The French education system is peculiar. Public universities are almost free: a few hundred bucks per year, paid by the government if you come from a low-income family. Most teenagers decide to pursue their studies after high school, for better or worse, but many options are available. Two paths are possible to obtain a Master degree: you can attend a regular public university, or you can go to a ”Grande École” (“Great School”).
I always knew I wanted to become a software engineer. In France, the title of engineer can only be granted by engineering schools, and the best ones are Grandes Écoles. The Wikipedia page perfectly defines what a Grande École is:
The Grandes Écoles are highly selective, elite, and prestigious institutions; their graduates have dominated upper levels of the private and public sectors of French society for decades.
Not just decades. Centuries. The term was first coined after the French Revolution, circa 1794. The most famous ones are École Normale Supérieure and École Polytechnique (also known as X). I studied at INSA Lyon, which is a much younger, but renown, generalist engineering school. Now, I can’t say I’m a big fan of the Grande École system. It’s still an archaïc system extolling elitism, which tends to favor the students coming from wealthier backgrounds. Social Reproduction as Bourdieu says. My parents are not rich. My mother never went to college. My father was a stay-at-home dad. I was lucky they always made sure I was doing good at school, which eventually compounded into easing my access to new life opportunities. I had a childhood dream to fulfill, and a Grande École is still a gateway to better living conditions in France. That was a fact, so I got admitted into engineering school.
Each engineering school has its own culture. INSA Lyon is a multi-disciplinary engineering school founded by a rector and a philosopher. The INSA Lyon model is similar to most engineering schools, with a focus on engineering disciplines. However, a non-negligible portion of the timetable is allocated to the practice of Sports, Creative Arts, and Humanities; which is unique in the French education ecosystem. INSA Lyon’s original concept was to become the embodiment of Rabelais’ maxim “science without conscience is but the ruin of the soul”. There is a mandatory assignement called Personal Humanities Project each student must pass to get their engineering degree. Most students take it lightly, almost as a joke, but I don’t discriminate between soft and hard sciences. This is how I came to write an essay called Nomadism as an Ascending Vector. As its name suggests, it was an essay on nomadism, which would lead to my book Alter-Nomad 3 years later.
I completed all my courses one year ago, yet, the official graduation ceremony is happening in 15 days. I don’t really feel like going. It’s just to get a piece of paper and get a last drink together with my comrades. I decided because I owe it to my family. It’s my way to thank them. We are renting an Airbnb for four days, the ceremony spans over two. We are going to suit up and celebrate. One has to work hard, but also party harder.