My Exchange Experience In France

Rosemary, K. Bachelor of Law/Bachelor of Journalism

Catholic University of Lille (Semester 2, 2016)

Enjoying a cheese picnic during Lille’s fleeting summer

Lille is a great exchange city. It is small enough that I could walk everywhere. The university is about a twenty-minute walk to the main train station and beautiful old town or there is a very reasonable and user-friendly bus. The university is close to a string of student bars that are so well attended on Thursday evenings that the police close the surrounding streets down. There are also antique markets, the famous La Braderie, streets of gourmet food shops and wonderful fresh food markets in nearby Wazemme. Lille has its own soccer team in the national league, which is fun to spectate, and there is a beautiful opera building that sells cheap tickets to students. There are shopping malls and networks of beautiful little cobbled streets lined with lovely little stores. Being on the border with Belgium means that Lille can offer the best of both countries. Belgium chocolate mixed with French pastries, Belgium fries and French cheese as well as beautiful French wines and famous Belgium beers meant I never came close to hungry.

I studied in the second semester from late August to mid-December. I was concerned about the cold but soon came to love the winter and the lead up to Christmas. Lille (and all of Europe) comes alive at Christmas with markets in the square, mulled wine and a huge Ferris wheel. I had to buy a new wardrobe and my first winter coat but that was a fun novelty in itself.

Lille is well located for travel with Europe’s excellent bus and train network. Cities such as London, Brussels and Paris are each less than two hours away. Amsterdam and Cologne in Germany are easy day trips as are beautiful Ghent, Brugge and Antwerp. Flying out of the Brussels Charleroi airport is very cheap and easy with a Flixbus connecting the airport to the Lille Flanders train station. There is also the Brussels International Airport an hour and a half away on the train. I had the opportunity to take many trips including Edinburgh, Italy, Norway, Ireland and Germany. People in the north of France have a similar reputation to the Australians living in Tasmania but they are open hearted and friendly people who are always willing to help with whatever English they know. They are proud of their country and happy to share it with foreigners, often going out of their way to find someone to translate my questions. Living in a country where you don’t speak the language well can be difficult and it is important to be easy going because things get lost in translation and getting an extra drink or meal or something slightly different to what you ordered can happen so I learnt not to be fussy.

Enjoying a day of playing inflatable games organised by the AEU

Lille is a very affordable city when you are living on an Australian wage. Groceries, rent, meals, movies and clothes were all cheaper than Australia. In fact the only expensive service was trains. I had many concerns about budgeting during my time overseas but the cost of living was so cheap and I kept an eye on my finances so I had no issues. My only qualm with Lille was the lack of decent coffee but my Melbourne friends and I discovered Coffee Makers on Paris Street early in the semester. They have the best beans in Lille and often sell delicious winter salads, curries and homemade tarts alongside their decadent Malteaser coffees.

University in France is a very different experience to university in Australia. Firstly, everybody lives on campus or near campus and nobody lives at home with their parents. I prearranged my accommodation with an organisation run by the university called the AEU. I was placed in a tiny little residence called La Maison de l’étudiant that only had seven rooms and was across the road from the university. The residence was a large apartment on the third floor of a converted French chalet complete with stained glass windows, marble floors and ornate plaster ceilings. All bills, Internet, cleaning and breakfast was included in my very reasonable rent. We also got fresh croissants delivered every week. All my housemates were French and Mauritian students studying their whole degrees in France. They were extremely friendly and welcoming, excited to practice their (very good) English and well and truly made me feel at home, caring for me when I was sick, taking me to the doctors and translating anything I needed. Living in an AEU residence also meant I could participate in their organised sports, attend French zumba, join their gym for 10 euro a month, eat at the outrageously cheap cafeteria (three euro for three courses!) and attend their welcome and Christmas parties. I also had the very unfortunate experience of being robbed and the AEU were able to help me call the police, translate a statement and find a new place to live, all of which would have been extremely difficult on my own.

