It’s been two months since I began studying in Montpellier on the sunny coast of the South of France. Being the avid researcher that I am, I’d already google street-viewed every road in the entire city but it was still an incredible feeling to arrive in a completely new place. I was nervous about studying abroad largely because I don’t study History with French, I study IHP and so I haven’t studied French since A Level. As I predicted, I would soon be thrown in at the deep end trying to organise my life in a foreign language.
I chose Montpellier because I’d heard such great reviews from previous students and my main motivation for studying abroad was to improve my French. The rumours were true; it’s a perfect size, extremely studenty, ridiculously pretty and near the beach – what more could you ask for? I’d say that if you don’t study a language at university it is important to pick a smaller city like Montpellier because you find yourself chatting to locals and it’s a lot more manageable. The end of summer was a bit manic in terms of organisation. I had to find accommodation, including finding a French guarantor, sort housing insurance, a French bank account and phone contract. I was extremely lucky to have French family that could arrange a French guarantor for me because that’s something that holds a lot of English students back. It turned out that my phone was blocked to English sim cards so sorting out a French contract in advance would have been redundant anyhow. I’m a very organised person so I struggled with the fact that most things can’t be sorted until you actually arrive in the country, especially things like bank accounts. The best advice for organisation would be to sort out your documents etc. so that as soon as you arrive it’s plain sailing. Scan and photocopy everything vaguely important to your life!
I found settling in on a personal level pretty easy but obviously everyone’s experience is unique. I was lucky to find a gorgeous flat right in the city centre with two lovely girls that I met online. Again, meeting housemates online can be risky but it all worked out in my case, despite my parents’ concerns! In contrast, people staying in halls found it more difficult finding their feet as they’re not as sociable as university halls in Leeds and the conditions are a bit dingy. It turns out there was a giant group of students from Leeds, so it only took a few nights out in the first week to form a really close group of friends. We soon formed a larger group with a lot more U.K. students from Edinburgh and UCL. Although it seems pretty lazy that we’ve only stuck to “our own” as it were, it’s made the settling in process feel a whole lot easier. The first few weeks were spent lazing around the beach, eating baguettes, exploring the city centre and hanging around in cafés with new people. Montpellier is a beautiful city to get lost in and as cliché as it sounds, every street is as idyllic as a postcard.
However, the first few weeks were a mixture of highs and lows because I soon realise
d that I had a lot to sort out before I started studying. It was a real test to my French to sort out bank accounts, meet with the housing agency and arrange things like heating and electricity. Finding my feet academically was a nightmare – or “bordel” as they’d say in French. I can’t over-exaggerate what a mess the French education system is. Module enrolment isn’t online so you have to create your own timetable by going to each of the offices around campus and look for lists of module titles and work out whether it will fit on your timetable and how many credits it’s worth. The descriptions for the modules were minimal: I’m talking “Ancient History” or “Cinema and Society.” I ended up taking a bizarre mix of modules and I quickly realised that “modern” history doesn’t exist in France which is tragic for an IHP student. You had to just turn up to lessons and ask to go on their register, sometimes being turned down because the classes were full. There is a complete lack of information and so everyone is completely lost and stressed. It felt like during the first few weeks everything anyone spoke about was the chaos of module enrolment, but at least everyone was in the same boat. I also found out that I have to pass 15 more ECTS (European credits) more than people studying straight French at Leeds – I was annoyed and confused to say the least.
Thankfully, uni life is improving and my modules have turned out to be fairly interesting. I didn’t have high hopes for the academic side of living France, so at least I’m loving the French culture and the city!
Advice for people considering year abroad:
- DO IT – it’s an opportunity not to be missed
- Don’t be afraid about your language level – it’s all a part of the challenge
- Don’t stress about the organisation too much as it will fall into place
- Look for accommodation as early as possible and consider going through an agency
- It’s worth spending a bit more money on a nicer apartment as it will make you feel more settled
- Save some money over summer so that you can travel during the year
- Reach out to other Leeds students that have studied abroad before