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Survival tips for Erasmus students moving to France

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So you’re going on Erasmus in France! Your bags are packed and you’ve prepped all your application forms, but you’re still nervous -- and who wouldn’t be? You’re going to be spending a few months of your life in a new country, listening to a new language and meeting new people.

It’s normal to be nervous before you take that flight, bus or train into France. So we’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks to make your transition into Erasmus life as easy as possible.

Don’t slack on the paperwork

Between arriving in your new country, to unpacking all your things, to meeting fellow students, it’s easy to forget about your Erasmus paperwork and put it off to the side for when you have a spare moment.

But don’t slack! Organize your application forms and other documents before leaving, so that once you arrive you’ll have everything on-hand and ready to go for your Erasmus coordinators.

Pick your home away from home with care

When you think about your French Erasmus city, is there anything that stands out? Think about the area you want to live in and what’s around (good restaurants, lots of green space, close to friends, etc.) and use that to decide whether it will be comfortable for the duration of your Erasmus.

Check if the university has student accommodation first, before venturing out and trying to find a place on your own.

Need help finding a place to live? Check out our article on finding student accommodation and find the best place for you and your studies.

Once you get to your place, look for things that make it different from other areas of the city or town. Living in a foreign country is much more fun once you’ve found your local cafe or other cozy nook that makes the place yours!

If you need housing assistance, look into applying for the Caisses D’allocations Familiale, or CAF.

Get to know your healthcare plan

Are you covered while you’re studying in France? Or do you need extra health insurance? Get up close and personal with your healthcare plan before you leave. You’ll thank yourself later if you end up needing to visit the doctor or a hospital during your time abroad.

Check out our article to find out more about your healthcare options in France.

Don’t stress about the administrative stuff

France is infamous for its slow administrative processes. Before you leave, prepare yourself by bringing or photocopying as many personal documents as possible (i.e., ID, birth certificate, drivers’ licence, visa forms, passport, etc.) in case you need to present them to the French bureaucracy.

But most of all, just be patient! You’ll likely experience some snags along the way (maybe your French university class is oversubscribed and you couldn’t get in), but don’t get too frustrated. Although things are slower, you’ll get what you want from the administration...eventually.

Get used to the French school system

French universities tend to have more lectures than other countries', with students spending at least 20 hours a week in classes. Classes are typically two to three hours long.

Exams are at least three hours long, sometimes for only one long essay question.

The French university system operates in a “survival of the fittest” type of environment. The administrative process is slow and overcrowded, and graduation is not guaranteed to all students. So keep your head down and work hard!

Embrace the language

Try to speak a few words of French a day. It’ll be scary at first, but if you build up to it slowly, you’ll start to feel more comfortable and you won’t be as self-conscious. Using apps is a good place to start, like DuoLingo or Memrise. These can help with pronunciation and expanding your vocabulary.

Work yourself up to full sentences when asking for something at the grocery store or boulangerie. It’s easy to just point and mutter one word when asking for something in a store, but the more you practice sentence structure and grammar, the easier it’ll get.

Don’t get frustrated if you’re not picking up the French language as quickly as you’d like! If anyone back home said you’d “just pick up French” once you arrived, they were wrong. It takes more than just living in France to be able to speak the language. Be patient with yourself and don’t compare your progress to anyone else’s. The language will come with time!

Keep in touch with friends and family back home

Don’t you forget about me...isn’t that how the song goes? While you might be having a blast living abroad, check in with loved ones back home every so often with a Skype or FaceTime call. It helps to ease the moving transition and any homesickness or loneliness you may feel after you arrive.

It also helps to pack some comfort items from home to put in your new place. Things like family photos, stuffed animals and other trinkets can really help make home not feel so far away.

Keep a budget

It’s easy to spend money on things when you’re in a new place. But don’t spend it all on macarons and French wine! Consider downloading a budgeting app or making a list of expenditures at the end of each week to keep yourself on top of your bank account.

It’s not fun anymore when you realize you’re burning through cash and you can only afford to pay rent!

Meet new people

It may feel intimidating to introduce yourself to new people, but remember that many people in your classes will also be Erasmus students and are probably feeling the same way!

If your university organizes an orientation day or a student mixer, take a deep breath and show up with a smile to meet your fellow students.

Think about how you already have an icebreaker: introduce yourself as an Erasmus student from your home country, and talk about what you’re studying. Maybe mention something you’re missing from home, but another thing that you’re dying to do or see in France.

If you’re looking to socialize outside of campus, there are lots of expat groups on Facebook and Meetup that offer student mixers, French-English language-exchanges, and more. Check if your university has a Facebook group for new students, like this one for SciencesPo.

Have fun, but keep a schedule.While it’s important to meet new friends and classmates, don’t forget about your schoolwork! Stay focused and organized so you don’t get too burnt out. Remember to take care of yourself, and that sometimes staying in to make dinner and catch up on coursework is just what you need to stay on-track.

Live like a local

You moved all the way here -- get outside and experience life as a true Frenchman (or Frenchwoman)!

Visit your local boulangerie and grab a croissant, baguette or tarte au citron. Sit in your neighbourhood cafe on your two-hour lunch break with a café au lait.

Jump on the Parisian metro system and get the hang of how the whole beast works. Visit all the tourist spots and then find new spots to get away from the tourists.

Take the train and go see one of the hundreds of châteaux, national parks and coastlines France has to offer. Enjoy the beauty of France!