Bachelor of International Studies, 3rd year
Bachelor of International Studies, 3rd year

Academic Experiences 

My overall academic experience in Rennes was challenging. I studied courses that sounded really great: French Politics, African Studies, Public Sphere and Media Analysis etc. Because I was not far enough through my french subjects, my UQ French advisor recommended I follow the English course, so two of my subjects were in French, with the rest in English. Unless you are third year French, this is what I would recommend to other students.

Studying at this university was challenging. I can't be sure if it's just this university, or by design of the higher education system in France, but there was a lot of disruption and confusion in the English program. We got the idea that the exchange students were not a high priority for them. While the subjects were really interesting, the workload was not heavy, nor the tasks or assignments difficult. In a way, this was great because it meant I was more at liberty to enjoy the cultural and social aspects of my exchange, and I really did. It did mean a little more stress than I envisaged, with classes changing as late as weeks 5 and 6, and sometimes being given just a week's notice for large assessment items. I think I was so thrown by it because I wasn't expecting it, so just be prepared to take a few deep breaths while your subjects shift around and the university tries to keep you up to date.

Personal Experiences

Everyone told me I would, and I shouldn't have been surprised, but I made so many friends. Friends from all over the world I know I'll have for a very long time. With the academic aspect kind of all over the place, it left lots of opportunity for both the other exchange students and local French kids to do stuff with our time. The ease with which we bonded (over our homesickness, love for travel, unique French experiences) can't be fully understood without being experienced.

When you're living in Europe, it's hard not to travel. So many of my friends went to Istanbul, Brussels, Prague etc. for weekend trips! I got to see the Swiss Alps, Berlin, Amsterdam and Paris in the one week of mid-sem break. Rallying some people together for a trip between Thursday and Monday isn't hard nor usually too expensive, and well worth the memories!

And of course, my French language skills have never been better. Living in the country gives you an opportunity to learn the language in a way that you wouldn't be able to in a classroom - you learn how to talk to friends, how to express yourself in all kinds of social situations, and really start to wrap your head around how the French use their language to express and connect with their unique way of life.

Accommodation

I lived in student accommodation, an apartment building 5 minutes walk from my university. Most of the exchange students managed to be allocated a spot in the student accommodation, and priority automatically goes to the kids traveling from far away (America, Australia, Japan). The living arrangements were just enough. I had my own room and little bathroom, heaps of storage, a desk & wardrobe, single bed, mini fridge, and being on the 5th floor, a gorgeous view outside the big windows. It really was comfy. There was a kitchen shared between a floor, meaning you were often cooking with people - or if you were lucky, as is often the case with the kids from Italy in particular, being invited to join them for their meal. It was a really nice community feel.

My only advice: if you can - and I know packing is tough enough as it is - bring linen!! I arrived near midnight after 28 hours in transit, and realised bedding was not supplied and I couldn't find anyone who knew how to buy it! The student association is great, and if you can, try and get onto them just before you leave - outgoing exchange students often donate their bedding and the student groups pass them on to incoming kids! Far preferable to sleeping under scarves with your travel pillow, as was my arrangement until I found proper linen.

Budget 

How much did things cost? Less than you're expecting! I stayed in Rennes, and its just a small university town, so things were cheap. Without the means of storing much food at a time (and partly wanting to live as French as I could), I was doing shopping every couple of days. On average, two days' of food cost me around 15 Euros. The rent in student accommodation was cheap by Brisbane standards - 240 Euros p/month. There isn't too much in terms of entertainment in Rennes, so including the cinema, occasional museum visits and then just going out and enjoying the cheap bar scene, you're looking at maybe 200 Euros a month? That's with casual drinks maybe 2 or 3 times a week - you wouldn't catch me out more than once a fortnight in Brisbane, but the French uni kids get to you!

Travel is then just entirely personal. Some people went for weekend trips to Turkey, others went just down to Nantes or Lyon. Train rides to other big French cities cost around 40 Euros, and you can get a student discount card which can give you up to 25-75% off train tickets - I wish I'd got this earlier. For the rest of Europe, there are some great cheap bus lines & trains, and even flying isn't too expensive to rule out, as long as you book a little in advance.

My advice: pick the places in Europe you'd really like to go to before you visit, plan them for your bigger breaks/time off during or after the semester, and keep some money aside for those simultaneous weekend trips to Paris or wherever with your new exchange best friends.

Academic Development and Employability 

My communication skills I think were improved over my exchange semester. Being immersed in another culture that speaks another language really opens your eyes to the other ways in which people see your world, and that lends itself to an empathy very valuable to communicating with people you would otherwise have nothing in common with. Also my patience. It was tested more times than I care to count, but taken as just an inevitable side effect of living life in a different country, the experience was very valuable. I really learnt to see beyond my own frustration, and try to understand that things were just done differently in France.

Highlight 

This is going to sound really cliché, but rather than finding a highlight in my exchange, I can just see my exchange as a highlight of my overall time studying at university. It really was a whole other world. I studied alongside people from all over the globe, managed to survive a daily life in French, experienced a culture and way of life that is subtly yet fundamentally different to my own, and sat in classes on topics I was familiar with, but which were presented through a French/European lens I had never before glimpsed.

If I had to find a highlight, it would just have to be an ordinary day. Walking through the old French streets lined with gorgeous French houses, attending a class on European Government, walking 15 minutes into town to browse the shops or just soak up the café atmosphere, and drinking cheap beer in a bar with my new friends from Germany or Lithuania or Hungary, and walking home with them to our shared accommodation in the early hours. It really was a lifestyle change, and while I wouldn't trade it in for daily routine in Australia, it was an incredible experience for as long as it lasted.

Top Tips

My top tips would be to not stress about "going abroad". The University of Queensland supports you the whole way, and you set up a life over there so fast you don't realise until you have a "usual bakery". Take student exchange for what it is: a semester or a year to experience student life in a different part of the world, and an opportunity to meet people and learn things you otherwise would never have. I, and all of my friends who were soaking up their exchange while I was, had a tonne of fun. Whether you're there to study your chosen field from the perspective of another university or country, or to improve your language skills, or to simply have fun, exchange is a rewarding experience for every student. I cannot recommend it enough.

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