France, EM Normandie – Hollie Morgan – 2005-2006

My Erasmus year in Le Havre was undoubtedly the best year and experience of my life. It was not only educational and interesting but fun and a great change from the norms of living in England .

Firstly I will detail the school itself; this is the place where you will generally centre your life (not just for studies, but for friends and socialising too). ESC Le Havre is a business school, and is very well established in France . It is relatively small compared to a university, there are only 500 students in all, and about 150 in the first year (there are 3 years in all). However I found that this means the Erasmus students had a very large role to play. There were only 17 Erasmus students in the school, and we were spread out throughout the years depending on our home university course. Being only a group of 17 internationals in total, it was easy to integrate with the other Erasmus students (they were from countries across Europe , such as Belgium , Germany , Poland and Spain ), and fortunately for us the majority of us got on really well and enjoyed a great year. The French students at Le Havre were very friendly and helpful to us and most of the Erasmus students integrated with the French students quickly and successfully. My recommendation would be to meet as many of the French students as possible at the beginning as they really were very useful when it came to showing us round the city and helping with work.

The good things about Le Havre would have to be the events organised by the school. Because of its size it resembles a sixth form college in a way, with lots of group work and projects and essays to be handed in, and it is more class work than homework (which was very good). Although we started about 8.30 every day until 4.30, we did (usually) have the evenings and weekends free. There are a couple of societies created by the second years and they hold events throughout the week, for example every Wednesday was a themed night out, but there were also barbecues, sports days and other activities going on at school for everyone to participate in. This was a lot of fun and was a good way to meet more people. There is a society solely in charge of looking after the Erasmus as well, called Global Village, and is managed by about 7 second year students. They organised lots of activities and nights out for us and took us on a weekend to Paris (only a 2 hour journey on the direct train from Le Havre), and later in the year to Mt St Michel for a night, and this was at a good price too. They were on the whole very helpful, but as we were established enough as a group we didn’t rely on them to a great extent. The school also organised a couple of trips for anyone interested to London , Amsterdam and there is an annual ski trip every February.

There is a great variation regarding the modules you take at ESC Le Havre . As I already said it is similar in a way to school, and so there are lots of classes to take. For example you take modules in marketing, informatics, consumer behaviour, political economy, French classes, project management, cost analysis and various accountancy modules. The system works by having 30% as coursework (perhaps a group presentation, project or essay) and then 70% is for the exam. The teachers are very good though and ensure students are well prepared for the exams.

Agreeably there are some down sides to the city. For example everything is closed on Sundays (except Mcdonalds!), so if you are not careful Sundays can become very dull, but so long as you have friends (and possibly a car) it is really not a problem. Also we did have a lot of work to do. You have to complete 60 ECTS credits for Exeter , but in Le Havre each module is only worth on average 1.5 or 2 credits. In short therefore you have to do a lot of modules. On the up side there are 2 mini internship type modules you have to do (one each term), and they are 6 and 10 credits respectively so that helps with the credits. Also, as an Erasmus you have a couple of compulsory modules to do, such as 3 hours of French a week with a great teacher who has a lot of enthusiasm and is very friendly towards the Erasmus. That was a great aspect of Le Havre because it was one of the only lessons where all 17 of us were on our own in a lesson together and was a good time to catch up. The major downside of Le Havre for me was the overnight ferry from Portsmouth because it was a bit uncomfortable. However the ferry does actually take you directly to the Le Havre port which is in fact very convenient – and there is word of them putting on another day ferry crossing too which would help.

Overall there may be some aspects of Le Havre that don’t appeal to people, such as there really isn’t much to do if you don’t have a car or know a lot of people to take you on trips etc. But really it was an amazing place to spend a year. The school is generally very organised and friendly, and having the chance to integrate with people from different nations was a unique opportunity. Without a doubt I would recommend Le Havre to anyone looking for a great year out, remember you have to study but there are plenty of opportunities to have fun there as well.

Some general useful tips:

  • buy a French SIM for your phone – it is much cheaper, especially if you buy the pay as you go equivalent (either on Orange network or SFR) – there are many phone shops in le Havre to buy it from
  • the first week is an introduction but just for the Erasmus – it is a good way to get to know everybody and a chance to look around the city
  • the school help you set up a French bank account, make sure you do this as you receive around 150 euros a month from the French government for accommodation (this came in very useful!)
  • get the school to help you find accommodation; do this before you leave England because it makes life easier. I spent the first week in a hotel while searching for somewhere to live, and it was a bit annoying
  • talk to as many of the French students as early on as possible, even if you don’t become friends they do come in useful
  • contrary to public opinion the French are very polite and by not saying ‘bonjour’ or ‘ca va’ they can take offence so be as polite as possible at school
  • in le Havre there are a few mini supermarkets, the cheapest is Monoprix in the shopping mall. But if you have a car it is more efficient to drive to the big hypermarkets, for example Auchun – they are well signposted.

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