France, Chambéry – James Craigen – 2008-2009

Economics w/ European Study Chambéry – Université de Savoie

I have just returned from my fantastic year abroad studying in Chambéry, it has been one of the best years of my life and I wish I could go back and re-live the whole experience again. I don’t think that I’ll ever forget the memories that I have of this great experience and I hope to stay in touch with many of friends that I’ve made from France, European countries, America, Canada and other British universities.

This is my guide to encourage you to choose to spend your Erasmus year in Chambéry and to help you make the most of the opportunities and avoid any unexpected problems.

Before you leave!

Documents

Previous student guides have mentioned the horrors of French bureaucracy but it seems things have improved a fair bit since! The following is a list of documents you should have ready to take to France. I had good quality colour photocopies that passed off for the real thing so I could keep the originals safe in my room. I also emailed myself the scanned copies so they were accessible from a friends computer, campus or a web-cafe if required.

  • Birth Certificate
  • Translated Birth Certificate
  • Passport
  • Passport photos
  • A-Level Certificates
  • EU Health Card
  • Insurance Documents
  • Learning Agreement
  • Exeter and Savoie letters of acceptation onto Erasmus

I didn’t need the birth certificate but others had to present it to CAF to get their rent rebates. I had my birth certificate translated for free by the french consulate in london, all I had to provide was a stamped addressed envelope, the instructions on their website should help.

http://www.institut-francais.org.uk/…./translation-birth

Money

We had a terrible year for the exchange rate with the financial crisis!

You may wish to consider the following options available to have access to money in France.

When you’re in France you should open a bank account, LCL and BNP both offered attractive offers and rewards, I went with LCL because I had free online banking that allowed me to check my funds and gave me an insurance policy for my French accommodation.

To get money from Britain you can do an international bank transfer but this will cost between £8-£20 depending on your bank. It can be cheaper to use one of the methods below which you’ll need anyway before you get your account setup.

  • Nationwide cash card – allows you to withdraw funds from an ATM abroad without bank charges
  • Use a British credit card abroad – I advise you to check your banks rates, for me this was a valid option at the start of the year
  • Get a pre-paid credit card – From Thomas Cook in Britain, you buy euros at their exchange rate to top up the card, it can then be used in ATMs abroad but was subject to a 2 euro charge per transaction
  • Travellers Cheques
  • Cash

Travel to France

I was in the very fortunate position that my Dad was prepared to drive me and my hoards of stuff including kitchen, sports and computer equipment out to my destination. It is possible to travel the distance from the ferry to Chambéry in 9 hours, so depending on your start location in Britain you can make the trip in one day, otherwise stops near Auxerre/Dijon may be suitable. If you wish to take 2 mountain bikes with you to France, like one of my best friends, then this may be your only viable method of transport!

Others flew out from Britain via low cost airlines that connected with Lyon, Geneva, Grenoble or even Chambéry itself. It is important to bare in mind the baggage restrictions and add on the train connection cost. If you fly to Chambéry you’ll need a taxi to town as there are no buses!

Accommodation

You can arrange this before you leave, the Université de Savoie sent me a form to fill in regarding accommodation at the time of their Erasmus acceptance letter offering to arrange this for me. However I sorted accommodation privately via email whilst I was still in Britain.

But don’t panic because many others sorted their residences when they arrived in france, staying in hotels for the first few nights.

You might want to consider the following:

Arpej, also known as Univercity, on Rue de la Republique, it’s opposite Charlys pub and Hotel Curial and right next to Laureades. Other than a few minor problems during my stay everything was ok. Room sizes vary according to cost but all have an en-suite bathroom and basic kitchen area. It is one of the expensive options available, my room cost 450 euros a month which reduced to 285/month once CAF applied. You have to pay electricity on top of this but a wi-fi is included. No bedding, kitchen equipment, microwave, kettle or oven are provided so beware you’ll need to bring or buy this. There is a launderette opposite but costs €4.50/machine

Laureades, very similar to Arpej in terms of room layout and size with en-suite and kitchen. Wi-fi was not included at the time, some paid extra or shared access keys. It had a small laundry machine which was cheaper than the launderette.

Hotel Curial, it is a residence and a hotel and is very large so the standard of cleanliness and problems varies a lot. It is the most strict residence but I know some people who lived their without the problems that previous reports have mentioned. Electricity was included in the rent and the place has a tiny gym room.

Foyer des Alpes, many non British Erasmus stayed here, I think it’s the cheapest residence. It’s about 5-10min further from campus than the places above. Rooms were clean but very small, some rooms have a tiny en-suite and all share a kitchen between 20 people on the corridor. It’s a very lively place and we often went to parties there!

Compte-Vert, it is the far side of town from all the other residences. I think it’s cheaper than the other places by quite a bit. As far as I’m aware you have your own room and share a kitchen with a French student.

When you arrive!

