An American’s Taste of Academic Life at Audencia
Shown left: American professor Judy Frels and her husband, Lou
Judy Frels realized recently that a man she greets when out dog walking is related to a woman who works at a pizzeria she frequents. After a year, Frels is starting to see connections across the compact city of Nantes (population 280,000).
Judy Frels used to live in Washington, D.C. She left an administrative post at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business to move to France before finally taking up a post as an associate professor of marketing at Audencia Nantes School of Management. Her research at Audencia focuses on consumer reaction to green regulations and the impact of government forcing the adoption of new green technologies.
There is a slightly different approach to research in France, says Frels.
“The American schools are becoming more focused on just the top journals because the schools’ ranking process has driven them to say that publishing in these top journals is what really matters – which is absolutely fine. But for me, when I was on tenure track at Maryland, it reduced my ideas of what was worth pursuing. If I thought an idea was not going to make one of those top journals, I dropped it.”
She continues, “Here I have been working with one of my colleagues on a project for a French national utility company. I thought we could write it up and do something with it. Would it go in one of the top journals? Maybe not. But I knew that it would go into a good journal and that we are doing something that is interesting to me personally and valuable to a client who is involved in the research.”
At the same time, Audencia is ambitious about its research, she says.
“If I were younger in my career and I were determined to make a name for myself by publishing strictly in A-level journals, there is time to do that. My teaching load is very comparable to teaching in the U.S.”
Frels teaches MBA students as well as undergraduates, known as Grandes Écoles students, at Audencia. The MBA students, drawn from many nations across the globe, are similar to the MBA students she taught in the U.S. The Grandes Écoles students are Frels’s first undergraduate students, and she finds them very different from Americans.
“It’s easy to underestimate how smart the Grandes Écoles students are because they don’t constantly share their thoughts in class,” she says. Their level of understanding and the depth of their thinking about complex subjects can come as a surprise to an American teacher.
One of the most pleasant teaching differences between the U.S. and French approaches is the way she can schedule classes at Audencia.
“You have the latitude to schedule your classes based on the cadence that is appropriate for the material you are teaching. I have some classes where we meet every week for two hours. But I have other classes where we tend to meet intensively for a time, and then I will give them a break before our final meeting, when they have to do a presentation.”
Another thing the French do very well, says Frels, is foster international experiences. “Many of these students, once they are two or three semesters in, will get international work or academic experience. Many of them will travel to the U.S., some to South America, some to Asia.”
Outside Audencia, Frels is enjoying the quality of life that most small cities offer. It’s still a novelty.
“It will be a long time before living in France becomes routine – in a good way,” says Frels. Her conversation French is now good, though she still struggles at times when the conversation moves to subjects that are more ethereal. “I can buy eggs,” she adds.
There were challenges in moving from Washington. French town houses have much less storage space than houses in Washington’s suburbs, and some hard choices had to be made. She remembers her difficulties in getting her apartment painted, getting cell phones set up… the panic when she realized her auto insurance would be cancelled if she did not hurry up and register her car. But then, she can recall equally frustrating experiences at the Washington D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles. And her French landlord has been delightful – he drops in regularly for a coffee.
The fabulous food in France is another challenge. It forces Frels and her foodie husband to practice near-constant self-control.
No matter how happy she is in her new life, it does not affect Judy’s appreciation of old friends.
“I visited the University of Maryland a few weeks ago, and it was really good to meet all my former colleagues and to reconnect with them,” says Frels. “It is still hard not to say ‘we’ when I talk about the University of Maryland.” But that certainly doesn’t stop her from saying “nous” at Audencia Nantes School of Management.
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