France, Chambéry – Miranda Mitchell – 2006-2007
I have written this report hoping to give you a good insight in to my fantastic year abroad and at the same time being incredibly jealous that you are about to embark on what I have just left behind!! I hope it helps.
The French obsession for paperwork – it’s actually not that bad. Make sure you have the following with you:
Birth certificate photocopy (can’t remember actually needing this though I did take original and translation with me)
A level certificate photocopies
E.U. health insurance card
Insurance documents (I bought mine through Endsleigh)
I always flew into Geneva using Easy Jet or British Airways. It’s worth looking into BA flights because sometimes they are just as cheap and you have a larger luggage limit (very important!!). From Geneva take the train from Cornavin station to Chambery-very easy but make sure you time your fight arrival with the train times as there are only two trains running to Chambery during the afternoon/early evening. Definitely invest in a 12/25 railcard. This gives you huge savings on fares especially when you start skiing each weekend and travelling to the South of France in the summer. Chambery is in the perfect location: we made regular trips to Grenoble, Annecy and Lyon by train. A car is definitely not necessary. The local bus service is great, standard 1 euro 10 takes you anywhere.
For travelling home at the end of the year you will find you have an enormous amount. Don’t panic. I had 7 suitcase loads. Get a family member to fly out, they can have a lovely holiday and then you can share the luggage load home. Some of my friends shipped boxes there and back. Others had incredibly kind parents willing to drive out and collect! You do find you have things you want to throw out at the end of the year (kettles, toasters, clothes). Give these to the red cross or take them to the cathedral.
Hours of Fun!
As soon as the ski season begins you’ll be using every free day you have to go skiing! The first day after our exams finished, mid January, we hit the slopes! Hopefully you’ll be able to start earlier, we were unlucky with snow arriving late. The university organises really cheap trips to Meribel after Christmas. Make sure you sign up at the sports hall early! You can also sign up for ski trips with another organisation on campus which takes you to Chamonix/Val d’Isere/Paradiski/etc. We also travelled independently to Les Arcs catching the 6am (!!) train to Bourg St Maurice. There is a coach that runs from the coach station to the local resorts, La Feclaz & Margeriaz. If you have never skied before this is the perfect opportunity to learn – the university trips do offer some teaching for beginners (though heard it’s not great). Most of us bought our own boots, definitely worth it. Also there were some minor accidents, so carry your insurance documents with you, buy daily insurance at the resort or buy a carte neige (seasonal insurance). One of my friends had to pay £400 up front because her documents were in Chambery…
Come summer, April, we were all swimming and sunbathing at Lac Bourget which is located 20 minutes from town. Being the largest natural lake in France, with a mountain back drop right the way around, it really is beautiful! There is a jetty and diving board to leap off and grass area to sunbathe! Or take a trip to Annecy and rent out pedalos.
Having rowed for several years already, I was keen to get involved in Chambery and signed up through the university. 20 euros/semester-absolute bargain! We had a 2 hour session once a week. It was just ‘leisurely’ rowing, no training sessions necessary unless you are seriously keen! The club has a tank, great for improving technique and you are coached during the outings. Beginners are very much welcome. We had a competition at the end of the year and our 8+ came away with bronze!
If you love singing you must give this choir ago! In fact just go for jokes because it is such fun and you don’t have to be able to pitch a note. They were all Frenchies except for me. They only found out they had an English girl on board when I had to stop them and explain that I didn’t understand a word they were singing! An African guy sporting a top hat takes the sessions and teaches you his own material. Heavily reggae based. He also encourages you to freestyle-ha! At the end of the year there is a performance but I stopped going after Christmas. They also organise socials (bonding!) to see musical performances.
You must go on these! Honestly if you’d suggesting hiking to me in Exeter I would have laughed but these were a truly fantastic way of exploring the Alps and seeing some staggering views. It was lovely to have been able to hike in Chamonix before the snow came and then revisit it for some sking! They are really popular with the students, especially Erasmus, and we did every single one! You don’t have to be super fit to do them nor do you need hiking boots (though perhaps these would have helped a little!)
There are loads of other university clubs to choose from, all for a small fee. Yoga, aerobics, rock climbing, dance, tennis. Lots. Though make sure you sign up early because places go quickly.
You will have no problem fitting in at Jacob and will no doubt be surprised at the amount of French you can actually understand or get by with once flung in to that situation. In your classes it’s often up to you to make the effort with the Frenchies. Everyone I sat next to, I chatted to, which I’m sure some of them found incredibly irritating but it does work! The best way is to build friendships in the classroom because the social side of Jacob is pretty poor compared to Exeter. It’s definitely worth making these French friends come exam time when you want to copy their notes! Plus you’ll get invitations to French parties on campus-bonding!