Foreign Language course

I highly recommend that you sign up for this in advance and arrive before term for the FLC Erasmus course. It’s a great way to meet other Erasmus before the pressure of term time, it helps get your French up to speed and there are several information and welcome sessions. Also arriving early will give you plenty of extra time to socialise, get used to Chambéry and sort out your bank account and CAF.

Food

You can stock up from the supermarkets which are a bus ride away. There are two Carrefours, (Chamnord and Bassens), and a Leclerc which are accessible by buses from the Elephants. It only costs €1.10 in each direction. Monoprix is the supermarket in town but you’ll pay a premium for anything there. There is a grocery store near Cafe du Theatre and with that on your right if you carry on to the end of the street and just cross over there is a butchers, both those are cheaper than Monoprix.

There is also a market every Saturday morning, if you walk from the Elephants past the bus stops it will be up ahead on the left. It is the cheapest place to get fruit and vegetables but there are also Savoie cheeses and specialities there.

In addition to this there are two flea markets during the year, about the end of September and the end of April and a Christmas market near the Elephants.

Life in Chambéry

University life

Courses

You’ll need to sort out your own courses and timetable, the lists are up on the notice boards at the top of campus on the covered corridor by building 1 as well as in the iMus and LEA building 23&24 where Dr Tatham’s office is located. It’s a good idea to go to as many classes as you can at the start to get a feel for what you’re capable of following and drop them at a later date if you need to.

Remember that you’ll need to take 60 credits for the year so taking extra in the first term might be a good idea to cover any failed exams! Don’t panic during your first few lectures though, most of the lecturers we had were fantastic and helpful if you just ask, you might get the lecture slides if you take a USB stick. Don’t sit at the back because it’s hard enough understanding the French, make sure you can see the board!

Try and speak to French students if you can, even if its just a hello at first because if you hang around with the Erasmus crowd the rest of the time you won’t speak much French! It’s very useful to catch up missed notes or things you don’t understand and you might get invited to parties or to trips skiing by car.

Exams

Unless you take “Controle Continue” classes which have class tests only then you’ll have plenty of these! Make sure you check the boards to find out the time and place of the exams, and hand in your relevant forms or sign up online to ensure you’re on the register.

Sport

The university SUAPS offer randonnées between September and the snow season on Saturday’s for about 10 euros that include your bus travel and guide. If you’re an active person I recommend that you go on at least one as it’s not so easy to get out to their destinations without a car.

Ski trips are offered by SUAPS, you can sign up in person or online. Most go to Mottaret in the 3 valleys but you only get a Mottaret lift pass, the area is still huge though and it cost only 15 euros including bus travel and your lift pass. You can hire skis in town from Tigre Blanc at the roundabout near campus and the hospital. You could get the skis/boots/poles for 14 euros on a Friday and return them on the Saturday evening, the return bus stopped just along the road from there so you we didn’t have to carry the skis far when we were tired, they have snowboards too.

You can arrange your own ski trips by car or bus from the elephants, some went to local resorts for quite cheap prices but I found the massive area available at Mottaret to be far more worth it for the money and went with SUAPS all the time instead.

The uni also offer a small selection of clubs that you can sign up for on their website or at the desk in the sports hall, the places go quite fast but activities such as climbing, tennis, dance and canoeing are all available.

You can hire bikes from the station, cheap to hire but they want a high deposit, the bikes are roads bikes though in a very trendy turquoise. If you’re looking to make the most of cycling in the mountainous area you’ll want to bring your own or source another hire location. Cycling to Lac du Bourget is almost entirely flat and takes between 1 and 2 hours depending on your pace! You can also get to the lake by bus, people will still swim there in September and then May onwards.

Nightlife

Chambéry doesn’t boast a wide selection of pubs or clubs but there is still plenty of entertainment available. Opera is the main club but you’ll be faced with a 6-10 euro entry charge most nights, it’s a good night out if you’re surrounded by friends though. RDC is the alternative, but the club is tiny. Corsair is an upmarket bar with a dance floor where they have informal salsa classes on a wednesday night, this was quite popular with the Erasmus crowd.

Charlys, O’Pogues, O’Cardinals are all Irish pubs not far from the main residences, bare in mind a pint of beer will set you back €.4.50

Restaurants

Le Sporting, Savoyarde and Le Grange are all good for Savoie specialities and prices vary but aren’t too steep for a main course.

Travel Elsewhere

It’s not far or expensive to get the train to Lyon, Grenoble or Geneva for sightseeing or shopping and definitely worthwhile if you’ve got the SNCF 12-25 discount card and want to make the most of it.

Paris or the south of France are accessible for a weekend or half-term break by train and low-cost flights put most of Europe within reach for cheap fares.

Communication

Most people get a French sim card and a cheap phone or bring an unlocked handset. However unlike in Britain sim cards aren’t handed out free, cost about 15 euros and you need an id card when you go to the shop. Also it’s very important to bare in mind that pay as you go credit expires within a limited amount of time, so don’t put too much money on!

I hope that you too have a fantastic year in Chambéry and enjoy the opportunity like I have to meet new people, gain independence and overcome the challenge of living abroad and speaking a foreign language.

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