This year has been an incredible experience…everything anyone had told me about their experiences on Erasmus proved to be 100% true, in addition to all the new experiences that I’ve had 1st hand that nobody had told me to expect. Initially it was quite difficult. Living so far from home was the biggest change, especially given I spent the first week in France alone until the rest of my DCU classmates arrived. That said it got very easy very quickly (the beach and weather helped a lot). The classes throughout the year proved a lot more difficult than expected…despite my French improving during the year I still struggled with keeping complete pace with the lecturers even in April at the end of Semester 2.
However, the fact that each class was massively dependant on Continuous Assessments, rather than on 100% exams, made it easier and more enjoyable…I have always preferred project work to outright exams. It was a brilliant way to meet new people: particularly the French students in our year, as the projects were difficult to do in a group of only Irish/English-speaking students. The students in the college were by far-in-a-way the highlight of college. French or Foreign they were all extremely friendly towards us. Each bringing to the school part of their home cultures…South America, North America, Asia, Europe…all corners of the world coming together in harmony in one tiny (compared to DCU) “Grand École”.
Initially we struggled with speaking French to anyone, particularly because every single student spoke perfect English…they all wanted to continue to practice their English, and they each struggled with French like we did…therefore there was very little motivation to speak French with anyone. Even the actual French students had all done Erasmus themselves, most to England, and so could all speak English to us also. As the year went on I gained more confidence and found it easier and easier to talk to at least the French students through French the majority of the time. From day one in Montpellier, literally, I’ve worked in the most popular Irish bar in the city, Fitzpatricks. Before arriving I had emailed the manager and he effectively hired me before I was even in France.
That also has been a major highlight of the year, the experience of not only living and studying, but also working in a foreign country was not only helpful to my Erasmus year but also adds a little something extra to my CV for the future. The bar was a great way to improve my French, while still working for and with other Irish people…as all the orders from customers were given through French, yet any conversations with co-workers were had mostly through English.
It’s really helped mainly with my comprehension of French people when they speak…with people from all over the country frequently coming in it became easier and easier to recognise and understand all the different accents. As well as helping to improve my base French working there also taught me a very important lesson for speaking French: your accent. Bizarrely the French in general are very intolerant of foreigners speaking French in their own accents…be it Irish, English, German, whatever. For me, coming from an English speaking country where people from all languages come and speak English with thick accents from home, I found this to be a very arrogant trait of the French that unfortunately doesn’t do much to help any stereotypes about them.
That said, once I had accepted that and began to make more of an effort with the accent I noticed they found it much, much easier to understand me when I spoke.
Another highlight (there’s been very few low points from this year) is all the trips and travels I’ve been on throughout the year. Because of work I couldn’t really go anywhere during semester 1…only making it as far as Perpignan to visit a friend of mine who was on Erasmus there also. Second semester has heeded far more adventures. Starting with the epic college-organised Ski-Trip to Andorra in February.
That was followed by a short trip to Toulon to see Leinster play in the Heineken Cup Semi-Final. I fell in love with Toulon and have been craving to go back every since. Sadly Leinster lost, but that meant that I can forever say I saw Brian O’Driscoll’s last ever Heineken Cup match…which is quite a special thing for me as a massive rugby fan! In mid April we had friends visit from Paris and with them we went on a weekend trip further east to visit the cities of Nice, Cannes, Monaco and Antibes which were each more beautiful than the last!moncoo
Despite all these highs there has been, unsurprisingly, 1 major low point for the year, in my opinion: the college. Whilst, like I said, the students were brilliant, the administration was not. For want of a better term it was very “French”. The lecturers were not trained teachers…they were all professional business men and women…people we at home would call “Guest speakers”. Therefore there was no set curriculum, course structure, exam set up or anything remotely similar to the administration of colleges at home. This made it extremely difficult to sort out any problems with classes or credits for the year.
All in all this has been quite possibly the best year of my life. I’ve already begun singing the praises and merits of Erasmus to anyone who’s asked if it’s worth the time and money. Yes, both of those things have been serious problems for me personally continuously this year, but any and all problems were worth it in the end.
It’s been a truly incredible year. The experience of living abroad has made me want to leave Ireland next year again as soon as my studies are finished. I’ve learned so much, not just academicly but also culturally. And most importantly, for me, I’ve made friends from all walks of life and from all over the planet…from Paraguay to Thailand. I’m going to miss my Erasmus year immensly…but thankfully I get to stay on for the summer to work and enjoy the South of France for a little bit longer!
I’ll be following this with 1 more entry documenting how the summer of living and working in France, not as an Erasmus student, has been and how different it may or may not have been to being a student on Erasmus.
Date of post:
Friday, April 25, 2014