participate in any SAT (ndlr : soirée à ticket, avec place limitée) since the beginning of the year because of the shotguns that I miss systematically”.

Among the other negative points noted, internationals regret not being as well supported as French students regarding the choice of elective courses. The interface is difficult to understand, “Only a few courses are offered in English, all the others are in French. However, my current level does not allow me to follow these courses under normal circumstances”. The problem has already been submitted to the administration, so we can hope that the situation on this point will improve.

The facilities are still considered aging, and finding a place to eat near the campus, at a cheap price, is still a daily issue for internationals. Here again, the school is doing its best since a new campus is currently under construction in the Gerland district of Lyon and should resolve a number of issues in the near future.

The last remarks that I was able to note concern the city of lyon itself, which is judged to be somewhat international, unlike Paris. Some were concerned about the possibility of taking certain Master courses on the Paris campus. This is a question which remains very complicated since the PGE program is currently located in the city of Lyon, but it remains a pertinent remark which can open up interesting alternatives.

It is on this last idea that we close this chapter dedicated to the experience of internationals at emlyon. We would be glad if these testimonials can help you to have a slightly clearer idea of how international students feel about their scholarship at emlyon. Hoping that this article will provide some clues of improvement in order to further give a better early maker experience for everyone.