University is very different to university in Australia but if you embrace change and respect the differences you will learn a lot. For starters, twelve subjects is a normal load. There are subjects offered in many different languages and structures: some are taught in blocks, some are taught weekly and some are taught every couple of weeks. Nothing is recorded and it is necessary to attend all classes, it would be naïve to think you could pass without doing so. Getting together a timetable can be a bit hectic, especially if you study across two faculties but that may be necessary in order to cobble together enough English subjects to satisfy the 30 ECTS requirement. The faculties within the university may as well be totally different: they are manned by different staff, have different rules and sometimes slightly different grading systems. I studied within the ESPOL and FLSH faculties, favouring the latter as ESPOL only started in 2012. I studied a broad range of subjects from sociology in the media to medieval history, European politics, French language and literature and thoroughly enjoyed them all. I think there is a tendency for people to not worry about their subjects and focus on their ‘exchange experience’ but I would advise choosing subjects you like because you will spend a lot of time studying. The university is well respected and France and the curriculum is heavy on rote learning and memorisation (hence why you need to attend class and take good notes) and involves less analytical processes than at QUT. It is a different type of learning, but it is still learning and I felt like I got a lot out of my time in Lille.

Exchange students at a Lille soccer game

The university has a well-established program for international students. They have dedicated staff members and orientation events, buddy programs and parties designed solely for international students. This enabled me to meet so many people from around the world. I made friends with people from Germany, Lithuania, Afghanistan, America, Ireland, Japan, France, Mauritius and even Australia to count a few. Lille is a beautiful little city but it is truly the people I met that made my experience. Sometimes living in a foreign country can be exasperating but having people to share in that exasperation makes it feel a whole lot less stressful.

Overall I had an amazing time on Exchange. I met lifelong friends from all around the world and I am very lucky to have had such an experience. Exchange is the easiest way to live in another country, as there are so many people and services set up to help you. If you are considering taking the leap I cannot encourage you more, it is an amazing opportunity.

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!

The final goodbye

Despite knowing that endings are a part of life, goodbyes are never easy.

Group assessment and final exams completed, marking the end of my life studying abroad at Grenoble ecole de Management. We finished the month in style, spending an evening together (all the students) enjoying a three-course meal, presentation of certificates and did as students do and continued our celebrations well into the night. After all, we deserved it!

Reflecting back, studying abroad taught me many lessons and was a fantastic experience. I encourage all students to study abroad at some point of their University degree. These are my reasons why:

You learn as much inside the classroom as you do outside the classroom

Inside the classroom, you learn similar course material as you would in your home country. Only difference is, studying abroad incorporates more of an international influence. The diversity of culture from your teachers and your peers allows greater discussion and depth into the subjects, giving you a greater perspective and understanding of whatever it may be that you are learning.

Outside the classroom you can learn everything from the history of the country, the culture, mannerism and the different lifestyles of those around you. Make the most of your time outside the classroom by sightseeing and experiencing as much as you can. Before you know it, you could be riding bikes everywhere, eating baguettes and cheese and feeling like a local Frenchy, as did I.

Stress Less

Firstly, you got chosen to study abroad, well done! Remember this is a fantastic oppourtunity so enjoy yourself. At times the study load can be overwhelming but with the grades not counting towards your GPA, understanding and passing the course is more then enough. The teachers and more then supportive and there to help you. If you are tired or feel it is too much, then make the teachers aware.

Enjoy!

Enjoy being out of your comfort zone. Yes, it is daunting being on your own in another part of the world but reality is, you are on your own in another part of the world so you can see, do, taste, experience what you want and when you want (be safe of course). You can create a whole new chapter of your life and share your experiences for years to come.

Also, enjoy the chance to meet and network with a whole new group of people interested in the same subjects and travel as you are. Take the time to chat with everyone from fellow students to teachers to local business owners. There is so much to learn about others and about the world. Advice: get networking.

Just remember, this is your experience so tailor it how you wish. Your home University are sending you on a study abroad program so you can learn in a new environment and by learn I mean both University material and cultural experiences. My trip to Grenoble was unforgettable. The course material for my courses: International Business, Digital Marketing and French Language and Culture, was very detailed and made to be very interesting. I was also able to create a whole new set of memories with a new group of friends from Canada, America, India, Saudi Arabia and even Australia. Overall, the trip was educational (as expected) but also allowed me to form strong friendships and networks, unforgettable memories and live an experience I never dreamed of.

