10 Things You Should Know Before Studying in France
France is without doubt a beautiful country, and studying there can be an unforgettable experience. Of course there will be hiccups along the way, but that’s nothing a good piece of advice can’t fix. The first step is simple: always do your homework. In this case, we’ve done it for you. Take a look at the list below and get yourself familiar with the sort of challenges studying in France can throw at you.
1. Arrange Accommodation ASAP
Most universities in France will offer some sort of accommodation to incoming students. Whilst this may sound like the best option, it would be advisable to do your research first. University accommodation can often be dirty, damp, and downright unpleasant. Alternatively, sites such as appartager.fr and leboncoin.fr are great for students looking for living arrangements elsewhere. But be warned, you’ll need to get searching pretty quickly because the best deals are often snapped up in seconds. Sites such as these allow French residents to offer up spare rooms and flat-shares to foreign students looking for a place to stay. Make sure to look carefully at any pictures provided, and pay close attention to practical information such as bills, location, and rent.
2. Prepare for Administrative Hassle
The French are renowned for their we’ll-do-it-tomorrow approach to bureaucracy. If you’re looking to get anything done quickly, you’ll be in for a long wait. Whilst this may be frustrating, arriving prepared can often speed up the process. Remember to bring spare passport photos and multiple copies of any important documents (birth certificate, driving licence, EHIC card).
3. Make the Most of the Culture
France is undoubtedly a beautiful country, and choosing to study abroad here means being able to appreciate local history and culture every day of the week. For EU citizens under the age of 26, entry is free to most major museums, galleries, and historical attractions. So get your cameras ready and don’t pass up this guaranteed great way to explore on a budget!
4. Open a Local Bank Account
Opening a local bank account should be top of your to-do list. This will avoid you stacking up unwanted foreign transaction fees and numerous ATM withdrawal costs. Unlike in the UK, you can’t simply walk into your local branch and request to speak with a member of staff. In France, bank account queries are run on an appointment only basis, so remember to book yourself in nice and early to avoid long waits.
5. Do NOT Delay Your CAF Application
You may have heard several people talking about CAF or Caisses d’Allocations Familiales. Whilst it may sound confusing, the concept is relatively straightforward. CAF is simply a sum of money allocated to students by the government to help pay for student accommodation. And whilst the concept may be relatively straight forward, the process most definitely isn’t! In fact, the application process can be tricky, and will certainly put your French to the test. The best way around this is to begin your application as soon as you’ve got your bank account up and running. The quicker you apply, the more money you’re likely to receive, as back payments aren’t accepted.
6. Travel Everywhere
One of the best things about studying in France is being able to travel. France is arguably home to some of the world’s most beautiful cities, so don’t forget to do your homework and get exploring! The French love a good public holiday, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to tick numerous places off your bucket list. And contrary to what you may have heard, travel in France can actually be relatively cheap. If you’re between 12 and 27, you’ll be able to get your hands on a Carte Jeune for just €50. This is a yearly renewable pass, which permits the owner to reductions of between 25%-60% depending on journey and time of year.
7. Be Prepared to Work Hard
French universities operate less of a work-hard-play-hard attitude and more of a work-hard-then-work-even-harder approach. Compared to the UK, the social life on campus is significantly reduced. Socials, societies, and fundraising events barely even feature. Of course social calendars may vary depending on the university, but the general concept is the same: if you want to be a student at a French university, you have to be prepared to work hard.
Firstly, you’ll be expected to participate in lectures and seminars with other French students, so best start honing your note-taking skills. And the grading system is no exception. Marks are awarded out of 20, but it would be scandalous to expect anything higher than a 15. Even the brightest French students are more than happy with scraping just 10/20. And let’s not forget timetabling. If you’re not a morning person, it may be a good idea to get practising. In France, lectures can start as early as 8am and end as late as 8/9pm.
8. Be A Wise Shopper
Be warned, food shopping in France may just be enough to break the bank. If you’re looking to cut costs and come away with some great quality grub, markets are a great place to start. Most towns and cities will hold weekly fruit and veg markets often on a Saturday or Sunday. Swapping the supermarket for a local street market is a great way to save the pennies and enjoy a bit of local produce at the same time!
9. Don’t Expect to be Fluent Straightaway
Learning a language is a process; it takes time. When you arrive in France, don’t be surprised if you forget just how to speak. Most people will experience frustration in their own abilities, and will most probably long for the comfort of their mother tongue. But don’t forget, fluency requires two things: time and practise. Get stuck in with clubs and activities, take a language-learning course at your local university, or even get involved with volunteering!
10. Make Friends
Making friends is the key to happiness. Whilst it may seem daunting to try out your French with a group of natives, it’s undoubtedly the best approach to getting involved. Throw yourself in and don’t be afraid of making mistakes, after all, you’ll only live this experience once!
By Beth Holding