The prospect of a year abroad in France can either fill you with extreme giddiness or heightened anxiety. Both perfectly acceptable. I mean, what about the potential weight gain after living in a country of crossaints for a year? And is it illegal to return home without a French other half called Pierre?
Jokes aside, the thoughts of a year abroad/ Erasmus can often be terrifying. Many aspects of preparing for an Erasmus year can be completely overwhelming. While I was initially quite excited, although nervous, to spend a year abroad in France my excitement waned nearer the time and I seriously considered abandoning the idea. However, I persevered, said a few desperate prayers and headed off to Lyon at the end of August desperately hoping for the best. And I’m so glad I did- all clichés aside it was the most memorable year of my life.
Here’s a few things to consider before embarking on your year abroad- and hopefully make things slightly less daunting!
- Seriously consider the place you wish to travel to
I know that some universities don’t allow you to choose where to spend your year abroad and instead take the liberty of choosing for you- I’m unsure if this is a blessing or a curse! For those of us “blessed” with the freedom to choose where to spend the year abroad, I would seriously consider strongly researching places of interest. While a small town in France may seem ideal for getting the true “French” experience and seem ideal for improving your French, it’s worth remembering that this can be quite lonely for students. There may be very few other international students in the area, and while this may potentially grant you the ever elusive fluency in French, you may find yourself quite lonely. I do know some people in my year who spent their Erasmus in small towns who did find the experience quite boring and often lonesome. Of course, the year is ultimately what you make of +it yourself, but it’s hard to deny that going to a city offers more friendship opportunities and more activities. If you’re afraid that the abundance of international students may hinder your learning of French, don’t be- this does occur but there is MORE than enough French students to speak to. You are in France, after all. It’s also worth mentioning that the more established student cities will have Erasmus networks. These are organisations designed to help Erasmus students settle in- they arrange parties, day trips and generally just want to ensure that you’re having a good time. Smaller towns may lack these- just something to consider.
This is a topic many of us chose to forget when applying for the glamourous year abroad- a realisation that occurred to me when I sat in my apartment in Lyon eating fruit from a tin wondering where it all went wrong. Firstly, you will get an Erasmus grant. This is paid to you in instalments . When I went on Erasmus two years ago it was €1400, but it fluctuates each year. It’s worth noting that students from the UK get almost €1000 more- Michael Collins did not die for this injustice. The CAF payment entitles you to around 30% of your rent payment back per month- you will receive this in your French bank account after you have lost a soul going through the application process. Research the rent in your place of choice- it’s worth noting that Paris costs around €800 monthly. Better you know now than in a few month’s time when you’re pitching a tent outside the Eiffel Tower.
- Flight links
Personally, I hate hassle with flying. I think it’s important that your destination has direct, and preferably affordable, flights to a place near you. Aer Lingus had regular flights between Lyon and Dublin, which was really useful for me.
- Travel links
Again, you do have quite a lot of time free on Erasmus so you may choose to spend a lot of your time travelling. Choose somewhere that has good rail/ bus links and make the most of it. Lyon, my city of choice, had a fabulous range of transport available- we even got a bus to Italy. It’s definitely worth considering- think of the potential Instagram likes from your exotic getaways!
- The university that you plan to study in
Again, this was an area that I completely “neglected.” While I found the time to research exotic getaways, I somehow forgot to research my actual French university. Ahem. Luckily, I passed all my exams and got the extra DEUF diploma for high results- both a mystery and a miracle. I’d advise tracking people who completed Erasmus in your foreign university down (your college may put you in touch with them!) and genuinely harassing them for the truth about university. Some universities are notoriously difficult to pass with and this can add stress to an otherwise, em, relaxed, year. Some universities are located outside the city- Université Lyon 2 involved a painful tram ride for all students. If possible, harass students to find out about easier modules to complete- it may save you from a 8am French history class. If only someone had informed me.
I hope this was helpful- feel free to comment!