Isabella - Université Catholique de Lille

B. Arts / Diploma of Languages
Semester 2, 2015

Academic experience

I went on exchange in my third year and studied arts courses in the FLSH faculty, the equivalent of the HASS faculty at UQ. I took all of my courses in French, which was challenging but overall worthwhile as I saw an improvement in my language comprehension. In order to meet the 30ECTS criteria for the full-time study, I studied 11 subjects, which meant I was at uni almost every day. 
Attending class is mandatory, and lecturers do not post any notes or recordings online, so I would highly recommend going to class. Further, not all professors are understanding of language difficulties or are willing to assist you if you ask for help. However, there is less work to do overall as homework is a rarity, and I did not have any required readings or even textbooks. 
If your class is cancelled or changed, you will most likely find out by checking a noticeboard in the building, as nearly all exchange students during my semester did not receive access to their online forum at the Catho. 

Personal experience

It took a while for Lille to feel like home, but everything became much easier after a few weeks of settling in. The city is easy to navigate, there are heaps of small brasseries and patisseries to explore, and the best part is that you can walk everywhere. If you looked, there was always something to do: art exhibitions, a vintage festival, treasure hunts, live music, and even a wine tasting exhibition. 
While it did rain during winter, enrolling in the Fall semester gave me a month of beautiful autumn weather with sunny skies and a carpet of leaves in the Citadel, as well as the beautiful Christmas markets with mulled wine and waffles which started in November. 
Making friends with French students was much harder than I anticipated, but as an international student, you’ll be given the opportunity to meet interesting people from a variety of backgrounds who will broaden your outlook and understanding of the world. Going abroad will definitely push you out of your comfort zone, but you will build a certain resilience that you wouldn’t have otherwise been able to achieve. 

Accommodation

Finding accommodation was one of the most difficult aspects of exchange, partly because by the time you receive your acceptance letter, it’s already too late to book accommodation through AEU (run by the university). I would recommend organising a hostel (Gastama) or Airbnb for the first few weeks, and either finding a share house or going to the AEU building directly opposite the University as they will no doubt have cancellations. 
Faced with these setbacks, I accepted the first availability offered to me by AEU when I arrived in Lille. While this residence was situated very close to the university, it was not a pleasant living experience. These residences are heavily populated with exchange students, and while the kitchens are communal, it is difficult to meet people past the first week as the university climate is not as embracing as that at UQ. 
If you can’t get a share house, which I would strongly recommend, make sure you make a dedicated effort to meet people outside your residence. 

Budget

Try to keep track of what you spend on Excel or a budgeting app. I spent slightly under the $10,000-$12,000 recommendation which included travel, but I wouldn’t have gone over with less as there are many unexpected expenses (further visa requirements, extra month’s rent, last minute travel). The outline provided by the Catho is a good guideline for a budget, as it’s fairly accurate. 
The cheapest place to buy fresh food is from the markets (try Wazemmes close to the uni), but it might help to take a French student the first time around as stallholders speak ridiculously quickly. If you buy fruit and veg at supermarkets, make sure you weigh it and print the price tag before you take it to the counter! 
The university restaurant is the cheapest place to eat, but it strongly resembles a high school cafeteria. However, there are plenty of options close to the university and within Vieux Lille where students can get lunch for under €5.

Professional development and employability

Studying in France will not only increase your employability in Australia, but it also opens up opportunities to work overseas, particularly in France. Speaking a second language is a great asset to have, and you’ll have a greater cultural understanding of not only France but also internationally. 
Studying abroad demonstrates resilience, a willingness to take up new opportunities, and the capacity to overcome cultural and social barriers.
While I had anticipated that study in Lille in my areas of major study would have expanded my content knowledge, this was not the case, and it makes you appreciate the academic standard of UQ courses. However I saw great improvement in my French, and the best advantage was that I learned discipline-specific vocabulary relevant to my degree and intended field of work.

Highlight

Roubaix Vintage Markets
Roubaix Vintage Markets

Having a local coffee shop where the baristas knew my order as soon as I walked in the door, greeted us with a smile and a joke, and let my friends and I sit all morning over coffee and homemade baked goods while we studied. I definitely felt like a local.
If you love music as much as I do, the Peniche will also be your favourite way to spend free time—you get to see bands on a boat, and listening to live music and chatting with band members was one of the most fun ways I improved my French. 
(Also there’s a free zoo with a red panda). 

Top tips

  • Prepare yourself for unnecessary bureaucracy daily. 
  • If you’re going on exchange to improve your French, take your classes in French as you will likely talk to your friends in English. 
  • FLSH provided little to no social activities, so tag along to any and every IESEG event.
  • If you want to travel on a budget within France, take advantage of BlaBlaCar as a ride-share service, or CiceVoyage, which does day trips across Europe including Amsterdam, Luxembourg and Brussels. 
  • Buy a French/English dictionary from the second-hand book market in Grande Place and save yourself the baggage. It’s a must for exams.
Isabella - Université Catholique de Lille