Maddison - Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Rennes

B. International Studies
Semester 1, 2016

Academic experience

While on exchange I decided to enrol in the French program at my university. I chose this path because from reading other testimonials it seemed like Rennes’ English program wasn't well organised nor did it seem to help to improve the students’ French as much as the French program. Although it was stressful at times and the first few weeks left me exhausted, I don’t regret taking the French program at all. If you are unsure about whether or not you should take the French program please take into consideration that French students actually will help you! Also, although you take classes with normal French students, the assessment is made far easier for exchange students. 

If you are an International Studies student, and especially if you major in French, I would really suggest choosing to go to a Sciences Po school (either the one in Rennes or in Paris). This is because not only are these institutions recognised worldwide, but also because you’ll be able to take a variety of interesting subjects and gain a broad French understanding of the world and politics. For example, I took a sociology course on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a history course on European international relations from 1815 – 1918 and a French language class amongst others.

However it is important to note that the French university system (or maybe just Sciences Po) is very different to UQ! Firstly, it’s incredibly traditional. This means no recordings, and rarely PowerPoint slides. Secondly, you will have to email your professors to ask about assessment, if you don’t they will not remind you. And lastly, French students will literally write down word for word what the professor is saying, but don’t feel intimidated - instead ask for their notes - you’ll be surprised how much you missed.

Don’t be discouraged! If you decide to choose the French program you’ll have much more of a chance to improve your French, meet actual French students and also meet other non-Anglophone exchange students, which for me was the most fun.

Personal experience

Exchange is honestly the perfect environment for new friendships. Add homesickness, shared experiences, a lot of charades and a curiosity for other cultures and there you have it. I made some really incredible friends and I’m sure you will too!

Although I’m in no way fluent, my French improved quite a lot. One of the most important improvements I made was in my confidence. In France, speaking French, you’re going to get things wrong; you’re going to embarrass yourself. However, every day you have to pick yourself up and eventually you’re no longer as sensitive to failure, but instead appreciate it as it means you can improve!

Accommodation

I lived in a dorm only 10 minutes walk away from the university, and only about 20/30 minutes away from bars and shops. Rennes is incredible because you can mostly walk everywhere. I really enjoyed my time in the dorm; it was clean, cheap (250 euros a month) convenient and functioning. However, if you’re really looking to improve your French and are feeling a bit brave – I would suggest moving in with a French roommate. A lot of the European exchange students decided to do this and their French improved in leaps and bounds. Also, a lot of them actually had roommates from Sciences Po, my friends said there was a Facebook page that they used.

Budget

I had read many testimonials before I left and decided that best way to budget would be to set up a weekly allowance for myself. This meant a set amount would transfer into my travel money card account each week. I really suggest this as it allowed me to have enough money to travel, pay rent and buy groceries but also allowed me to make my money last until the end of my trip. Personally, I transferred $500/600 AUD a week for all of the things above, I found it was a good amount and I lived comfortably.

Also, if you’re like me and love Paris but don’t necessarily have the funds to live there, I recommend going to Rennes. Rennes is a lot cheaper and I ended up catching the train to Paris for a weekend about 3 or 4 times during the semester. It’s so quick and easy!

Professional development and employability

As a bit of an introvert, going on exchange really helped my communication skills and made me become more independent – this was my first time living on my own. I became pretty self-sufficient but also realised the importance of the help of friends. Professionally, I think studying abroad adds extra depth to your résumé and your character.

Highlight

I really loved living in France, being immersed in French culture and being able to travel around Europe with ease. I also really loved the friends I made, if nothing else exchange was worth it for that.

Top tips

  • Make sure you have a budget but also leave room for extra expenditures (if you decide you want to go somewhere on whim for example or have to go to the doctors). 
  • Buy a Carte Jeune and try to buy your vegetables at the Marché des Lices!
  • Immerse yourself! Learn French, speak to French students and try French food – it will really make your experience so much better.
  • Don’t forget to travel Brittany! It’s so easy to get caught up with easily flying to a different European country each holiday but Brittany is such a beautiful part of France with a really interesting culture (in addition to this, take advantage of the Zéphyr trips planned).