Living ‘La Vie Francaise’: Studying abroad in France – Kathryn Wilson

Life in France and Cultural Integration 

Moving to France is both a daunting and exciting prospect. Being constantly surrounded by non – English speakers while integrating yourself into a completely different culture can be nerve-wracking. I did an internship in Togo, a French speaking country in Western Africa before moving to Lyon, which helped keep my French ticking over during the summer. Doing something that in some way prepares you for your year abroad (immersing yourself in a different culture or taking a language course) before you go is definitely a good idea.

In terms of integration, it’s very easy to mix with other Erasmus students as there are a great deal of Erasmus-themed events. With the French it’s a bit trickier, but at the end of the day it will be what you make of it. The hardest part of speaking a language is confidence, so my advice would be try not to be shy and throw yourself into meeting and chatting to the French students. They are all incredibly nice, helpful and supportive; and will usually offer to help you understand the class and send you their notes. The university also offers a buddy system as part of which you are paired with a French student who wants to improve their English, which is definitely worth picking up on. It is great both on the French-improvement front as well as having a helping hand to negotiating life in France.

I arrived late Saturday night/Sunday morning and one of the first things I noticed was that the city was completely dead. The whole of France pretty much shuts down every week on a Sunday – there are no shops open apart from the occasional supermarket and there are hardly any people out and about. Another aspect of French working life is that most places will take a lunch break 12-2 and so can sometimes be open only for 4/5 hours a day. This makes getting things done quite difficult but you just have to be patient and adjust. You are bound to run into some sort of bureaucracy one way or another at some point so the earlier you learn how to deal with it, the better.

University in France

Over the summer, you should be sent a great deal of emails regarding enrolment. I would look at these and deal with them as soon as you can as the French tend to go on holiday so can take a long time to reply to emails. University in Lyon starts around the same time as Glasgow – if I remember correctly I think it was the 11th September this year. I decided to go out to Lyon around the 26th August, which was a good decision as there is a great deal to organise.

Enrolment in courses works differently to the UK and we had a two-week ‘trial period’ of classes before we had to enrol officially. While this seemed very strange to us at the beginning, it is incredibly useful if you know how to use it well. The best way to go about this is attending a lot of different lectures and speaking to each professor to establish how they deal with Erasmus students. As each lecturer sets their own course content and exam, establishing the course material – whether it is something you are interested in – and the exam format is really important.

You may have either oral or written exams. My advice would be to steer away from written exams if possible as they can be challenging for non-French students if the questions are in complex language. In some cases, if it is a court judgement analysis (fiche d’arret), the language is complicated and some of the legal words do not have a translation in the dictionary. In oral exams, the professors tend to be more sympathetic to the fact you are part of the Erasmus programme – these take the format of a 15-minute presentation on a particular aspect of the course with 10 minutes preparation time. The lectures for each law module are once a week and 3 hours long and few professors use PowerPoints, meaning it can be easy to get a bit lost. However, there are a bunch of Facebook groups you can join where people post their notes.

The university sports system works slightly differently in Lyon – it is only 36 euros for the year to join the general sports faculty. This is really good value as means you can go to whatever sport you want (there are some have options for competing like tennis and football but you have to have a health examination by the university doctor first). The university also does ski trips which are good to keep an eye out for as they sell out very fast; or, as an alternative, skimania is a great website that does cheap return day trips/weekends away.

Travelling in Europe

Travelling is one of the best parts of a year abroad so I would urge you to take full advantage of it.

For destinations close by, you can look at bus companies such as Flixbus and Ouibus. There is a ‘goeuro’ website which is great for comparing different bus companies to get the best deal. In terms of day trips, Lake Annecy was a highlight; we went in September so it was still very warm and we could go out on the lake and use the boats. Other places that are good for day trips include Chamonix (great skiing/hiking destination), the national parks outside Lyon, Geneva (very expensive but a beautiful city to visit), and Disneyland Paris (if you book cleverly and go off season you can go for pretty cheap).

For weekend trips, Paris is an obvious choice (either by overnight bus which isn’t ideal but is very cheap), or sometimes you can get lucky with trains/TGV (they can fluctuate from anything from 10 euros to 130 euros). From Paris, you can take a day trip to Mont Saint Michel, an island commune in Normandy which is spectacular. Barcelona is also within bus distance from Lyon. We went to Mallorca as late as the first week in November in first semester and got everything very cheap as it was the last week of the season but luckily still very warm. At the start of the second semester, we visited Vienna which I couldn’t recommend enough- a city very rich in culture with incredibly beautiful buildings. We also took a day trip by bus to Bratislava, the Slovakian capital from here.

In terms of getting to the airport, there is a Rhone Express which runs from Part Dieu directly to the airport and is around 15 euros. A cheaper option is to take a BlaBla car, which usually costs between 3 and 5 euros. You probably want to stay away from taxis from the airport as they can end up as much as 50-80 euros.



General Advice

Amongst the emails you receive over the summer for enrolling, you will also receive logins to apply for housing, if you wish to stay in CROUS halls (the nationalised student halls). French halls are very different to British halls – they are constructed as a long corridor with around 50 ensuite rooms on each level with a few shared kitchens. The kitchen is a bit of a shock when you first see it (there is quite literally a microwave and hobs – no oven, kettle, toaster or other appliances) but I understand that this is the case for student housing in most of France – I’ve only met a few people who are lucky (!) enough to have an oven.

I stayed in Benjamin Delessert which was very close to a metro and supermarket and full of a good mixture of international, Erasmus and French students. The rent is incredibly cheap (265 euros a month and even less than this when you apply for CAF, which is a student discount on rent). Some of my other friends live with a French family or in apartments which tend to be nicer but a great deal more expensive (around the 500 euro mark) and can be difficult if you end up with tricky flat mates.

In order to get CAF, you need to open a French bank account. This is handy to have in any case as means you’re not wasting money on the minor charges incurred when withdrawing money with your UK card. I set up an account with BNP Paribas at the university which turned into quite a long and drawn out process so I would recommend just going into the branch directly and doing it (although the university registration worked smoothly for some people- perhaps it was just because my last name was at the end of the alphabet).

With regard to travel, Lyon is a much bigger city that Glasgow so it is not always easy to walk everywhere. They have Velo bikes (like Boris Bikes) which cost 20 euros for the whole year and are located pretty much everywhere throughout the city. They then have the bus, metro, funiculaire and tram system which is run by TCL. You can get a student pass which means you have unlimited transport for 30 euros a month. This seems like a lot at first but is especially useful if you have to get the metro to university (which is fairly often – I know few people lucky enough to get an apartment/ CROUS residence within walking distance). On the other hand, it is 5 euros for an all day pass or 2 euros for a single.

I hope this has helped you gain a better idea of life in France, studying law in French and French culture. I can only hope you have as amazing a time on your year abroad when it comes around as I am having and if you are feeling a bit lost or stuck, feel free to send me an email/message. If in doubt, there is always a Scottish pub not too far away to remind you that you are never too far away from home!


-Kathryn Wilson

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