Author: Niamh Frame
Last year I had the pleasure of going to the Université de Savoie Mont Blanc in Chambéry (SE France) as part of my Joint Honours Law with French. From my first couple of lectures, I was welcomed by the French students and also professors. I think this was the great thing about going to a small university (there are 5,400 students on the Jacob-Bellecombette campus); it feels casual and friendly. In addition, the approach of study abroad staff was very hands on; they knew all the students and their needs. At no point did I feel confused or stressed about document deadlines or timetabling issues, because I knew all I had to do was send an email and I would get a punctual response. Though it took a while for some documents to be signed, I was always told why this was by international relations officer for law quickly, so I had no cause for concern.
Courses at the university
The courses at the university are taught generally very well, with professors encouraging Erasmus students to speak to them during the break between hours of class if they are in need of extra support. All the professors were pleased to have Erasmus students taking their subjects and were really accommodating. I would also strongly encourage people to make French friends; at the university people were lovely and I felt fully integrated and comfortable in no time. Not only is it great for your language, it also gives you an insight into authentic French university life in Savoie. Plus, if you ask your French friends for help or course notes then they will likely oblige! They understand how hard it is to learn a different law in a different language. To prepare for learning in French, I would recommend listening to French podcasts and radio to get used to hearing a different language constantly. It is useful to note that you have to do French classes anyway.
The French legal system and exams
One particularly good thing about French law is the Codes: with their civil system all the cases are short (I didn’t have to read many anyway!) and the legislation is usually quite concise. There is no need to buy a Code however, as at Chambéry most of the Erasmus exams are oral (I only had one written exam out of about 10 law subjects over two semesters). This is not an exam set-up to worry about, it gives you room to manoeuvre to showcase what you really know and if you are interested in the subject this is a great way to show your lecturer that you’re engaged, which often ends up increasing your mark!
The courses require work and patience, of course, but I still found plenty of time for socialising and making the absolute most of this experience. The University is amazing for putting on activities for students, whether Erasmus/exchange or not. Before classes started in September, I took part in an integration week for international students at a ski resort where I met so many of my international friends. We did lots: hiking, swimming in the lakes, French classes, a tour of the beautiful town of Annecy and an assault course with ziplines in the trees with Mont Blanc in the distance! During term time, every weekend in the first semester the University put on hikes for students and apéro drinks nights for international students. You went out at 0730 in the morning and would come back at 1700 at night on a Saturday, and the views were incredible. The amazing thing about being in the Alps too was that all second semester the University were putting on skiing trips! In second semester, the final year law students got the chance to go to Geneva for a day which included a visit to the Red Cross Museum and a guided tour of the United Nations. This was free!
Even if you wanted to organise your own trips, it was generally inexpensive to do so. Chambéry had great transport links, with lots of buses to Germany, Switzerland and Italy stopping there. There is a TGV that goes directly to Paris via Lyon, and the bus to Geneva only takes an hour.
The only downside is the cost of living. The larger cheaper supermarkets (E.Leclerc for example) are further outside the town, so having a bike or taking the bus would probably be necessary for grocery shopping. The smaller supermarkets (Monoprix, Carrefour City, Franprix) were rather expensive. My accommodation (Résidence Univercity) was just over 500 euros a month, which included wifi and heating, and I loved it. I was in a basic studio, but my friends were all either just down the hall or a couple of floors down. The staff were really helpful too, which is great because French bureaucracy can be so convoluted. I kept my own phone contract, but lots of my friends got new ones and I wasn’t aware of any issues. Opening a student bank account with BNP Paribas was surprisingly simple too, and the online banking was easy to use.
Overall, I had a wonderful year and I would encourage everyone studying Law with French to consider the Université de Savoie Mont Blanc in Chambéry for their year abroad. The support I had from the university and the access I had to activities was exceptional. My advice to anyone going abroad full stop would be to throw yourself into classes and making friends, and don’t turn down any invitations!