Lyon is a beautiful city. Perched upon the confluence of two of France’s largest rivers, its architecture, terracotta rooves and narrow, winding traboules recall Renaissance Florence or Venice. Indeed, for many centuries Lyon was arguably the primary economic linchpin of Franco-Italian relations, a fact which only scratches the surface of its rich and fascinating past. However, despite its 2000-year history, and despite the fact that, even today, it is considered the gastronomic capital of France, it still receives relatively few tourists.

Whilst it lacks the glitz, glamour and gaudy tourist memorabilia of Paris, in my view Lyon retains the allure of a quintessentially French city, untouched by over-commercialisation. It is therefore the perfect destination for anybody who wants to live the French lifestyle and improve his or her French, although perhaps not for you if you are not already reasonably proficient in French.

Lyon is also perfectly situated if you want easy access to Paris, the Alps or the Riviera during your trip, as all of these places are reachable within approximately two hours by train. It also provides a good launching pad for travel around Europe, since EasyJet flies out of the Saint-Exupéry airport to a variety of destinations on and near the continent, whilst regional and international trains are prevalent as well.

Academic Experiences

I am doing a dual BA/LLB degree at UQ, and whilst I was advised by the law faculty not to attempt taking any law subjects at Lyon 2, it is certainly possible provided you meet all of UQ's requirements. In my experience, Lyon 2 does tend to lack the academic rigour provided at an institution such as Sciences Po Paris, however this simply means that the French students around you are not so busy studying, so they will have more time to make friends with you!

The relative lack of globalisation in Lyon also means that almost all subjects are taught exclusively in French, which is fantastic for improving your language skills, but again it means that the actual study component may be a bit too challenging for you if your French is below a B2 standard. Despite some challenges in signing on to classes, I really enjoyed the study aspect of Lyon 2.

Accommodation

I was fortunate enough to be given lodgement in the Résidence Universitaire André Allix, one of Lyon's many student halls. Unlike the situation at UQ, Allix is nowhere near either of Lyon 2's two campuses (the gorgeous, historic campus at Berges du Rhône and the 1970s architectural monstrosity out at Bron), nor indeed near any major Lyonnaise university. However, this is not a problem, as the accommodation is still in an excellent location close to the city centre, everywhere is accessible by public transport and you have an imperious view over the city.

Allix was very affordable, with monthly rent costing me only €250, which provided me with a small room to myself, complete with a bed, shower, toilet, desk, fridge and plenty of storage space! Most of the best friends I made were living in the same Residence, and we found that the communal kitchen on each floor was a great place to chat with people and plan nights out as you prepared your dinner.

Expenses

Compared to Australia, France is really not an expensive place to live, particularly if you are outside of Paris. You do have to do your own shopping for food, appliances and any study materials you may need, but all of these items are generally a lot cheaper in Lyon than what you can find in Australia. For example, the standard price for a baguette is around €0.80 from a boulangerie, and I was able to regularly pick up a bottle of Burgundy for €2-€3.

Top Five Tips:

  1. Sign on and enrol early to avoid disappointment. By this I mean that once you arrive in Lyon and start uni, it is imperative that you do your on research, find out who the professors are of each class you want to take, and approach them personally after the first class to get them to sign off on your study plan.

    The uni administration is frustratingly disjointed, very few staff answer any emails not marked as urgent (incidentally, this is another good tip for getting information out of your teachers), and you will at times feel mired in the bureaucracy. This is normal, especially considering the lack of any online course information akin to what you get at UQ. Accordingly, do make sure you are as well-prepared as possible and ready to jump into the enrolment process as quickly as possible upon arrival.
     
  2. Buy a TCL monthly abonnement or subscription every month that you are in Lyon. These cost around €25 each month and provide unlimited travel on the entire Lyon public transport network (buses, metro, trams, funicular...everything)! They are definitely well worth the money, just make sure you remember to touch on every time you board one of these modes of transport, because the ticket inspectors are numerous and vigilant.
     
  3. Make sure you are in Lyon for the Fête des Lumières (Festival of Lights) in early December. The biggest day in Lyon's calendar is December 8, which always marks the apex of the festival and is the only time of year when Lyon's streets are truly crowded with tourists from all over the world. Ordinary residents of Lyon hate this festival, but I definitely recommend discovering it for yourself, as it's a truly breathtaking experience for an outsider.
     
  4. Take some time to experience your city. The only thing I truly regret about my time in Lyon is that I didn't get to as many of its wonderful museums and art galleries as I would have liked. For a city whose population is slightly smaller than Brisbane's , it has a lot of history packed into it, and I definitely recommend seeing as much of this as possible. The Roman amphitheatre, the Lumière Museum and the Museum on the History of Deportation and the Resistance are highlights in this regard, but there are many more, and even many of the streets in Lyon are ripe for exploring.

    Take in some culture too – hire a public bike (helmets are optional and rarely seen) and cruise around with a baguette in tow, or catch an Olympique Lyonnais match at the Stade de Gerland. Get a €10 ticket to see the opera, or head out to the Parc de la Tête d'Or, a huge open air park which doubles as Lyon's zoo.

    The other aspect to this is the food. It is by no means an exaggeration to say that Lyon has some of the best cuisine in the world, so make sure you try out several of its bouchons – uniquely Lyonnais restaurants that serve magnificent, hearty traditional fare. Look out for a small interior with tables squished together for a sign of authenticity. I can recommend Les Adrets as one of the best - €15 there will get you a glorious three course lunch as well as wine and coffee.
     
  5. Travel and night-life – say yes to everything, worry about the consequences later! Whilst I appreciate that this advice may not apply to everyone, I highly recommend that you experience all that Lyon and the surrounding regions have to offer whilst you have the chance.

    Lyon's bars and clubs are very different to anything you would normally find in Brisbane, encompassing Australian-themed pubs, permanently moored peniches or party boats, trendy, vibrant jazz bars filled with swirling smoke and even, my favourite, a pirate bar, Barberousse.

    As to travel, I would recommend that if your bank balance allows it, travel around Europe as much as possible before, during and after your exchange. As an example, I ended up making it to the UK, Ireland, Turkey, Spain and Eastern Europe for significant trips before and after my university semester, whilst I made day trips to places like Annecy and Strasbourg during my exchange. Oktoberfest in Munich is also only a day's drive (see covoiturage.fr) or a short train ride away. Your bank balance may suffer, but your bank of stories to tell your friends back home will surely benefit.
     

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