Nightmarish Bureaucracy

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Beware of Bureaucrats! (street art found in Ottawa)

Beware of Bureaucrats! (street art found in Ottawa)

I have never been lucky with bureaucracy in France. In Fact, it’s almost a joke among my friends: my full name doesn’t fit on most applications, and I don’t fit in most boxes anyway. Somehow, I always ended up being the exception.

Moving to Canada turned my luck around. I find the Canadian government quite efficient and accommodating and so far, I haven’t had any major problem.

Until I decided to take some classes at university.

Last year, I showed up at the university to register for the summer session and everything went fine… until the woman realized I was French. “You need to take an English proficiency test“, she said. “Sure, where can I do that?“. She looked up at me, probably surprised by my eagerness: “the TOEFL will do“.

I came back home and registered to take the TOEFL test. It was early June and the closest test date was late August. I had realized, by then, that I wouldn’t be able to attend summer classes, but I didn’t mind too much. I spent the summer practicing for the TOEFL instead.

But two days before the test date, I received an email from TOEFL saying my test had been rescheduled… to October. Bye bye Fall session. I went back to the university and begged: “please, let me attend classes, and if I don’t pass the test in October, just kick me out!“. But the university was inflexible. I missed the Fall session.

I studied for the TOEFL again. It was rescheduled. Again. I was finally able to take the exam in December 2008, a few days before our Latina America trip. I passed quite easily: 115/ 120. Gee, thanks, I can speak English.

In April this year, upon coming back from the trip, I went to the university again, my TOEFL scores in hand. “Can I register now?“. “Sure, but in which program? Do you have the prerequisites?

I explained I had a three years degree from a French university. That I had been working as a teacher for the past four years. That I had taken a few additional classes in linguistic and in history here and there, but hadn’t been able to complete my French Master degree because I had moved to Canada in between.

Make a formal application and we will see if we can give you equivalences… otherwise, you will have to start from the scratch“.


Not willing to start in undergrad year 1 again, I gathered all the paperworks. It wasn’t easy: in France, universities are “free” but we have no services. My transcripts are just print outs with a half-erased stamps from the registrar office. I had to provide all the classes’ descriptions — this is where I realized that my degree didn’t exist anymore, thanks to last year’s reform in France. I had to prepare a resume because I’m considered as a “mature student” (at 26 years old!) and show my motivation to take classes.

I printed and copied until both machines died and applied.

I’m sure most North American are familiar with the process, but for a European, it is quite daunting. It is necessary to apply online, and then to bring all the documents at the university, where they are certified. Then, you just wait and see…because you may not be accepted.

So I sat and waited. Until the day when I logged on to the intranet to see my application status and saw it was “incomplete“. I was missing… the results of my TOEFL test. See, normally, TOEFL send the results to four university of the applicant’s choice. I had listed the two universities in Ottawa, so the results must have been there. Quod erat demonstrandum.

I went to the university with my own TOEFL report in case of. The copy of the report wasn’t accepted, but my original was taken.

I sat and waited some more.

A week later, my application was still incomplete. I went back to the university: “we don’t accept applicants’ reports, score reports must be mailed by TOEFL“. “But I already requested a report for you!“, I pleaded. “We don’t accept applicants reports…“. Gotcha. Since the university is bilingual, I asked if I could register in French instead. “You have to prove you speak French“. “But… I’m French“, I stated, unsure of whether is was a joke or not. “You have to prove you speak French anyway“. “I’m French“, I repeated, this time a bit louder. “How can I not speak French?“. “You have to prove you speak French“.

I was so frustrated I almost bought every chocolate I could find on the way home. I asked again TOEFL to send the results to the university. I paid again, of course. Apparently, it would take about 6-8 weeks.

I went back to the university with the printout of my test reorder. “See, I reorder the scores. Given that you already have the original of my test results, could you please make a decision on my application?“. “When we will receive the official scores“.

I argued that I was due to start the summer session soon, and that I was not going to take summer classes if my application for September was refused, that it was a waste of time. “Your fault, you should have applied earlier“.

