Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science, 4th year
Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science, 4th year

Academic ExperienceApartment in Canal St Martin, Paris

As an exchange student at Lyon you are essentially able to study within any faculty (according to your study requirements of course), so I studied Political Science, French civilisation, a french language course (PRUNe before semester and SLM during) and European Handball! I really enjoyed my courses for a variety of reasons, particularly for the fact that I was able to approach learning French from a variety of angles, as well as being able to meet a ton of different students; similarly struggling exchange students in the language courses, and some French friends (yes actual French people) in political science and handball where I was virtually the only foreign student.

Given that all courses are taught in French, I'd definitely say the B2 level (what I had going there) was sufficient but by no means complete for your first classes. Be prepared to feel absolutely swamped by rapid-fire exposé French in a provincial accent from some of your professors - a seemingly terrifying scenario, but after the first few weeks the improvement in your French from such an uphill climb will speak for itself. Also don't be afraid to be friendly to your French classmates and potentially ask for their notes as it'll save you a lot of stress AND it's a great way to meet people - it's actually how I met some of my best friends over there!

The University administration system is notoriously a bureaucratic nightmare (and with good reason - just wait until you have to sign in for courses by hand), but having received ample warning from other testimonials I knew what to expect and was able to manage it with a little persistence.

Personal Experience

Whoever came up with the unfriendly French stereotype has clearly never been to Lyon (purportedly the Lyonnais are even worse than the Parisians), where the French I met would routinely go out of their way to welcome me. I'd advise the best way to meet the locals (either at uni or in any of the social activities offered, which I'd highly recommend doing) is to introduce yourself first, often they're just as lost as you are, and the added benefit of being Australian is always a excellent icebreaker (you're going to remark that Australia is tellement cool et troooop loin at least 100 times).

I also had a really close group of exchange students, some Australia, some European, with whom I spent a lot of time during the semester in Lyon and travelling Europe. I can't emphasise enough how valuable this group was in allowing me to fully settle in Lyon, as it's excellent having people around you all sharing the similarly exhilarating and frightening experience of living in another country and speaking a completely different language.

The improvement in my French is one of my biggest accomplishments of the exchange. To have successfully navigated an entire university semester of exposés and redactions, day-to-day French bureaucracy and dealing with administrative nightmares is still a little mind-boggling to me and a testament to the fluency I was able to achieve from such an experience. Speak your French as much as possible, it's so easy to revert back to English, because you'll find few other opportunities in life like this - il faut en profiter !!

AccommodationSwimming in Lac d'Annecy during summer

I lived in the on-campus accommodation suggested by the uni during my application, Résidence André Allix. While my room here (I chose the cheapest, chambre simple) was definitely the epitome of as basic accommodation as possible, it's ridiculously cheap price (196 euros/month) really freed me up to more fully experience my exchange and travel more extensively. However, I would say that given the option again I'd either opt for a better quality room (i.e. studio), or choose to find an apartment once I arrived in Lyon, a more challenging experience but one that can pay off as it did for my friends with their typical french townhouse in Vieux Lyon. If you choose that option you may, depending upon the particularities of your visa, be able to apply for CAF (rental assistance) which can be quite significant.

Budget

Overall I found the cost of living fairly comparable to Australia, however living on exchange is hardly your typical expense list. Things like rent at the Résidence, and fresh produce from the markets (there's excellent weekend ones by the Saône) or the millions of local grocers (épiceries), boulangeries, boucheries etc. were relatively cheaper than Australia for a better quality product. The mobile plan with Free (20 euros a month for 50 GB of data - unbelievable) is also obviously a much better deal than anything you'd find with Telstra or Optus. However, this will quickly balance out with the cost of eating and drinking out, going to the cinema and other compulsory activities one must do whilst living in France. In short, the budget UQ proposes of around $12,000-$15,000 seems pretty generous, however I found it to be quite accurate considering the kind of life you're going to want to lead on exchange - I'd much rather have spent my pennies experiencing as much as possible than missing out on some once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. So save as much as you can!

Professional Development & Employability

It's miraculous the effect that gruff French secretaries and quagmire-ish problems to resolve in French with your paperwork can have on building your resilience and self-determination. Exchange presents a set of really challenging and completely new opportunities, some which you can never prepare for, which have provided me with a set of really pragmatic skills and a self-confidence that I know will be invaluable in my years to come. Additionally and on a more social level, the struggles I faced learning and speaking a second language really taught me the importance of empathy, a value all the more pertinent in our current social climate.

Highlights

I had essentially planned parts of my degree around doing this exchange, so I had expected well in advance how incredible the experience would be. I'd assumed that speaking French, living day-to-day in France, running around Europe and meeting a ton of new friends from across the world would be a lot of fun, but I don't think I'd appreciated the level to which it would enrich my life. I'm sounding corny, but holistically the entire experience really was such an eye-opening, maturing, hilarious, enchanting and simply unbelievable journey that to reduce to it a single highlight would do it no justice. Exchange was undoubtedly one of the highlights of my life, and I'm so grateful to have had such an incredible opportunity which motivates me to live similarly transformative experiences for the rest of my life.

Top Tips

It's difficult for me to express the magnitude of what this exchange means to me through a little testimonial and some photos - it really is a phenomenal opportunity and one I'd wholeheartedly encourage anyone to do. There is SO much to see in this world and I can't think of a better way as a student to fully immerse yourself in another life for a semester. So run for it, go abroad!

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