Even after several years, my summer internship in France is still etched fresh in my memory. I boarded the first flight of my life, New Delhi to Paris, at the age of 22. It was the first time I tasted wine and for the first time, I was out of India in a foreign land.
In 2017, I got an opportunity to intern at a CNRS Lab at Compiègne, a small city close to Paris. During my stay of 3 months, I traveled extensively on weekends to various parts of France and the neighboring countries.
Coming from South-East Asia, Europe was a culture shock for me.
Nevertheless, it was amazing to experience a new culture, get exposure to cutting-edge research and click photos in some picturesque locations. It was also amusing to learn about the various notions people had about India.
I will break this article into the following section.
- 1. How I Found the Summer Internship in France?
- 2. Understanding the French University System
- 3. Are French Universities Prestigious?
- 4. Is language really a barrier?
- 5. French Work Culture
- 6. How to Travel Cheaply Around During Your Summer Internship in France?
- 7. Things Not To Miss During Your Summer Internship in France
- 8. Stereotypes about India
Finding a French lab for 2 or 3 months of internship is a daunting task.
Unlike the English-speaking countries like the US or the UK, where the research labs and the professors associated with those labs are easily available on the university website, it’s really hard to find the contacts of French professors.
Although it’s hard find the contacts of professors, you can reach out to the plan heads of French research labs like CNRS, INSERM, and INRIA on their websites. Y
ou can find the contact details of the lab heads of the CNRS labs at the CNRS laboratory directory. But before I describe more on how to use the directory, let me describe what these labs are as such.
1.1. What are CNRS labs?
Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) is a French state research organization. It is the French equivalent of the CSIR Labs in India and the Fraunhofer Labs in Germany.
CNRS boasts of having 22 Nobel laureates, the largest research organization in Europe and the second largest research organization in terms of number of publications.
So, I reached out to the lab head of the Biomechanics and Bioengineering (BMBI) CNRS lab at UTC Compiègne through email.
The French government offers a Charpak Lab Scholarship to nearly 15 Indian students every year to carry out research in a French laboratory.
However, I wasn’t lucky enough
1.2. How to Search the CNRS directory to find French Research labs?
Unfortunately, this page can’t be translated to English as such as it has drop-down menus in French. So, you need to know a few basic French words for the search such as ”Chimie” meaning Chemistry, ”Cerveau” meaning Brain, ”Gestion de la Recherche” meaning Research Management.
You can find the labs in your field of study or interest in the ”Section” drop-down menu as shown below. After selecting your field of study click on the ”Rechercher” tab. You will see a bunch of labs of your interest.
Once you find the labs, you can click on their UPR or ”UMR” codes to go directly to the lab contact details and a basic overview of the number of staff, lab website, affiliations, and research topics.
You can then go to the lab website, explore it properly, and then write to the head of the lab.
Note: Please don’t send generic emails to the Professors/Lab Heads without actually understanding the research areas and the depth of work that’s done over there.
2. Understanding the French University System
3. Are French Universities Prestigious?
If you are aiming to do your Master’s or any other post-graduate degree later, the summer internship in France can be a great opportunity to explore the French university system and get acquainted with the research.
Sometimes the reputation of the university from which you graduate does matter in life. It may be the alumni network or the confidence of coming from a good university or getting to do better research due to better infrastructure can be useful.
Graduates from the Grand écoles like École Polytechnique are well respected in France as admission to these universities is highly competitive.
Grand écoles are basically like the Indian Institute of Technology (IITs) and IIMs of France.
Note: Grand écoles are institutes like IITs although école means school on a generic sense.
There are Grand écoles for engineering and management. Just the IIT-JEE and CAT (for IIMs) in India, there is a National level entrance exam in France for entry to these schools. Students usually go through preparatory classes to succeed in the exam.
Although these Grand écoles are reputed within France, most of them are not very famous in terms of their global university rankings. One major reason is the lack of diversity in subjects as these institutes are specialized in one or two disciplines and they are not like a generic university.
For example, the Mines ParisTech is a Grand école that offers specialized degrees in mining and civil engineering. It lacks the general well-rounded university-like vibes.
If you are from India, you would know that IITs are not really known for the humanities or commerce courses. IITs are well known for their prowess in technology and engineering.
Therefore, both the IITs and the Grand écoles in France have lagged in several World Rankings of Universities. However, they rank higher in their individual subjects.
Therefore, several of these Grand écoles have just recently started (after 2010) to aggregate into university or collegiate systems like Oxford and Cambridge University and provide some more degree programmes.
Two such examples are the Sorbonne University and the PSL university.
PSL University was formally established in 2019 (Yes, just 2 years ago). It includes universities and institutes like
Oxford and Cambridge Universities have 30-40 colleges in their collegiate systems and these colleges offer specialized degrees. The PSL University and Sorbonne University are now the Oxford and Cambride of France which have debuted within top 100 World universities.
