Let it snow!

For the last few weeks there has been a lot of speculation about when the first snow of the season would fall here. Lille is not a very snowy area – something about the geography – but we’d all been hearing reports from our friends in other European universities that the snows had begun.

But last night, only a few days after the rest of Europe, the weather finally cooperated and I woke up this morning to see these scenes from my window. I live on campus and it just so happens that my little studio apartment was positioned to get some great views. I could go outside to take photos but it’s FREEZING.

At this point in the semester I am very glad I chose to live on campus as my accommodation. Not just because I can see snow on frosty mornings like today, but also because the campus is about a 25min tram ride outside of the main city. Because classes run from 9:40am – 5:20pm (depending on the subject and day) it means I save a lot of time in transit. It also means the occasional 8am start isn’t too painful as the classroom building is about a one minute walk away from my accommodation.

The rent for campus accommodation is a little higher than renting a room in a share apartment, but my little studio does come furnished with a bed, two tables, two chairs, a kitchenette (fridge, sink, microwave and two hot plates) and a decent sized bathroom (shower, sink and toilet). A cleaning lady also comes in twice a month to clean my studio and breakfast is provided on weekdays. So although it’s a little more expensive, the location and other perks make up for it in my books. Then again, the last tram on most nights is 12:15am so if you want to go drinking in Lille with your classmates you are a bit of a Cinderella.

OFII Time is T-Shirt Time

It’s early October and for all the international students in France this means one thing – it’s OFII time!

My appointment at l’Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration (OFII) was last Friday and I am happy to report that it went very smoothly. In less than an hour I had my two medical x-rays, presented all my paperwork to the official, answered a couple of questions with my very basic French skills and was sent on my way with a special stamp in my passport that allows me to stay in France for a full year and multiple entries to the Schengen area.

You receive a lot of information from OFII  before your appointment but there is one thing they do not mention in their letters that is of great importance. It is not a secret that you will have a chest x-ray during your interview. What they do not mention is that they do not provide medical gowns or any sort of cover.

I cannot emphasise this enough for the ladies: unless you are comfortable with the (male) doctor and (male) radiographer seeing you stripped to the waist, wear a t-shirt to your OFII appointment. The doctor will let you keep your t-shirt on provided you remove your bra. I was fortunate enough to be wearing a t-shirt anyway, but one of my American friends was not. She does have waist-length hair, however, and told me she walked into the x-ray room with her hair artfully arranged to cover what she could.

I asked her if she had felt at all uncomfortable during the x-ray. “No,” was her simple reply. “The doctor and radiographer were total professionals and anyway, they’re French. There are, like, topless women on the cover of fashion magazines so by the time they walk past a newsagency on the way to work they’ve probably already seen, like, five pairs so one more couldn’t hurt.”

I couldn’t really argue with her logic but for those of us who are a little more shy or have shorter hair, OFII time is also t-shirt time.

Arts’n’Go

After last week’s introductory sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday my studies at EDHEC are now truly under way. As I mentioned previously, I am undertaking the full Master of Science in Arts and NGO Management (also referred to as Arts’n’Go by students and course co-ordinators tired of the full title) and even though I read all of the course information available to me it is only now that my studies have begun that I understand how the course actually works.

Essentially, units are either a 15 or 30 hour unit and these hours are taught intensively over a day or two of classes. Some assessment such as orals necessitate another class on a particular unit later in the semester but otherwise you may not attend another class on a particular subject until the exam block at the end of semester. This sounds a little odd to me as I am used to studying the same subjects with the same timetable for a full thirteen week semester before final exams but for the French students, it is quite standard to study ten or eleven different subjects over a semester and then have three intense days of back-to-back exams. It will be interesting to see how we all go at the end of the semester.

There are only 26 students in the Arts’n’Go major so we have all of our classes together in the same little classroom every day. Because we’re such a small group it is also possible for us to go on field trips. We have had three field trips so far, which admittedly sounds excessive since we’ve only been studying for a week and a half, but these trips were not just sightseeing. So far we have been to a museum in Roubaix where we toured the museum and were able to ask the curators how they manage the collection, spent a day at an entrepreneurship conference in Lille to attend workshops and also met the deputy mayor of culture in Lille to hear firsthand how cultural festivals are organised on a grand scale. Speaking with professionals who clearly enjoy their work is a great motivator during those long classroom hours and is also very helpful as we will soon be commencing our Masters projects.

The Masters projects involve small teams of students working with established companies or organisations in order to meet some objective. They’re not just case studies either – they’re real projects with clients, deadlines and budgets. Some of the groups will be working with fundraising committees, others will be creating cultural programs and others will be co-ordinating events. It’s both very exciting and a little daunting. I cannot say too much about the project I have been assigned to for confidentiality reasons, but I can say that I feel very lucky my client is bilingual (some clients requested only French speaking students and unfortunately my language skills aren’t quite there yet) and in the local area so arranging meetings will hopefully be a little easier.

I apologise for another post that is just a block of text – I promise that there will be pictures in my next post.

Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis

Like Jodie in Maastricht, I am also taking part in QUT’s new double Masters program. I have completed the first six months of my Master of Business (International Business) in Brisbane and will complete the remaining six months in semester two, 2013. In the meantime I will be undertaking a full Master of Science in Arts and NGO Management at Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales du Nord (EDHEC) in Lille, France.

There is a charming saying that travelers cry twice in the North – once when they arrive and once when they leave. I arrived in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais on August 2nd and so far no tears have been shed but I can confirm that the welcoming atmosphere portrayed in Dany Boon’s Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (Welcome to the Sticks) is very real.

EDHEC welcomes many international students each year and they are clearly  aware that this might be the first time some of these students have been in France (myself included). Months before arriving in Lille I was directed to a special Blackboard site for international students that included, amongst other things, a wonderfully comprehensive student guide that covers almost everything from organising accommodation to opening a bank account to purchasing tickets for the tram and tips for navigating the labyrinthine French bureaucracy. It is probably due to the existence of this guide that I have had a tear-free existence in France thus far.

Aside from its student engagement team at Open Up (they organise activities and trips for students amongst other things), EDHEC also has a buddy system for new students. My buddy and I have exchanged a couple of emails and we have tentative plans to meet for coffee during Orientation next week which is definitely something to look forward to.

It is not just the university that makes you feel welcome in the North – most of the French people I have come across so far have also been friendly and very patient as I use my limited French and expert miming ability. Lille is the second largest student city in France after Paris and there are quite a few tourists so I expect the residents are used to hearing some interesting attempts at their language. There is also a local dialect here call ch’ti – you can hear examples of it in the movie trailer above – but I am not bold enough to try it just yet, but once my French classes are under way at the university it might be a different story.

If you are also considering the double Masters program or going to France on exchange and have some questions, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments and I will respond. I am not sure how I will go keeping a set schedule for updates but there will definitely be a post soon with more information about my studies (I am enrolled in the eleven compulsory units for this semester as well as the optional French Business in Perspective and French language classes) once I have received my timetable and have an idea of how one can undertake so many different units in one semester.

Until then, a bientôt!