I’m sat at Café Bretelles (the coffee is the best you’ll find in town, but it is a little costlier than the 50 cent sludge you’ll find in vending machines scattered across campus). It’s my last week of being a student at the University of Strasbourg and I’m thinking back on what has been a truly eventful semester abroad. I feel so much more comfortable now than I did in my first few weeks here, and so I’d like to share some tips about University so that when you arrive in Strasbourg you can spend less time freaking out and more time in cafés in Krutenau.
Studying at the University of Strasbourg is quite demanding, particularly if all your classes are in French, which is the case for most disciplines. Classes are not at all like those in Adelaide – teachers don’t use PowerPoints or online content, lectures aren’t recorded, and student participation doesn’t really exist. I studied literature and linguistics, and a typical class for me involved frantically taking down as many notes as I could while the teacher spoke fast fast French for two hours without a break. It is very overwhelming at first, but it does get easier, and after a while your dictation and French comprehension skills will be super developed. I would definitely recommend befriending local students for the company and also for the fact that they’ll happily send you their notes when you realise yours are full of question marks and words that, upon checking Word Reference, don’t actually exist in the French language. This way you can still make sense of the content for exam time. Most faculties have student run Facebook groups too – they make finding out information about classes and receiving help very simple!
Before you leave Adelaide you’ll have to complete a Learning Agreement detailing the subjects you’ll take in Strasbourg. I rocked up and realised that the subjects that seemed really interesting and straight-forward at home were actually super difficult and boring, and I then spent around a week feeling awful about my choices before I discovered that you have an entire month to finalise your learning agreement here. So don’t panic if you don’t enjoy the subjects you initially chose, just take some time to explore what is offered and pick subjects you think are interesting and achievable. Of course keep a trail of the changes you make and keep everyone informed! Dealing with French administration in regards to university will not be quick or efficient – the faster you can embrace the ridiculousness of it the better. And always carry little photos of your face with you. Anytime you do absolutely anything in Strasbourg you’ll be asked for an ID photo (this is barely an exaggeration).
Lastly, Strasbourg is a city made for bikes. You can hire a garish green bike through ‘Velhop’, the city’s bike-rental system (unlikely to be stolen), or you can easily find a second hand bike for cheap (very likely to be stolen, but less clunky and green). Either way, embrace riding through the wide paths in Parc l’Orangerie, the cobbled streets in la Petite France, and along the canals in centre-ville. This city is best explored on velo!
Studying at the University of Strasbourg is a challenge, but it is so worth the days spent at the library. The city is gorgeous in any season, the friendships you will create at the ‘Café de Langues’ exchange student nights will be such a comfort, and there is something truly unique about walking home from a night out and passing a towering one-thousand-year-old cathedral on the way. Living in Strasbourg teaches you to always look up!