Karisia - Institute d'Etudes Politiques de Rennes

Bachelor of International Studies
Semester 1, 2018
Exchange is a challenging and amazing experience, and to really have the most incredible time all you really need is a little courage.

Academic experience

While in Rennes I studied in the French program as, after learning French for three years at UQ starting at Fren1010, I wanted to challenge myself. I didn’t find it too difficult for my abilities, particularly given that all of the international students were in the same boat and we all shared our notes and knowledge. Also, as I was studying subjects such as “Sociology of the Israeli-Palestine Conflict”, “Waging War”, “Comparative Politics” and “History of Africa”, I found I was never bored with the content. I found the process of signing up for classes quite basic compared to UQ given the lack of course profile and assessment details (which was one of the biggest challenges); one had to look at a list of all the subjects posted on a notice board on campus, select the ones that sounded the most interesting and write them down on a piece of paper to then be submitted to the office. The administration staff themselves were very helpful, particularly at start of semester, and did not leave us to fend for ourselves; however I found that whenever I needed information from the staff or the lecturers it was never offered to me; I had to go searching. The hardest part of the semester was the aforementioned lack of assessment requirements, as well as the student protests which disrupted the entire end of our semester, causing the closure of the uni and many exams to be postponed and almost cancelled. During this time we had minimal contact from the administration; however the international student group was invested in keeping one another up to date and in supporting one another when the staff wasn’t necessarily doing that for us. 

Personal experience

What I gained most from this experience was a burgeoning independence and self-reliance through both living and travelling by yourself, as well as vastly improved French listening skills and confidence in speaking (although not to the extent that I had hoped as I spoke English almost exclusively with my international friends), and a group of amazing friends whose friendship I will have life-long.

Accommodation

I lived in the student accommodation known as Sévigné which I would recommend to any planning to study in Rennes. It was very affordable (€240 per month) and central (10/15 by foot from the university, 15/20 from the city centre and 5 from the nearest grocery store), and although the room was snug and the kitchen was communal, I had the independence of living by myself while still being in the same building as my friends. The communal kitchen is a very welcoming environment, with everyone saying bonjour and bonsoir and occasionally letting you try their food, and I loved being able to cook and eat with my friend in the evening. While I would certainly recommend student accommodation (unless you’re looking for space and solitude) due to its convenience and ease (I applied through the university registration simply by ticking that I wanted to be placed in student accommodation), it’s worth bearing in mind that you don’t have any say in where you’re placed, and the other student accommodation (Patton) was much further away and the rooms were slightly smaller.

Costs

I found that groceries were slightly cheaper in Rennes than in Brisbane, whereas eating out was slightly more expensive. As I lived so centrally I rarely took public transport and chose to walk everywhere (which was totally doable) however inasmuch as I did use it the public transport was reliable and affordable (€1.50 for a ticket that MUST be validated when you get on the bus!). I didn’t do as much travel as I was expecting as any travel beyond the immediate Brittany region necessitated a trip to Paris first, as the other options were expensive direct flights from Rennes airport or interminable bus rides. I was privileged that I didn’t have to budget too stringently, however I’d recommend having $10 000 - $12 000 at your disposal so as to avoid money stress (although it’s entirely possible to have a great experience for less than this).

Professional Development

As I mentioned, the most valuable skill I learned was independence and self-reliance, although I would also rate the ability to ask for help very highly: no help was offered either at uni or personally until I said I needed it, at which point much of it was offered. Furthermore, not only did my language skills improve which will help me in my future, but my communication skills did too. Living in a country that doesn’t (or doesn’t want to) speak your language teaches you patience and a diverse range of communication methods that can only benefit you in professional life. Likewise, the people you meet while on exchange are such a diverse group and unlike people you’d ever think you’d become friends with that you learn a plethora of interpersonal skills. These people also become an incredible international network of contacts whom you can always draw on.

Highlight

Besides the incredible experience of getting to fall in love with France and French language as a practical tool of communication, the highlight would be the trip I did to Spain and Portugal in the mid-semester break with my friends.

Top tips

My top tip would be to be courageous when trying to speak the language of the country. Even if you’re frightened of making a mistake, you will certainly get more out of the experience if you make 100 mistakes than if you never try and therefore make none, and you will regret it if you don’t seize this opportunity. In the same way you’re anxious of speaking the language and messing it up, the people you’re speaking to are also anxious of speaking English and sounding foolish in front of you. Also, if your level of French language at all makes it possible, do the French program! We found that to a certain extent the English program was ignored and placed at second priority.