As a Canadian, I’m way too polite, so I kept my mouth shut. But the French in me was seething with anger. I need to have some kind of Canadian education to improve my chances to get another job. I am willing to pay to go to university. I made it through immigration (and almost citizenship). I speak both official languages. And yet, I’m facing a wall of bureaucracy.

I really, really hope I eventually get accepted and get credits for my degrees in French.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Remember that song “never end story” or something like that?

    I guess this is all an undercover citizenship test to check if you can stand the whole process without arguing!

  2. How infuriating and frustrating. And so wrong. For those inane Canadian bureaucratic institutions in existence, I apologise.
    Have you tried going over the head of the usual person you’ve been dealing with at the registrar’s office? I find that dealing with someone who lacks any power or authority to THINK AND MAKE REASONABLE decisions is futile.

  3. Ha Ha.. I can understd what you are going through… Sorry about that. All the best for your canadian degree….

    I hv heard frm fellow friends in Canada that they make ppl start from scratch most times. Thats bad…

    Gee, thanks, I can speak English. – Oh come on Zhu… u shd say I can speak English as well… English, French, Mandarin…

  4. Hi Zhu,
    Sorry to hear this stupid issue. I’ve heard so many stories of people walled with bureaucracy! There is no way a Canadian university cannot accept bachelors degree from French university, its part of an agreement where each others degrees are accepted. My undergrad from India was accepted too, with the printouts of transcripts (nobody knows what they are in India) with stamps. Fortunately no English exam because the Masters degree rules state that ‘if your undergrad is in English, you don’t need TOEFL’. Universities get so many applications that they will find the easiest excuse to turn you away, but your case is too much arrogance on their prt. I hope all this get resolved!

  5. That is so screwed up! I’m sorry to hear you have to go through all these trouble to study at Canadian university. I hope you’ll be accepted soon.

  6. Several years ago I also thought of applying to US universities (but finally didn’t make it). One of them actually requested the transcripts to be sent directly from the institution where one graduated. The problem was, my transcripts were like yours, and my (Malaysian) university didn’t provide that kind of service.

    As for English proficiency, British and Australian universities accept IELTS aside from TOEFL. American ones accept nothing but TOEFL!

  7. OMG that’s truly nightmarish. It’s totally ridiculous how they ask you to prove that you speak French when you are French!

    Sometimes I see people holding on to rules / regulations to their dear lives without really looking at the people standing before them.

  8. I wish North American and European universities were more flexible about each other’s degrees. I know a lot of Americans who have trouble getting their degrees recognized in France, so they have to start over too. It’s quite ridiculous. You *should* be able to get yours recognized in Canada though – just might take some time.

    TOEFL drives me crazy! It’s not even a good test. Native speakers can’t even answer all of the questions correctly because they’re misleading or confusing.

  9. Wow!! Looks like you went through a lot of trouble to get this thing done. In India too you need to go through this stuff, but I guess its worse here…..much much worse. I have seen people wait for their PAN card for a year (something like SIN).

    @Priyank: Some Indian universities now have the option of them sending the transcripts directly. Thank God!!

  10. @Guillermo – Maybe it is actually! 😆 Well, that would explain the non-sense.

    @Beth – I did try to bypass the first level employees (who seem to be students to me) and see the supervisor, but no luck so far. I talk to a few teachers and even they acknowledged the non-sense, but couldn’t do much to help, even after a few phone calls… because they were stuck administratively too.

    @CM-Chap – I feel sorry for your friends, if I’m asked to start from scratch, I won’t go. I can’t financially anyway.

    @Final_Transit – THank you for your feedback! For the TOEFL, I spoke to a very nice Indian student last year (he saw me smoking like crazing outside the uni. and came to me to ask what was wrong!). He told me he was asked the TOEFL and argued with the university (he spoke perfect English and had a Master) to not take it… and he was successful.

    Now I don’t care because I did pass the TOEFL, I just wish they would realize that!

    My French degrees are quite unique because I studied Chinese and Asian civilizations… even though it encompasses a lot of other classes, such as economy, history etc. the university is quite puzzled with them. I do hope I can get some credits!