4. Is language really a barrier?
5. French Work Culture
6. How to Travel Cheaply Around During Your Summer Internship in France?
7. Things Not To Miss During Your Summer Internship in France
8. Stereotypes about India
I believe that a lot of these perception people develop is from watching Indian movies and the portrayal of India in Western pop culture.
1. Arranged Marriages
It was very amusing to know that European people think Indians don’t have love marriage. I went to a multilingual party where a French girl was curious to know about India. She had earlier met an Indian guy, who happened to be married.
He had narrated them how his father made him see the bride and talked about marriage on the pretext of taking him to a restaurant. It was really difficult for me to convince her and some of her friends that Indians have love marriages. Further, their firm belief stems from news about ‘Khap’ and how people murder couples who go against family norms to marry.
2. Song, Dance and Happiness
The people in France and particularly, the people in my lab thought that Indians are usually quite happy and they sing and dance quite frequently. There was this girl from Morocco who had watched Indian films and knew Shahrukh Khan and Akshay Kumar. She was inquisitive if people really dance every now and then in real life. Thankfully, I could convince her that music is an integral part of most Indian movies. It’s because the highest number of movies are made in India (above 6000 and in over 20 languages) that it becomes imperative to think that Indians just sing and dance. I convinced her that there are musicals made in other parts of the world like ‘La La Land’ and she seemed convinced with the logic.
There was another guy in my lab, who believed that Indians dance only by folding hands and he would often indicate that. One fine day, I decided to explain there is not just one dance form. I showed him Indian folk dances like Bhangra, Kathak, Indian dancing Salsa, Tango and then some classical dances like Odissi and Kuchipudi. I gave him a plausible explanation that India is an amalgam of various cultures and dance is a medium of expression of one’s culture. So, it is quite natural for people belonging to different cultures have different festivities. People in India don’t dance every now and then. The folk dances are usually in the festivities when families meet and everyone is in a light mood. I went beyond to describe him about Indian festivals. I became a cultural lecturer and took a class of him.
3. India and Football
This is something which is quite genuine. Now, there was this guy who had interest in sports from around the world. He was curious to know why India doesn’t fare well in football, athletics, and swimming. I was prompt and ready for my reply. I asked him if people in France can play cricket and wrestling, Kabaddi. Well, he was bewildered with my reply. These sports were as much foreign to him as petanque to me before coming to France. I explained that Indians are obsessed with cricket. India has fared well in hockey, boxing and wrestling in Olympics and we are the best team in cricket. (Fortunately, India was ranked number 1 in both test and ODI at that time). Now, I told him the history of cricket and how faring well in cricket against the Britishers became a medium of protest during the Indian struggle for independence. It was convincing to him.
But my narration would be incomplete without this story. I found carpooling a cheap and convenient option than taking public transport in France. This also gives you an opportunity to interact with the locals, gain an insight into the French culture and make some new friends in a foreign land. With multiple offers, I booked my journey from Cannes to Montpelier on a carpooling app. The initial conversations that began with me teaching the co-passengers ‘Namaste’ as the Indian way of greeting went deeper and delved into the culture, songs and movies. It was during this context that, Orlando, a university student in Montpelier mentioned, ‘’O, I like Slumdog Millionaire and ‘Lion’. These Indian movies are really heart-touching.”
This got on my nerves. It was at this time, I was convinced that cinemas and media has a greater role in forming the public opinion. “But these are not Indian movies. The film directors of these movies are Britishers. Have you ever watched a real ‘Bollywood’ movie?”
“What is Bollywood? Is it a film industry in ‘Indian’ language.?”
I sensed another error. I felt like it is obligatory on my part to correct the notion Orlando had about India. “Listen Orlando, there is no existing language called Indian.There are 22 official languages in India. So, there are movies of several languages. Only those that are made in Hindi are known as ‘Bollywood’films.”
These are definitely great movies. But the depiction of India is that of the 1990s and over the last two decades India has undergone massive change. I knew that I don’t have to boast about my culture or leave people thinking of me as a jingoist. However, I wanted him to know more about Indian culture. Somewhere, in my heart, I felt that India is not as inferior or poor as it is depicted in the movies. I have seen poor people in Paris, Lille, Amsterdam and in Frankfurt. I realized that it becomes tougher for a poor in a developed country than in a developing country like India. The cost of the basic amenities of life is very high in developed countries. Definitely, there are slums in India. But there is more to India. I gave him a carefully thought list of 10 movies that would give an answer to a lot of questions about India. ‘Swades’, ‘Namastey London’, ‘Lagaan’, ‘Chak de India’, ‘Kaho Naa Pyar Hai’, ‘Manjhi’, ‘Jodhaa Akbar’, ‘Airlift’, ‘3 Idiots’, ‘PK’ etc. Over the conversation, I realized that ‘Bahubali’ is popular among the people who keep an interest in world cinemas. ‘Swades’ is a story of an Indian scientist from NASA who returns back to India to work for the upliftment of his village.
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