It’s been a couple of weeks since my return from exchange from the day of writing, and I can say that in this time I have experienced the only negative aspect of going abroad to study. It is quite difficult to get back into the swing of things after having such an amazing time abroad, but it is worth going through the period of post-exchange blues for what is an unforgettable experience.
I had the pleasure of studying at Université Stendhal in Grenoble, in the south-east of France and located at the base of the French Alps. This was quite a remarkable setting and being surrounded by snow-capped mountains is really something special for someone who has spent most of his life in Adelaide and knowing Mt Lofty as the highest peak. The city itself is quite pleasant, with a good range of cafes and bars that aim to accommodate the plethora of students in Grenoble. It was great to be in a city where- as long as it wasn’t during the holiday period when everyone would travel- it seemed every second person was a student. Also, the tram system made it particularly easy to get around and puts Adelaide’s “Go Zones” rightfully to shame.
For me the highlight of residing in Grenoble was the very affordable skiing during the winter and the amazing hikes in the warmer months. There is a ski school that is run through the University which provides free lessons on weekends for all levels and all-day ski passes starting from around 12 Euros.
In terms of student life in Grenoble, it was quite relaxed and very social. I don’t think I’d ever get sick of mingling with people from all over the world and trying to converse in another language. The international student association provided answers to all questions regarding day to day life in the city and helped arrange many social activities for international and French students, as well as facilitating language exchanges and other networking opportunities.
In terms of language development, it is necessary to go out and make the effort, as most students, whether they’re French or on exchange, like to practice their English. However, in cafes and restaurants, the staff will nearly always prefer any effort in French as oppose to assuming English is spoken by everyone. But when it comes to dealing with administration- a seemingly favourite French pastime, a reasonable level of French is generally required and a warm welcome is often absent.
Enrolling in courses can be a bit of an administrative nightmare at first and you will quickly learn why France has earned a bad reputation for bureaucracy, but it’s important to relax and appreciate it for the inefficient yet amusing mess that it is. After stressing about being enrolled for the first class, I arrived to learn that as long as we are here to sit the final exam in week 12, we are as good as enrolled. Not always the case however.
I left for Grenoble with very high expectations and I can say that I’ve returned having seen them exceeded. In all honesty my semester there was a little bit of an escape from reality, meaning that aside from our classes and the odd bit of homework, we had very few responsibilities. This meant there was no shortage of opportunities to socialise with people from all over the world. It’s a little cliché, but from this experience I now have friends from all over the world. One cliché I can avoid, however, is the old ‘rollercoaster ride’ that many people use to describe an experience like this one. I’d say it’s more a constant ascent.