    @Bluefish – Thank you! Oui c’est… fucké? 😉

    @Khengsiong – I heard American uni. are very very picky. Which I find is a paradox, because considering most tuition fees… I mean, financially speaking I’m sure a lot of people can’t even afford to go!

    I think only North American universities have these kind of services, like official transcript, graduation ceremonies etc. They should be used to the fact we don’t!

    @the writer – Oh yeah, and I had a lot of experience with that in France… unfortunately!

    @beaverboosh – Merci! Did you go to university in Ottawa by any chance?

    @Jennie – The TOEFL is a really stupid test. Lots of headache for… nothing. But TOEFL is a big business, the test is expensive, the books are expensive, sending scores reports is expensive…

    I’m glad I got a good score (115/ 120) and I’m not taking this test ever again.

    @Agnes – Yes, it is… too bad that’s what bureaucrats do!

  11. All this because you want to learn. Argh!!! Well, at least you got lots of chocolate to make up for your sadness.

    And I’m happy to hear you are now able to take classes and were approved. Bureaucracies are funny in theory, until you have to deal with them in person.

  12. Wow. While reading this, I myself feel pained. You have wasted a year’s worth of time, trying to register for a simple degree. I find it annoying and bizarre at the same time that institutions such as a university can be so complicated, when they are sure signs of human social progress. It’s like each of the university’s parts aren’t talking to each other. I hope you don’t get discouraged by all this.

  13. Hey Zhu,

    Congrats on your TOEFL grades: very good – we hadn’t noticed you knew how to speak English LOL ;)!
    I studied in an University that lectured classes in English (in Lisbon), and when I expressed the wish to take a summer course at a university in London, I also had to take an English proficiency test…oh well…

    Girl, Europe has reformed its entire educational system in 2006…now we are all under the Bologna Treaty (3 years undergraduate, 2 years Masters)…most people had to start from scratch, go figure.

    Yeah, on this side of the world, all we need to do is to register, pay and that is it. In North America they can decline your application: wow.

    What? But you are French…so why do you have to proof you are French?
    Anyway, TOEFL is very incompetent in Canada, isn’t it? I am shocked!

    “I was so frustrated I almost bought every chocolate I could find on the way home.” – LOL LOL LOL oh, you are one of those…. lol 😉

    ““Your fault, you should have applied earlier“.” – oh my God!!! You did apply earlier…but TOEFL kept re-scheduling it *nodding*! Incompetence!

    Girl, I wish you all the luck in the world: do not quit!!! Ok? 🙂
    I am rooting for you!


  14. @Seb – No no, I still can’t take classes! But after ranting, I felt better already. I see stars and bears 😉

    @Spyder -Isn’t it!

    @Linguist-in-Waiting – I’m sure you can feel my frustration, as a student yourself! As of today, my situation is still stuck… but I’m keeping fingers crossed. I’m sure the teachers are fine, this is just plain old stupid bureaucracy!

    @Max Coutinho – That is so stupid — I mean, you obviously speak English fluently, studied the language officially at university, and still had to take the test??? Wow, TOEFL is a big business…

    Yes, the famous university reform. Some loved it, some hated it… I can’t say it went smoothly at my former university, because it was a “grande école” (like sciences-po) and had its own weird system. Maybe on the long run…

  15. Hey Zhu,

    First, I just realised I made a mistake in my comment: I asked why you need to prove you are French; when I wanted to ask why you need to prove you SPEAK French *nodding*…I am getting old LOL ;)…

    You are right: TOEFL is a huge business! But it is not alone, now you have also the British Council’s IELTS (however it is more beneficial than TOEFL because with this certificate you can present it when applying for a job [to prove your proficiency in English]).

    Here in Portugal, many hated it too (but I personally, loved it because the old system was a complete waste of time…with this one you can get a part-time job while studying at the same time, it has less subjects [we used to have 16 subjects per year – it was crazy] and it is more specific).

  16. I remember when, eager to re-enter education in France, I went to the local university to see what was on offer. They turned up their nose at my U.K. degree, wanted me to start the whole mess over again starting from year one general studies and kindly allowed me to sit in on a lecture which was, from a U.K. perpective, a farce! What they didn’t do was to see if I spoke, wrote and read French.

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