A Term Abroad in France: the Highs and Lows
As I sit here in Nantes airport, having taken an entire day to reach this position due to the public transport strikes, waiting for my flight to board, I find myself thinking back on my time in France so far. I hope my experience can give you some sort of indication as to whether a year/term abroad is right for you. I’ll warn you though, I’m not going to reveal any hidden secrets about years abroad, and I don’t think anything that I’m going to say will particularly surprise you. In fact if you google the “moving to a new country W-graph” you can probably predict pretty accurately how I felt while I was here. Anyway, here goes:
A little background on me: I’m a statistics student who didn’t speak very good French before I decided to go to Ensai (located about 30 minutes to the south of Rennes in Brittany) to study data science for a year. After one term I’ve decided to drop out of Ensai and I’m pursuing an internship in Paris for the remaining time before I start at Warwick again next year
What was the best and worst part of your time abroad?
The best times were obviously the ones I spent with my friends: the ones from my university and the ones I made while visiting Rennes. As with any university experience, it’s best when experienced together. During my first 2 weeks I went on numerous trips to different cities scattered throughout Brittany, a different one each weekend. It was remarkably cheap and it let me explore the area before the pressure set in.
Something else I really loved about my time abroad was speaking French. As someone who loves language, history and learning them, I found it very exciting to do things in French for the first time. Even seemingly boring things like calling a doctor for an appointment or even ordering lunch can be exciting when you never know how badly you’ll mess it up. Luckily for me, if you explain you’re just a foreigner people usually are more forgiving. Once I messed up buying bus tickets and then apologised and explained that I’m English and he replied “Ah, yes that makes sense then.” and laughed. Good to see we’ve got a good reputation in the wide world.
Unfortunately, as with any experience that has highs, this one certainly had its lows. The sheer and utter disappointment I experience when I realised that pints here were €6 cannot be understated, but probably the biggest blow was when I compared Warwick to Ensai. This is a real first world problem but, seriously, the computers here might as well be from the 1990s because they certainly run like it (not to mention they still teach SAS here which should really tell you all you need to know if you’re a statistics nerd). The courses themselves were okay but due to the nature of Ensai being a “grande école” rather than a university, meant that there was almost no choice of modules given to the students of my cohort, due to us being placed in the “foundation” 1 year. This meant that a lot of retreading of academic steps had to be taken in order to make sure everyone was up to speed. On top of this, the school days are far far longer here than anything I had experienced in Warwick. At one point I had a day that started at 8am and finished at 8:30pm with a total of 2 hours of break in between. This isn’t the norm, of course, but the reality of 6 hours of class per day is not one that I could really accept.