When I started my studies I was already sure that I wanted to do an exchange semester. So, I have started already 1.5 years before my exchange with gathering information about different possibilities. Since I wanted to enhance my French language skills and am interested in France, the decision was made quite quickly.
My university had an ERASMUS agreement with the university in Bordeaux and after I handed in all the papers and my explication, I had to wait. But then finally in February 2016 I received an e-mail telling me that I was chosen to go there.
In order to prepare myself, I started reading French books and watched movies in French. I learned the language during high school and attended a language course at the university. However, I never had the possibility to practice it in real life and with native speakers.
Another thing I did was to search for the courses I wanted to take and look at the free-time activities that the university offers, since that is a good way to get to know people quickly.
Search for Housing
To start with, you should ask yourself if you want to live in a shared apartment or in a dormitory. Since most of the dorms are not in the city centre and therefore not close to the faculty, I was pretty sure that I wanted to live in a shared flat. Some Facebook pages and websites exist where you can search for shared flat.
However, it was quite difficult to find one, since most people were looking for a flat mate for a longer time. But I also met people that were lucky on those sites, so it really depends. I ended up living with a German-French family that rented one bedroom out to me. They helped me a lot, especially in the beginning, to settle in France.
Bordeaux is a beautiful town and its architecture is comparable to Paris. There are a lot of great restaurants and I would, without reservations, recommend trying out them all. Since a lot of students live in Bordeaux there are as well a lot of bars and pubs that are always crowded. It’s a vivid city where you can always explore something new.
If you are interested in art then you will be excited about the beautiful cathedrals of Bordeaux, its opera and museums.
The weather in Bordeaux is great. In September it was over 35 degrees and even in December the temperature was mainly between 15 and 20 degrees. During the night, life took place outside in the streets with the French people normally going out to dinner at around 9 p.m. until late at night.
Since Bordeaux is world-famous for its vineyards, everything is dedicated to this delicious red liquid. Everywhere throughout the city you will find bar à vins, which are bars dedicated to wine; wine shops and of course the cité de vin, a museum solely focusing on wine and everything related to it. It seems like in Bordeaux you can drink wine at any time you want.
If you want to get to know the châteaux and he vineyards, a trip to St. Emilion is a must! This village is located 30 minutes away from the city by train. There you can find the places where the wine is being produced. If you search online, you can check which château offers a tour at that day. Then you will be shown how the wine is produced nowadays. Afterwards, you can appreciate a good glass of Bordeaux wine even more.
The village itself is stunning with a lot of narrow streets, cafés and stores. Since it is a very touristic place you should arrive early before the masses come and to enjoy the peace there.
Another recommendation for a trip is going to the Atlantic (for example to Arcachon)., It is just around the corner from Bordeaux with its long beaches and wild sea. The university also offers surfing classes in summer which are a lot of fun. Moreover, the dune du pilat (Europe’s highest Dune) is as well at the coast.
Other places to visit are for instance Biarritz in Basque country, San Sebastian in Spain, Toulouse, Lyon…
The faculty for Psychology belongs to the department Science de l’homme and is located at a place called de la Victoire. It is the only campus in the city centre and the building is very beautiful with architecture from the 19th century, marble and big columns. Despite this main building there are newer buildings as well attached to it and little patios with palm trees and fountains. That’s a place where you enjoy studying!
The semester started in the beginning of September and in the week before that there was a meeting with the Erasmus coordinator to discuss which subjects to choose. It was a little bit difficult to figure out which courses I should choose and, also, where they took place (this can as well change later). So, ask as many questions as possible beforehand since the professors were not so good at replying to mails.
Generally speaking, the organization at the university seemed a bit chaotic to me and it took a while until I got used to it. Moreover, some classes didn’t take place every week at the same time but varied from week to week. Hence, make sure that your courses are not overlapping!
I chose courses which I could get accredited at my home university and then some courses which simply interested me. In total I did 27 ECTS. Afterwards, you must go to the responsible for the course and ask to add you on the online platform to the courses (it is called formatoile). After having done all that, the courses start. In France most of the courses are lectures and so-called “TD”s (like seminars). Everything is in French and the profs talk really fast. On top of that, only some Power Point presentations are helpful while others had either too few or way too much information on them. Don’t get nervous when you see that the French students are writing everything down that the prof says. Normally, you can find all of the presentations online. Or you could ask your classmates if they give you their notes. Some notes will also be published in Facebook groups.
The exam period for the bachelor’s courses was in December and for the master’s in January. There are multiple choice questions as well as open ones. This as well as the difficulty of the exam differs from class to class. If you want to have good grades, start to study early because it is more difficult to memorize all the content in another language.
Especially in the beginning it is important to get to know other students because otherwise it will get very lonely. ESC is organizing a lot of excursions and parties for the Erasmus students. I would strongly advise you to participate in them, even if you are not a big party animal. It is a great way to meet a lot of people from around the world. Since you are all in the same situation and don’t know anyone, people are more open and outgoing.
It was a little bit more difficult to get in touch with the French because there was not a lot of time for talking during the lectures. So, if you want to get to know more local people then I would recommend you the sport courses or other activities of the university. And don’t be afraid to speak French. Most of the French are very friendly and happy when you try to speak their mother tongue. Another advice would be to use the language tandem groups on Facebook. There you can find people who want to practice speaking different languages.
But the most important advice is to save money before coming to Bordeaux. You want to really enjoy the time there and the money is spent faster than you would think.
My exchange semester was one of the best times in my life. Since the first day I felt at home in Bordeaux. Especially in the beginning there were so many things to see and to do that I never got bored. I got to know people from all over the world and made a lot of new friends.
My personal horizon extended a lot from getting to know all those different cultures and I look at what is happening in the world from a different angle now. Of course, my French enhanced a lot too so that I can now talk fluently and without any fear. Considering my studies, I had a lot of different subjects which added to my existing knowledge. However, because they were so different, I couldn’t transfer any of the grades. But that is not relevant because I got the chance to get to know France and simply have an amazing time.
So, take part in the adventure ERASMUS, do not hesitate to approach strangers, speak French, accept that in France things might not be in the way that you are used to and you will have a great time that will change you forever.
Author: Kimberly Holtz
Masters in Work Organizational and Personnel Psychology at University of Valencia
Coordinator Study & Travel Abroad of EFPSA (European Federation of Psychology Students’ Associations)
www.efpsa.org | email: email@example.com