Part 1 – Arrival in France
I still remember the feeling I had while on the plane to France, a mix of excitement, nervousness, and a bit of gin and tonic because it was an overnight flight and I can’t seem to sleep on planes. I was on my way to Montpellier, a well-known student city with a population of about 250,000 people on the southern border of France. I had no idea what to expect from my upcoming adventure other than that I would be different when it is all done and coming home won’t feel the same way.
The university had constantly pushed the fact that there would be culture shock and I would feel uncomfortable with a lot for the first few months. However, I figured that if I had already accepted the fact that these eight months will be nothing like I experienced and I kept an open mind that the culture shock feeling that Carleton had warned me about would be considerably low.
From my experience, this was the correct way of thinking. I did not feel the difficulties of culture shock nearly as much as I thought and I had completely forgotten about the subject until we had to do a reflection on it in October. I think if you see change coming and accept the fact that it will happen there is nothing to be overly worried about when you go on exchange. Although I was prepared for some aspects of my trip like expecting and accepting change, if I could go back and tell myself a few things about what is to come, I feel it could save me a good deal of worrying.
1) Check and double-check the place you choose to live.
When in Canada, many students would easily choose a house or apartment that is in close proximity or has easy access to the school they are attending. Before I went to France, all I cared about was how close my house was to the school and if there was a grocery store nearby.
However, I had not considered the quality and safety of the neighbourhood my apartment was in simply because it was close to my school, which turned out to be gated and under guard during the day. The neighbourhood that my apartment is in is located on the edge of an area known to be bad by locals, however it was difficult to find that information on the Internet without knowing to look for it specifically.
Additionally, much of your time will be spent with your new classmates, which includes going out for dinner, drinks, and maybe to the clubs at night. In Montpellier, the trams that saved me an hour walk shut down by 2 a.m., which is an early time in the European nightlife. Taxis were very expensive and I lived further out of downtown towards my school so many times I had to walk.
My main point is to make sure you know the area your going to live in and know that with a different culture comes different aspects to consider while living in a new country.
2) Figure out your visa, bank account, public transport passes, and phone stuff FAST!
Most people arrive in their city a couple days before school begins which is a great time to figure out all the logistics to get set up. It seems like a logical thing to do the first few days and most people would probably read this and ‘duh’ or something else but make sure it is a priority.
Administrative processes don’t work the same in your abroad country as in Canada. There are language barriers that will complicate things and as soon as school starts, expect a lot of time with new friends which means anything that is time-consuming at the beginning will become much harder.
Also, I would advise getting a public transport pass as soon as possible because they are almost always worth it in value and getting caught without paying for a ticket is a big fine in every country I traveled to.
Furthermore, communication and The Internet is essential for traveling and getting around the city so get your phone off airplane mode as fast as you can.
3) Plan trips and activities in advance.
This is another obvious one, but if you’re lazy like me but you still want to save your money, then this is a good reminder.
Prices for flights grow and fill up quickly, particularly the lower cost airlines like Ryanair, therefore, make sure you plan your trip out in advance enough so that you have several options to take while travelling. You can easily save a hundred euros by purchasing your tickets and booking hostels a week earlier and it never hurts to have an extra hundred euros for food, drinks, and activities while traveling.
Also, remember that millions of other students in Europe, Asia, and Latin America also want to travel during the breaks so the longer you wait, the more likely you will have to choose from the leftovers of the leftovers in transportation and lodging.
Additionally, I made the mistake of listening to the people who work at the desks in the train stations and did not print a ticket, even though the electronic copy that I had didn’t specify for me to print one or not. Always, always, always print the ticket because the people on the train never care what the people at the desk say.
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