France, Chambéry – Oliver Pereira – 2005-2006
Université de Savoie, Chambéry
Université de Savoie is a medium sized university situated in Savoie and Haute Savoie in the Rhône Alpes region. There are roughly 12 000 students spread out over 3 campuses- Annecy (Haute Savoie), Bourget du Lac (aka Technolac) and Chambéry (aka Jacob- Bellecombette
Skiing / Snowboarding
In my highly biased view of Chambery , the most important thing about the town is the opportunities it provides for snow sports. There is everything from the big commercial resorts that many of you will know about to the small local resorts which can be just as entertaining. Let me summarise just a small selection for you.
La Feclaz – The closest and probably smallest. Can get there in about 20 mins by car. It only has about 5 lifts but it is enough to keep you entertained for a few hours. There is a reasonable park with some interesting (but sometimes painful!) rails. Ideal if you’ve had an afternoon lecture cancelled and fancy popping up the mountains instead. Lift pass is only about 7 euros!
Les Sept Laux – A little further, maybe about a 45 min drive. It is near to Grenoble . Much bigger than La Feclaz but still does cheap tickets during the week ~12 euros. Some good off piste opportunities after fresh snow 😉
Areche – Known locally as a ‘snow barn’, it tends to catch a lot of the white stuff.
La Clusaz – A bit further away and another slight step up in both price and size. I can’t remember exactly how much it was maybe 28 euros ish.
Les Trois Vallees – About 1 hour 20 mins by car. Well known by most English skiers. Consists of Meribel, Val Thorens, Courcheval and Mottaret. The uni often organizes cheap trips up to the Mottaret section of this ski area. Otherwise you are looking a forking out for the most expensive lift pass in Europe !
Tignes – If you are like me and simply cannot wait for the snow to fall before taking to the slopes, then you may want to warm up for the season by going up to the glacier at Tignes which usually is open by the beginning of November.
There are so many more resorts available. You are really spoilt for choice. As far as getting to the resorts is concerned, a car really helps. I would recommend bringing one or getting to know people with cars if you intend to do a lot of skiing. Having said that, there are some buses and some trips organized by uni / alpine clubs that provide transport so all is not lost if you don’t have un voiture. Please make sure you have appropriate insurance for snow sports and make sure that it covers you for off piste if you intend to indulge in this (don’t do it if you don’t know what you are doing / where you are going! It is dangerous).
How to get to Chambéry
The easiest and cheapest way is without doubt by air. Easyjet, Ryanair and other low cost carriers fly to Grenoble , Lyon and even Chambery itself. I would advise that you get a morning flight though as the onward connections from some of the airports can stop quite early.
I went out to Chambery a month or two before the start of term and found some private accommodation by just walking around town and asking in the estate agencies. The quality of accommodation is very mixed so be prepared to see a few dud properties before finding a gem. A problem with private sector accommodation is that you may be required to sign a 12 month contract. You may be able to change the terms or if not, you can get out of paying for the last few months if you manage to find someone to take over the contract (i.e. find a new tenant). Although private sector accommodation does present some extra hassles compared to going into a hall of residence, it gives you the most independence.
A good way to improve your French is to share with a French student at the Résidence étudiante du Comte Vert. The residence is not in the centre of town. However, Chambéry is not a huge town. It takes roughly 15 minutes to walk from the Comte Vert to the opposite side of town. It takes 30 minutes to get to the fac (aka the campus) and only 15 minutes to get to the nearest grocery stores (Leclerc, Lidl and Monoprix). The building is very secure- two entrances controlled by magnetic key passes.
The residence houses almost 200 students in two separate buildings. The Comte Vert is probably the most multicultural residence in the town. All international students are placed with a French roommate in order to aid the transition between home and France . The rent is also very reasonable at 301 euros a month minus the CAF (government assistance). Rent after CAF is 216.94 a month.
There are other residences in Chambéry, including Les Lauréades, Résidence des Alpes,
Hôtel Résidence Curial. These 3 residences are all in a good locations and are a good place to make a lot of friends. Internet connections are supplied for a reasonable fee and the buildings are all secure. There are rules relating to noise levels, guests etc that some may find a little onerous.
There is accommodation available on the campus but I strongly advise you to avoid this at all costs. Although I never had the misfortune of being there, everything I heard about the general quality of accommodation was really bad. It also means that you are stuck away from the town centre making the social scene slightly less accessible.
Phone- I signed a 9 month student contract with France Télécom at the boutique on Rue de Boigne (the main street in town). It cost 25 euros to set up and 13 euros a month for service plus the cost of all outgoing calls. I also set up my Internet at the same boutique through Wanadoo (now called Orange ). There are no 9 months contracts for students, but it is possible to get out of a one year contract as long as you try not to do it last minute, as I did. For a student rate (not the fastest service) it cost 26 euros a month with the first 3 months free.
Mobile phone sim cards can be picked up very cheaply at any phone shop and are very useful for staying in touch with friends / arranging trips to go snowboarding etc. You may need to have your phone unlocked to take a foreign SIM card. The phone shop next to the Odeon in Exeter may provide this service?…
I suggest BNP Paribas. A couple representatives of the downtown branch (beside Monoprix) come up to the fac during the 2 week stage at the beginning of September to tell you all about opening your account. If you open a token savings account (and put a minimum 15 euros in) you don’t have to pay monthly banking fees on your chequing account. Banking hours are awkward and sometimes inconvenient, but BNP is used to dealing with students as they pretty much handle almost all the students that come to Chambéry. Closing the accounts was easy (though you have to wait 24 hours for the money to be released, so think ahead).
When you register (all this is organised during the two week language stage), you have to either pay 140 euros to get health insurance or prove that you have health insurance from home. I personally signed up for a comprehensive policy from the UK which covered me for various snow sports related accidents as well.
Really, really easy. Chambéry is an hour away from Geneva which is a major EasyJet hub. From there you can go anywhere. Italy is so near that it seems rude not to visit. The Erasmus society usually arranges various trips during the year (eg Turin , Paris, Lyon etc). Trains are cheap especially if you get a 12-25 young persons railcard which slashes 50% off the price.
Pre-term Language Course
There is the option of a pre-term language course. If you take one thing from this report, let it be this – GO ON THIS LANGUAGE COURSE! It is a very easy way to make many many friends and get settled in to the town before the hubbub of term and course selection begins. It takes place at the beginning of September- there is a language programme in the morning divided into 5 groups based on your French level. In the afternoon, conferences were organised to help us settle in France , register for the university, open bank accounts, etc. The university also organized 3 excursions during this initial 2 weeks in order to help us discover the region and meet each other. We climbed a mountain, went to Lyon for an evening and then went to an Annecy , a fabrique de fromage (smells horrible – I hate cheese) and a vineyard (much better – I like wine).
For those of you who are still unsure whether to do an Erasmus year. I cannot recommend it to you strongly enough. It has been without doubt, the most enjoyable year of my degree. Some people may feel a bit apprehensive about living in a foreign country. Don’t worry, there are many many other exchange students so you are always surrounded by friends and the getting to know the locals is really fun. Financially there is a lot of support from both the Erasmus grant and the CAF accommodation refund. It is almost as though the government is paying you to go and have fun for a year. I think anyone who does not take this amazing opportunity to experience a different country (and go snowboarding / skiing / traveling / socialising) with a bunch of like-minded students from around the world must be crazy. Just go for it!