I am writing to you from sunny Nice in the Cote d’Azur, on holidays after having FINISHED my exchange in Lyon! Somewhat begrudgingly, I packed up my little life in Lyon a month ago to begin my summer holidays. I’ll just give you a brief run-down of what I’ve been doing, as I’d prefer to equip you with some tips for your upcoming (or potential) exchange.
I began my holidays with a week on an organic farm with Jess and Marcella via WWOOF (an organic farming organisation). We stayed on a beautiful farm in the middle of nowhere (literally) and did everything from raking hay to pulling out weeds to walking donkeys in return for lodging and food. The couple with whom we stayed were fascinating, having abandoned an urban lifestyle on the outskirts of Paris in favour of a small and highly successful hiking business in St Auban where families come for a night or several days to stay in a Mongolian yurt and hike with the aid of donkeys. My time there furnished me a unique perspective on sustainable development practices; a fitting conclusion to my semester of study in Environmental Law. In dire need of a little pampering, the girls and I headed to Cannes for two nights where we “de-farmed” by dressing up and going out in celebration of Marcella’s 21st Birthday. We visited Grasse, the world’s perfume capital, where we made our very own fragrances and toured Grasse’s oldest parfumerie, Mollinard.
The Three Musketeers then went their separate ways. I flew to Gdansk in Poland where I met up with another friend, Kate, who had also completed an exchange in Lyon. Over the course of ten days, we visited the quaint Medieval Town of Torun (where Kate’s grandfather was held as a POW), the gloomy capital of Warsaw, where Stalin’s former influence is still quite apparent, and the beautiful city of Krakow. Whilst in Krakow, I visited Oświęcim in order to see the former Nazi Concentration Camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau. Visiting a concentration camp is not something which is easily explained or conveyed to a reader. It is a very personal experience and is not easily reduced to words. Suffice to say, Auschwitz is indelibly etched in my memory.
Following Poland, I returned to Paris to meet up with my parents who had been travelling in the UK. We spent a few enjoyable days in Paris as flâneurs (wanderers) before moving on to Lyon where I showed them the sites of my former (sniffle) home! Going back to Lyon after a few weeks of travelling made me realise just how much I loved living there. I was very sad to bid the home of the gônes a final farewell.
Tips for your exchange:
1. I would advise you against buying an International Student Card. STA at UQ sells them and apparently you are able to use it to get discounts on museum entry fees etc but I haven’t used mine once so I suggest you save your $18. You will receive a student card from your host university which will allow you to benefit from transport concessions and museum entry fees.
2. In my opinion, there is no pricing parity between Australia and France. As a consumer, you will suffer greatly reduced purchasing power and the only things for which you will pay the Australian equivalent (instead of double) are wine, flowers and cheese ie 3 € for a bottle of wine = AUD$6. Bargain! Everything else, for example a cup of coffee, is the same numerical value (eg a $3 cappuccino in Australia and a €3 cappuccino in France) but after the exchange rate is accounted for, you have effectively paid double (eg AUD$6 for the coffee). Not a bargain. If you are going to Lyon and staying in the student residence, you will save a lot on rent but if you are renting in the private sector, particularly in Paris, be prepared to turn tricks to make ends meet! Rent aside, the lack of pricing parity between Australia and France means that you will need a lot more money to do your exchange than you have previously been advised. In my opinion, if you intend to do an exchange in France, live comfortably and make side trips to other European destinations, I would recommend saving a five-figure sum. If any of you would like to me to elaborate further on this point or run you through some of the costs, please do not hesitate to email me or come and find me at Merlos!
3. Pack lightly. You will accumulate more ‘stuff’ than you’ll know what to do with during the course of your exchange so it’s best to start with a small quantity…and watch it grow!
4. Make friends early! I know that sounds a little bit awkward, but really, be brazen! Go up and invite that person who seems like he or she would be cool, out for a beer after class and do so during the first couple of weeks. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself a month out from the end of it all, with incomplete dossiers coming out of your ears, desperately trying to hang out with those people and lamenting the fact that you didn’t make an effort earlier. This a common regret among the international students I have met while on exchange.
5. Building on Tip 4, step out of your comfort zone even further and make FRENCH friends early on in the piece. International students have a tendency to make friends with other international students which is fine but you should also make some French ones (given that you are in France). Some of my most enjoyable nights out in Lyon have been spent with Vivien, a Lyon local who strolled up to a group of us in the cafeteria one day, introduced himself and asked if we’d all like to go out one night. If you see a friendly-looking character in the cafeteria one day, BE BOLD, say salut.
6. If you are planning little weekend trips to other European nations, use Skyscanner.com to help you find cheap flights. It will produce multiple flight journey options, often with two airlines. You simply click on the links to each airline’s website and book the flights through the individual websites. I was a little sceptical at first booking flights with companies who bear odd names such as “BMI baby”, “WizzAir” or “Baboo” but they turned out to be completely fine.
7. Paris or Lyon? If you’re currently in the elementary stages of your exchange planning and are trying to decide on a destination, this advice may be pertinent. Let me preface this by saying that Paris is a beautiful city. It has history, grandeur, fashion and more and is a place you definitely should see. But in terms of LIVING in France, I would recommend Lyon. Here are my reasons:
(A) Lyon is France’s second (arguably third) largest city and a European capital because of its proximity to Italy and Switzerland but is small enough that you can virtually walk everywhere. Some of my best memories are of the long and sometimes arduous walks home up the giant hill in Vieux Lyon, after a night out. The best conversations were had, songs were sung, photos were taken, cheese was burnt off and taxi fares were avoided!
(B) Lyon is the culinary capital of France! If you enjoy going out for dinner, Lyon is the place to be. Book a table at Chez Mounier on rue des Marionners for a traditional and affordable Lyonnais bouchon experience.
(C) There are fewer tourists in Lyon. You will be surrounded by the French language and not be subjected to the drawl of an American tourist, wearing running shoes and a bum-bag, asking you for directions to the Chawmps-Eleesay (see the last segment of the film Paris Je t’aime for the visual).
(D) You will have the opportunity to take Malcom Harvey’s translation course which is simply brilliant. It is one of the most interesting, useful and entertaining courses I have taken over the last four years and would certainly recommend it to you! All of that said, if you have your heart set on Paris or have already applied there, don’t be deterred. It is spectacular and you will see some of the best-dressed people in your life not to mention shop like you never have before. Paris boasts a beautiful Jewish quarter, called Le Marais, where you can sample the most amazing falafel you’ve ever tasted and picnic alongside the canal. If you have enrolled in Sciences Po too, an elite college, you are virtually immune from the effects of education strikes so your studies will not suffer the same fate as mine! Those going to La Sorbonne, however, are not so immune!
I would love to stay and reiterate at length how invaluable my exchange has been for me on every imaginable level but this should be apparent by now and, true to form, another exclusively French adventure awaits me and I am compelled to leave McDonalds (that’s French for McDonalds), cross the road and feel the rush of wind as Lance Armstrong and the other Tour de France competitors scream past me, while basking in the background glory of their international media coverage…spot the Brooke!