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

Academic experiences

I spent my exchange semester studying at the Political Science Institute in Rennes, a city in the North-West of France with a population of about 200,000.
As I had only been learning French for around 2 years, I chose to take the English program at my host university.
This meant taking a number of different courses (all taught in English), as well as 4 hours of French lessons each week.
The academic system at this school was very different to that of UQ.
Instead of taking 4 courses all worth #2 units, by the end of the semester I had taken 7 different courses, some worth more credits than others.
Another interesting difference was the type of assessment we had.
At UQ, assessment is heavily focused on writing essays or taking written exams.
In Rennes, most of our assessment was oral; we had a lot of in class presentations, and even oral examinations at the end of semester which were basically a discussion or question/answer session with your teacher about the course content!

Le Tour Eiffel

Personal experiences

Student exchange for me was all about the people.
The other international students at the university (there were not that many) soon became my second family.
We spent all of our time together, and I feel so lucky to have met such an amazing group of people from all over the world.
There was one downside to spending all my time with international students though, and that was the impact it had on my French language skills.
Unfortunately, my French has not improved nearly as much as it could have in 6 months.
Instead, it was really easy to slip into the habit of simply speaking English all the time.
I would encourage anyone going to France on exchange to really push themselves to speak French at every possible opportunity; even though it’s intimidating, it will be worth it in the long run!

Front gate of our host university!

Accommodation

I lived in a student residence hall that was about an 8-10 minute walk from the university campus and the city centre, and right next door to two beautiful parks.
This was where a lot of the international students lived.
Our rooms weren't fancy, but they were a good size and we each had our own bathroom.
Sharing a kitchen with the other students on our floor wasn't a problem, but it did mean things got dirty very quickly, and we had to be patient (there was only 1 microwave!).
Living with all my friends in the same building was great, and the rent was really cheap!

Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, France

Budget

If you're going to France, you MUST budget for the unexpected costs of administration.
The cost of actually living in Rennes wasn't bad; we bought our weekly produce at the local farmers market, shopped at the cheapest supermarket, and didn't spend much money on going out.
But there were a few one-off expenses that were compulsory upon arrival (such as the OFII visa stamp, security deposit for your room and first month’s rent, social security payment, housing and liability insurance) which really add up quickly.
I would suggest putting aside around 1000 euros for the admin costs of your exchange.
Just keep these things in mind, otherwise you'll realise you haven't got as much money as you thought and you'll have to spend the money you saved for travelling on paying your bills.

Les Calanques, Cassis

Academic development and employability

I think a student exchange experience is something that can really make you stand out to a future employer.
For me, I found that living, studying and travelling overseas has pushed me to develop my problem solving skills further, and to have more confidence when dealing with things outside of my comfort zone.

Winter sunrise - view from my dorm

Highlight

While it is impossible to choose simply one highlight of my entire 6 month experience, one of my absolute favourite trips was in Spring Break when we travelled as a group down to Marseille in the south of France for a couple of nights, and visited the Calanques in the nearby town of Cassis.

Top tips

1. Save as much money as possible, and have a backup plan (e.g. a person you can borrow from) in case something goes wrong.
We missed a flight to Italy and had to pay 200 euro on the spot for the next possible flight.

2. Make as many new friends as you can, and spend plenty of time with them, but also remember to take time out to yourself as well.
There will be moments during your exchange when you miss home, and chances are you'll need to just take some time to yourself.
When you're ready, your friends will be there to support you because chances are they're going through the exact same things you are!

3. When deciding on a host university, take your time and seriously consider whether the place is right for YOU in all capacities.
Don't worry about where your friends have gone, or which universities are really popular.
Do your research on the internet, get in touch with past exchange students, or ask at UQ Abroad for more info.
While I would have loved to study in Paris, there was simply no way I could have afforded the cost of renting an apartment there, so choosing Rennes was the right choice.
While money isn't an issue for some people when they go on exchange, it was a major factor for me to consider.

4. Buy and send postcards!
Of course you can keep using social media, but try and send some postcards as well.
In our summer travels I tried to send one postcard home from every new city we visited.
It's a nice thing for your family or friends to receive, but it’s also lovely to read (and re-live) what you wrote once you've returned home.

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