Found the Aussie in amongst France

Last week of the four week University course and my body clock is finally syncing to the 9:45am starts, overload of croissants and bad coffees (for those coffee lovers, the best coffee is found in vending machines…says something). I am also one week into my Digital Marketing course and already feel I have learnt enough to comfortably analyse websites and recommend improvements for website usability. In other words, we are learning so much so quickly and hoping that we are absorbing enough information for our Thursday presentation and Friday exam.

Outside the school walls and since I last posted, I got to enjoy an “eventful” night of go-karting as organised by the school. Based on my past experiences of misbalancing and driving straight into a wall, you can imagine my nerves and hesitation towards this activity. Needless to say, I put on a helmet and got back into the kart, whizzing around the track and feeling as though I owned it. However, experience short lived. A simple go-kart experience seemed to turn into dodgem cars and I was back to my old ways of running into walls. Overall though, the activity was a lot of fun and another great experience in bringing all the classmates together.

I also just got back from a weekend in Lyon, the third largest place in France. With a river snaking through the middle, roman ruins and fantastic shopping, I highly recommend a trip to Lyon. The nightlife in Lyon is also great and out of all the possible places to party, we happened to stumble across an “authentic Australian club” (on a boat). Yes, I will admit, we played the Aussie card but who wouldn’t right when you are surrounded by French people and find out there is only one other Australian person working on the boat/in the club. Again, anyone visiting Lyon, I challenge you to find this Aussie bar (aka Ayers Rock) and be apart of its fantastic atmosphere.

So with only four more days left of University and the farewells drawing closer, it feels as though time has flown by. I have learnt so much both academically but also culturally and been able to make many valuable contacts along the way. Anyway, it is off to bed and I will post again soon about my final days in Grenoble.

Aussie shot at Ayers Rock, France

Aussie shot at Ayers Rock, France

Lyon France

Lyon France

Lyon

Lyon

What a week

Hooray! Made it through the first week and what a good week it was. Grenoble is beautiful. Here, we are surrounded by the Rhone-Alps, the buzz of chatter and laughter, pure sunshine (although rain periods have also been experienced) and people out on their bikes or having a coffee at the cafe. The Grenoble lifestyle appears to be waking up late, food from the bakery, work from 10am till 7pm, two-hour lunch breaks and then out for dinner from 7:30pm. Finally, the sun decides to leave this place about 10-10:30pm and it is off to bed.

Bridge, Grenoble by Ellie Bakker

Bridge, Grenoble by Ellie Bakker

View from La Bastille by Ellie Bakker

View from La Bastille by Ellie Bakker

My Grenoble lifestyle feels much like the locals. I grab my croissant and head off to the Grenoble Ecole de Management, for my subjects in International Business and French Language and Culture. I will admit the days are very intense. We learn the equivalent of three weeks of study at QUT in one full day. The classes are kept interesting though by incorporating current world trends and issues and with such diversity in the classes (students from India, Saudi Arabia, Syria and America), the similarities and differences between the countries are greatly emphasized in discussion. French Language and Culture is NOT about learning the language (which I assumed it was) but about French society, history, and places to visit within the country. We have also learnt some basic language phrases which have been useful for day-to-day.

Evenings are spent taste testing the different meals, desserts and wines from various cafes/restaurants followed by some late night revision. Two unforgettable moments of the week included the trip to La Bastille and the music festival. As a class, we took a cable-car over the roofs of Grenoble, over the Isere river and up to the top of La Bastille. The views from above are spectacular, overlooking the entirety of Grenoble, the mountains and the rivers. The view plus a delicious three-course meal definitely made for a fantastic memory.

Secondly, ‘La fête de la musique’ (music festival) was another highlight. To celebrate the longest day of the year, stages are setup around Grenoble with music from genres of pop, rock, electronic, hip-hop and classic blaring from them and children to adults dancing around the stages. Again as a class, we went around to each of the stages and enjoyed people watching and participating in the celebrations, which go well into the morning.

To sum the week, it was fantastic. I have been able to meet new people from all different countries, expand my waistline with all the taste testing, explore the city of Grenoble and undertake studies in a new and interesting environment. For the weekend, we (the class) are off to Annecy for a ropes course and to explore the cute little town. Till next time…..