France, Grenoble – Emma Hanes – 2006-2007

Why do an Erasmus year?

I can’t think of any reasons why not to do an Erasmus year! The EU give you a big fat grant to live abroad for a year and you have the time and the freedom to make whatever you want of it. Don’t read other people’s accounts of Erasmus and think to yourself “that’s not for me” because everybody’s Erasmus experience will be different, according to their own personal goals. You could spend a year studying hard, making friends with French students and integrating into their friendship groups. Or you could spend a year working behind a bar, partying with the international students and learning a whole lot of other things about life.

Of course, the type of Erasmus experience you have will depend greatly on the level and confidence of your French at the outset. I started out with a relatively high level of French, having studied Advanced I and II in my first and second years at Exeter. Do not imagine that you need this level of French to do Erasmus – if anything, it made my life harder because I was at such a flat point in the learning curve. If you go with relatively little French and work hard at it, you can improve very rapidly in the first term alone. For me, the most important thing was to speak french in a wide variety of contexts in order to learn more technical vocabulary and, most importantly, to learn how to choose the appropriate style of language for each situation I found myself in. It was therefore just as important for me to be attending lectures and listening to a high-brow, academic French as it was to be going to parties and bars with French people learning colloquialisms and swear words.

About Grenoble

I would highly recommend Grenoble for a year abroad. It’s a large and dynamic city with plenty going on. It’s culturally very rich too, with regular jazz festivals, street markets and a good selection of museums, galleries and performance venues. There are daily markets until 1pm at Place aux Herbes and outside Les Halles St. Claire. There’s also a great farmer’s market on a Sunday morning at Place St. Andre.

Grenoble is of course also an excellent base for winter sports. The temperature tends to be very cold in the winter and very very hot in the summer. Grenoble is well located for trips to Paris as well as to Provence and the south coast. The other advantage of the city is that it’s not very touristy, so locals tend to assume you can speak French, rather than automatically speaking English to you like they do in Paris or the more touristy towns. The Grenoble accent is very easy to understand and similar to the French you learn in school.

Accommodation

I spent a long time weighing up between the ease and convenience of university halls versus living in nicer private accommodation with French people. It is possible to find flat shares from England, and I know people who found good apartments through internet sites like www.colocation.fr but I think it’s probably safer to come out to Grenoble for a week over the summer to try and find somewhere. At least this way you’ll get a better feel for which areas of the city you’d like to live in. Don’t think that living with French people will automatically mean you speak lots of French. In general, French students tend not to live with their close friends in the way that British students do. This makes it easier to find a flatshare with people you don’t know, but it seems that most people don’t expect to spend much time with their flatmates. Many French students go home at the weekends so you could get quite lonely at the beginning. Living in halls, on the other hand, you’re likely to make plenty of friends but the majority of them will probably be international. This is a mixed blessing. Getting to know people from other countries was a fantastic experience, and we did usually speak French to each other by the end. However, once you’ve formed a tight Erasmus group, it can get pretty difficult to get out and meet more French people.

I chose to live in Residence Berlioz. They are the more expensive halls, but the rent’s still far less than what you’d pay in Exeter. Berlioz is fairly basic – the shared kitchen facilities are limited, but the rooms are quite decent and ensuite. I’d say Berlioz was definitely better than Lafrowda, although not as nice as any of the other Exeter halls. You will receive Government housing support from the CAF office of around 100 euros per month. Don’t worry too much about applying for the CAF immediately as once you do apply you’ll receive any backdated payments as a lump sum.

I think the best thing to do about accommodation would be to initially apply for the uni halls and then to move out in the second semester. If you’re in Berlioz, you must give three month’s notice before moving out, so you need to hand your notice in almost straight away if you want to move out at Christmas. For the cheaper halls like Condillac, you only need to give one month’s notice. Flatshares come up all the time, so you’ll easily be able to find somewhere for the start of the second semester. One person I know had the most luck by putting up posters around uni asking for a flatshare. She also found plenty on the internet. The advantage of doing it this way is that you can spend one semester settling in, making friends with other international students, and getting to know the city and then one semester living with French people. Looking around flats is also a good way of meeting and talking to French people – I ended up being good friends with a guy who my friend met whilst looking around his flat, even though she never even lived with him.

Lectures

There are two different degree courses available in the business school – an economics degree at levels 1,2,3 and master, and an IUP course for people with two years of another discipline. This is available at level 3 and master, but most of the other students have no prior knowledge of economics so the courses are first-year standard economics taught at a fast pace. I would certainly recommend taking IUP courses if your French isn’t very good – they’re also good because the classes tend to be small and the IUP group makes a lot of effort to get to know each other, especially at the beginning.

I would recommend taking a mixture of courses which interest you or will be useful to your home degree, courses which will help with French, and, to make life easier, courses which give you easy credits (for example topics you’ve already studied). I would also highly recommend taking courses from outside the business school. I took several Erasmus language classes from Stendhal, one of the other Grenoble universities. I found the translation classes far more useful than the business school French lessons (which were fairly dull but easy credits) and the grammar classes also very interesting. You may not initially be told about the Stendhal classes – I only knew about them through other Erasmus friends. It’s worth making enquiries about what other modules are about. I also took credits in beginner’s German at Stendhal. I had to pay for these because they’re aimed at language honours students, but I think it was well worth it. I found the lessons good fun and a fantastic way of meeting other French people.