8am classes were a real shock. & having accounting at 8am made it doubly worse. Needless to say I failed this exam! But what I would say is if you go to all your classes you will have all the material to revise for the exam. Textbooks do not exist in France-it’s great! Some teachers are very strict about attendance (miss more than 2 classes, can’t sit exam), but they are usually more lenient with Erasmus. There is little private study except for group coursework/presentations. So once your day finishes on campus (sometimes 8pm for me!!) you can go and have fun!
There are two sets of exams, one after Christmas and one at the end of the year. It is rather like GCSEs, juggling a lot of subjects at the same time (I took 13 modules in semester 2). Luckily each module does not go in to too much depth compared to our Exeter modules. Any modules you are having trouble with I’d advise photocopying French notes. The teachers themselves advise this for Erasmus students. Do a trade off, help the Frenchies with their English homework and they’ll be more than happy to help you.
Also you will find, the majority of Eramus students out there with you do not need to sit exams or if they do, they don’t need to pass them. Therefore don’t get sucked in to going out the night before an exam! You will also find that your French improves a lot more than your peers because we do the workload equivalent of a French student and you will get a much better taste for university life. I really enjoyed my time on campus, mixing with the French, and although you have a lot more contact hours (24/week) you soon get used to it.
Another thing, French exams lack formality! Students with notes on their laps, sharing answers and mobiles ringing it seems is not abnormal.
There is a dining hall and a fast food place but I chose not to eat here very often as the food was a bit hit and miss! If I had time I preferred to go home and eat, stop at the boulangerie and buy a fresh baguette…However food on campus is very reasonable and all the French students eat there so it’s a good way to mingle!
There isn’t a big selection in Chambery, about the same as Exeter. There are 4 main clubs; Cocktail, Corsaire, Opera and RDC. RDC was our ultimate favourite, we went there every Wednesday (or Mashed Mercredi as we liked to call it). Opera is full of locals and sleaze but with your friends it’s all fun! Corsaire does Wednesday salsa nights which were very popular with the Erasmus lot. It is true that French students don’t go out as much as we do but our class was unusually good! Perhaps they just need a bit of encouragement!
The French love Irish pubs. In little Chambery you can find 4!! Charly’s was our favourite and living above it we got to know it well. The manager, George, is very proud of his fine establishment and is used to the waves of Erasmus coming and going. & the cider there is notoriously good. This is Erasmus central and a great place to meet people.
O’cardinals was our favourite summer haunt. In the early evenings, you can sit out on the square, lovely buzz. Really popular with the locals and French students. There are quizzes, live music and we used to play cards – the locals love getting involved!
Some super places to eat. Gulliver’s, the creperie, is a must. Yummy, enormous crepes for silly (small) prices. Though book in advance as small and very popular. Vivaldis is a great Italian option, fantastic pizza and they can cope with large reservations (18 of us once).
Le Sporting does excellent traditional dishes (tartiflette, raclette…).
Café Theatre was a favourite of ours for long lazy afternoons sitting outside in the sun sipping coffee, cocktails, chocolat viennois, munching on crepes, gauffres, ice creams…Go there!
There are two super huge markets, one in the Autumn and one in the Spring, that must not be missed!! The shops turn out all their stock for tiny prices and there are loads of other stalls selling craft items, local produce etc. Warning – you will spend a lot!! My friends and I bought our ski wear in the Autumn one. There is also a smaller Christmas market just before the hols, great for Christmas shopping!
For supermarket shopping take the bus to Carrefour or use Monoprix (more expensive) in town. There’s a great fresh fruit and veg shop next to café theatre and there are endless patisseries/boulangeries so you can try a different one every day! For clothes shopping I’d recommend going further afield, we shopped in Annecy because it’s not too big and a lovely place to visit. Chambery has a number of boutiques and a galerie lafayette!
Do not stay in Hotel Curial!!! This is where I stayed along with fellow students from Exeter, Glasgow, Cardiff. We have all told our respective universities to ward students away from this place. Foul mouthed night guard (‘rosbif merde’), unhelpful and permanently miserable manager and frequent problems with rooms. I had no hot water for 2 weeks and eventually moved rooms.
You can either stay in halls on campus or you can stay in private halls in town. I saw one new complex on campus which was smart and spacious inside. Apparently this accommodation is snapped up fast early on in the year. Otherwise I’ve heard campus halls are pretty basic but do not be put off as lots of other Erasmus used them and found it easier to mix with the French.
In town there are various options; Laureades, Compte verte, Universite, all of which seem fine. You can either have your own private room and kitchen or you share a kitchen with a French student-again good for the French.
Some Erasmus found some really nice flats to rent together or alone. So it might be worth going over early to look for a place or have a look on the web.
My year in Chambery was an unforgettable experience and I haven’t stopped talking about it since I’ve been back-driving my friends nuts I’m sure!! The amount you do and learn out there is amazing and you only really realise everything you have accomplished once you arrive back home. I would say make the most of and grab every opportunity that comes your way. It is definitely a year for trying out new things and adopting an open mindset to take on what will be a fantastic and jam-packed year. My philosophy whilst out there was don’t worry about what will be probably not happen, just enjoy it!!!