Emily - Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Rennes

B. Arts / Laws
Semester 1, 2016

Academic experience

At Sciences Po Rennes I was enrolled in the French program, and in addition to the compulsory French subjects (French language and histoire et civilisation), I undertook 3 second and fourth-year law subjects – ordre juridique de l’union européenne, droit matériel de l’union européenne and droit des contentieux publics. I found these law subjects to be very challenging for a number of reasons. First, they explored areas of law with which I was entirely unfamiliar, and since 2 of these subjects were fourth-year subjects, there was a great deal of assumed knowledge with regard to the structure of the European Union and French Administrative Law that I did not have. As a result, I needed to do extensive independent study to try to familiarise myself with the relevant legal frameworks.

A slight barrier to this, however, was that no course resources were provided (in the form of lecture notes, powerpoints or recommended textbooks) and apart from external research, our only opportunity to take in the course content was through our weekly lecture. Although I was B2 standard before I went on exchange, the language barrier and my unfamiliarity with the subject matter was such that I still found it extremely difficult to follow the lectures and prepare for assessment. Often only 1 or 2 exchange students were enrolled in these law courses, and for the purposes of the final assessment, the lecturers expected us to be completely across the course content in its entirety.

This aspect of my exchange was quite isolating and stressful. I spent a great portion of my time studying, and didn’t have as much spare time for recreation or participating in events organised by other students or the Zephyr association. Familiarising myself with the French essay structure and the ‘problématique’ was an added difficulty and something that was not taught in class. I would certainly say that this study load was not a light undertaking and anyone considering a full study load in French and or multiple law subjects in French should consider all the factors very closely. Despite these difficulties, I very much enjoyed learning about French and European legal systems. 
Many of the foreign students were encouraged to take on an extra subject and overload as a protection in case they failed a subject. I personally decided against this as my full load was exceedingly demanding and I simply couldn’t have feasibly undertaken another subject.

Personal experience

My exchange enabled me to forge friendships with a number of people from across the world, which was a really worthwhile experience. One of the key things that Rennes enabled me to appreciate is regional French culture and the pride that the local population takes in its customs and cuisine – things like galette saucisse, kouign amann and the plethora of local apple and cheese varieties. Rennes is a very vibrant market city and basically every day throughout the city there are various famers and book markets situated in different quarters. The biggest market, the marché des lices, is held every Saturday and is the second biggest market in all of France. It was a true delight to the senses and is an excellent opportunity to practice your French with the vendors and farmers. The book markets (bouquinistes) were also amazing in that you can pick up French books for a fraction of the retail price.

My time in Rennes also gave me considerable insight into how politically active French students, and the population more widely, is. The students staged many protests (against the loi du travail) at the university and the town centre was the subject of numerous protests, although this got a bit violent when banks were ransacked and public buildings were occupied and the centre was under helicopter surveillance.

Accommodation

I stayed at the cité universitaire de Sevigné which was about a 10-minute walk from the IEP. It was a very easy option in that all administrative and logistical matters were taken care of and there was very little work necessary on our behalf in terms of organisation. This was particularly helpful in that my exchange arrangements were very last-minute as I was originally going to go on exchange to another country which was prematurely cancelled. The accommodation facilities were perfectly practicable, although unfortunately the kitchens (which were shared with the other students on each level) were frequently dirty and the other students’ standards of cleanliness were certainly questionable.

Although there was no oven, we had our own fridge, which made storing food very easy. Unfortunately, we had to provide all household equipment ourselves which was quite expensive and took quite a lot of time sourcing things. Many of the other exchange students found accommodation elsewhere (sharing apartments with other students/families) and if you have the time I would certainly at least investigate this as an alternative.

Budget

I found living in Rennes pretty affordable. Rent at Sevigne was 250 euros per month which was quite reasonable and phenomenally cheaper than Paris. In terms of food, I found the product at the various farmers’ markets to be universally cheaper and fresher than the supermarkets, and the other products (cheese, bread) were all on par with supermarket prices but much better quality.
In terms of lunch, at the crous restaurant universitaire, you can get a French main with two side dishes for 3.25 euros. This is a very inexpensive option and certainly the lunch choice of preference of most of the local students. The food is often good, although not always kind to vegetarians. 


Transport was not a significant cost as Rennes is reasonably small and the student residence was situated in fairly close proximity to most things, and so I found myself walking most of the time. Unfortunately, the flights out of Rennes are fairly scarce and so when I travelled overseas briefly for the mid-semester break, it was necessary to get a train to Paris to fly in and out of Paris and stay a night there either side. This made travelling overseas very expensive and you should certainly take these costs into consideration first. Travelling on the SNCF within France is a much cheaper option, and since Rennes is pretty small I would definitely recommend this. Although, bear in mind that strikes are reasonably common and you can be significantly delayed with no notice. 

Professional development and employability

At the beautiful place du champ jacquet, in the heart of Rennes' medieval centre
At the beautiful place du champ jacquet, in the heart of Rennes' medieval centre

Studying entirely in French has certainly enabled me to improve my French skills more than I would have ever been able to with textbooks in Australia. The fact that a great portion of my study was in European and French law has very much deepened my understanding of these fields. I think exchange overall has made me a more adaptable and resilient person.

Highlight

I don’t think I could isolate one particular highlight – more just an accumulation of experiences and spontaneous occurrences.

Top tips

  • Be prepared for administrative expenses. We were required to pay 215 euros for health insurance, take out protection for fire and water damage, and if you don’t have an EU passport then the ofii is an extra 70 euros on top of that.
  • Class times and locations are very fluid and can change constantly. Be prepared for this otherwise you will turn up to an empty room and miss classes you can’t afford to miss. One of my classes took place regularly in a completely different room to the room posted, and the lecturers were often late or sometimes cancelled/rescheduled class so that students could go to public debates or protests. The university was also the subject of quite a few blockades against the loi du travail, which resulted in unexpected cancellations and confusion.
  • The Zephyr association is your friend. They provide exchange students with all sorts of help, lending supplies in addition to organising events and outings.
Emily - Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Rennes