Things to Do

I took on a voluntary job as a waitress in a homeless café. The other staff were lovely and really took me under their wing – the manager even invited me to her house for a meal one weekend. I just worked one lunchtime shift per week, but thoroughly enjoyed my time there. Many of the people come in to eat because they’re lonely and want to talk to someone, so this was obviously a great way of speaking French to a very varied selection of people. They always need volunteers – if you want to get involved, pop into Café Nicodeme, next to Styx cocktail bar in Place Claveyson, just off Place aux Herbes.

Skiing – even if you’re not too sure about learning to ski, it’s worth giving it a go while you’re in Grenoble. It costs 30 euros to join the uni ski club, and after that a day’s ski pass is only 10 euros (20 with transport). The cheapest place to hire skis and buy equipment is Decathlon, a giant sports shop at the Grand Sablon tram stop (you can walk there from Berlioz). You can buy all the ski equipment you need for one season relatively cheaply as long as you don’t care about having trendy stuff.

Cycling – My 20 euro bike was by far the best purchase of the year. You can buy “second-hand” (i.e. probably stolen) bikes from the Sunday market by the river, or often there are ads on the residence noticeboards. It’s a very flat city with plenty of bike lanes and it’s also nice to go cycling along the river into the countryside around the city. Be warned though, bikes get stolen all the time – so either buy a very good lock, or a very cheap bike.

Travelling – take advantage of your time in Europe and travel as much as possible! Holidays are shorter in France, but there are still half term breaks and plenty of bank holiday weekends to take advantage of. You can also usually get away with skipping lectures for the odd week here and there. I took a week off to go to Rome (budget flights from Grenoble to Rome with www.blu-express.com), and spent one half-term break visiting Prague, Dresden and Berlin (flights to Prague from Grenoble or Geneva, and to Berlin from Lyon or Geneva). Closer to home, it’s definitely worth going to Paris at least once. A good long weekend trip is Montpellier and Nimes – two beautiful towns on the south coast, a fairly short train journey away. Montpellier is a big student city with plenty going on. It’s also worth visiting Avignon, Marseille, Nice, and the coast in between. Lyon shouldn’t be missed for a day trip and nearby Chambery and Annecy are also good daytrips. Annecy is a small Alpine town on the edge of a beautiful lake. There’s a lovely campsite just above the town, overlooking the lake, and hundreds of fondue restaurants – it makes a good weekend trip when it’s hot.

If you’re planning on taking the train a lot, it’s definitely worth buying a young person’s rail card (une carte 12-25) at the beginning of your stay. I would also highly recommend couch surfing, www.couchsurfing.com as a good way to travel for the more adventurous. The theory is, you stay on people’s couches for free, and in return you offer your own couch for travellers to stay on. However, if you live in halls and can’t offer a couch (or don’t want to) you can still be a member. I wouldn’t couchsurf on my own, but with a friend I never felt unsafe and all the people we stayed with were very welcoming, keen to show us around their towns, introduced us to their friends and spoke loads of French with us.

Grenoble info

I joined the town library (13 euros student rate) as this is a good way of having access to lots of easy fiction. I started off on the teenage fiction section and worked my way up through trashy romance novels to more serious literature. The central library is near the Maison du Tourisme, and there’s a bigger one at Grande Place shopping centre (on tramline A)

Bars and Clubs: The most international student bars (with the best music) are London Pub, the Couche Tard and Bukana on the riverside. For a more French clientele, try Tort Boyaud, a tiny and always packed bar that specialises in flavoured wines. The Metropolitain, next door, is smaller still and usually has good rock music. Barbarus is a nice rum bar in the same area. Notre Dame is the best area for café culture at its finest – the cafés in Place St Andre and around the Notre Dame fountain are always popular with students. The best cocktails are at Styx in Place Claveyson and Shaman, opposite Notre Dame fountain. Shaman serves a free aperitif buffet with any drink on a Friday evening. La Boite aux Sardines is a nice chilled out bar opposite Styx, on the corner with Place aux Herbes. On a nice day, take the Téléférique up to the Bastille and have a coffee on the terrace at the restaurant on top. The views are superb, and the coffee much more reasonable than the food.

Le Vieux Manoir is a pretty grimy club on the opposite side of the river. If you wear a short skirt, be prepared to get hassled all night. But it’s a fun night out, free on a Thursday, and stays open till 5am.

Eating: Eating out is much cheaper in France than in England, and usually of a much higher quality too. I took great pleasure in exploring the culinary delights the city has to offer… Le Pain Quotidien on Rue Lafayette serves excellent, if rather pricey, lunch and coffee. Le Cafeneion on Rue Très Cloîtres is a fantastic and very reasonable Greek restaurant run by a very friendly French/Greek couple. La Tête à l’Invers on Rue Chenoise is an unusual restaurant entirely run by one man. His 9 euro platter of six different desserts is definitely worth a try. For traditional regional food, try La Ferme à Dédé on the corner of Place aux Herbes. Grenoble has a large Arabic population and as a result there are some excellent Moroccan restaurants and Shisha bars. Try La Rose des Sables, Rue Bayard, for good Moroccan food, and La Rose Bleue (Rue Chenoise) or Dar El Shisha for shisha and a good selection of teas in a comfy and friendly environment. There’s great Lebanese food at Au Baalbek, tucked away on Rue Abel Servien and fantastic Jamaican and Caribbean dishes at Le Bouzou on Rue des Alliés although it is a bit out of the way. If all else fails, you can always be sure to get a reasonably priced pizza in one of the 30-odd Italian restaurants on the other side of the river.

Finally, do not let yourself get stressed by the prospect of going abroad – everything will be far easier to organise when you get there. Have an incredible year and, as the French would say; profiter au maximum!

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