Catriona - Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Rennes

B. International Studies
Semester 1, 2016

Academic experience

At UQ, I study International Relations/French. Sciences Po was the perfect university to practice my already acquired skills and knowledge and learn so much more (in different fields as well). There were three compulsory courses (French language and a French history course) and students also chose three or four on top of this. I chose history and law subjects but economics and other social science subjects are also available. 

I found the academic system quite different to the university system in Australia. Sciences Po is a “Grande Ecole” and the French students work extremely hard to be accepted, studying around ten subjects each semester! I found that the exchange program at Sciences Po had a similar amount of contacts hours as UQ, with more subjects and less assessment. Fortunately, Sciences Po has an online system similar to UQ’s “Blackboard” which made it slightly easier to check timetables and communicate with lecturers and university staff. 

At the beginning, I found the language barrier was the most difficult challenge to overcome. However, as time went on, I became more confident in my skills and it became easier to understand and communicate with people. Before I left Brisbane, I was advised to take part in the English program. In saying this, I am glad that I chose the French program as the English one was extremely unorganised, not challenging and did not require students to use French at all. If you wish to improve your language skills, the French program is definitely the way to go!

Personal experience

I believe exchange can be one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences a student can have. I made so many friends from other countries, from France and of course, from Australia! My French has improved greatly and I learnt so much about French history which would not have been possible in Australia. Studying in Europe gives you the geographical advantage of being able to travel to many different countries very easily. It was also an opportunity for me to grow as a person and be more independent than I had been previously. 

Accommodation

UQ was great with providing student accommodation. I lived off-campus (it wasn’t possible to live on-campus) in student ‘dormitories’ just five minutes walk from the university. It was extremely cheap and always kept clean and tidy. The students had their own bedrooms and bathrooms with shared kitchens on each level, and study rooms and a common room downstairs. There was also basketball and tennis courts out the front of the building. 

If budget is not an issue, sharing a flat with a French person would be more beneficial for improving your French. However, I’m not sure how easy this would be to organise!

Budget

As it was my first time living out of home, everything seemed expensive to me! I think if you budget well, 15 thousand dollars would be sufficient for rent, food, transport, entertainment and travel. It’s also important to consider the exchange rate when planning!

Accommodation was 250 Euros a month for five months (with an extra 250 security deposit which is reimbursed before departure). In Rennes, I didn’t catch public transport too much as we lived so close to everything and the town is quite small. But I ate out quite a bit and this wasn’t cheap. Unlike in Australia, fresh produce is also quite expensive and also fairly limited. Travel was the most expensive component but it can be done well on a budget, using sites such as Airbnb or hostels for accommodation and using public transport (buses, trains) rather than flying to different destinations. 

Professional development and employability

I believe my experience has taught me independence and confidence. Along with improving my French language skills, I better developed my problem-solving skills, in both my education and personally. I believe I developed a sense of maturity and personal awareness that I did not have prior to my exchange. I also believe that it has allowed me to not only expect the unexpected but also be prepared for it.

Highlight

The highlight of my experience was one evening towards the end of the semester when we were celebrating a friend’s birthday. A group of us (all from Canada, Australia, Scotland or Germany) spent the day on the northern coast of France “Char à voile-ing” (sand yachting) and then headed back to one of the German girl's apartments in Rennes for homemade crepes and some French wine. It was such an ‘authentically French’ experience, and one of the times when I have felt most grateful for my experience abroad. 

Top tips

There are a few major tips I would give to students travelling to Rennes in the future: 

  • Travel as much as possible (there are two main breaks: Winter and Spring holidays)
  • Explore your host city as much as possible
  • Make friends with French students
  • Get involved with student life at Sciences Po (the student groups holds lots of different events: weekends away and day trips etc.)
  • Budget well
  • Be prepared to deal with French bureaucracy
  • Sign up to Free mobile (it costs 20 Euros a month (minimum), comes with 4G of data and works everywhere in Europe at the same rate. 
  • Sign up for a Carte Jeune – This is a student discount card for the national rail network in France and after two trips, it pays for itself !
  • Sign up to receive the CAF. It is a system similar to Centrelink which provides students with financial aid. 
  • Visit the IKEA just outside of the city to purchase the majority of your housing needs. It is a lot cheaper than purchasing goods from the housing stores in the centre of town.