Arriving in Poitiers
I have been in France for almost 3 weeks now and they have been filled with much unnecessary stress, lots of paperwork and excitement. The day we arrived was very fast paced and not the best example of how wonderful France is. I was traveling to Poitiers, France from Paris by train with a stopover to switch trains before arriving at our final destination. Unfortunately, we got lost while switching trains and wound up on one that was passing our stop by almost an hour. We were already exhausted from being on a plane and in airports for over 16 hours and the jet lag was not helping. On top of that, we had some very unfortunate people trying to talk to us and seemed frustrated that we could not understand them at all. In the end, one of my travel companions received a reprimand from two disgruntled people. Unfortunately, it is customary to show disgust by spitting in the direction of the person you are disgusted with and both people did this to my companion. While I truly felt bad for him, it made me realize how much I really needed to get used to things not going perfectly smooth and I desperately needed to continue my French lessons.
Now, like I said before, this first incident is by no means an example of how France truly is. There were many people who, despite my lack of being able to communicate, went the extra mile to help me with my bags, help me find the right way and even tried to speak to me in their broken English. A majority of the people I came in contact with were lovely to be with and I was very grateful for their kindness.
Moving into Our Apartment
After arrival in Poitiers, we stayed in a hotel for a few days before we could move into our apartment. While the apartment is definitely older (like 19th century) than what I am used to in the United States, it is perfect for a married couple. We have a small 1 bedroom apartment with a very small kitchen (2 hot plates, a half size fridge or smaller and 2 cupboards). We do have a living room which is much appreciated with a small T.V and we have our very own little court yard area outside big enough for a small table and 2 chairs.
The accommodations in France were a little hard to get used to, as I’m sure it may be for most international students. Things in France are a lot smaller than the United States and some other countries, but conditions are very quaint. It took a few days to get used to it all, but now it is starting to feel like home.
Our home is located only 5 minutes from the Hotel de Ville or city center and it is only a 10 minute walk from there to the ESCEM University. Between both of those destinations and our apartment are so many restaurants, at least 3 grocery stores, bakeries and any shopping you can think of. Every Friday and Saturday there are farmers markets in the morning with all kinds of fresh food, fish carts, Cheese carts and home-baked goods. There is never a loss for things to do on a free day. My husband and I have really enjoyed walking around and seeing the sites of the quaint historic town. The atmosphere is full of families and students and you truly feel like you are in the most romantic country in the world.
ESCEM – The Poitiers Business University
I started classes at ESCEM about 2 weeks ago. The first few days were orientation which were filled with lots of information. Much of it was presented to us by the international student adviser but also by the student welcoming group, ALOHA. It consisted of how to set up bank accounts, purchasing international SIM cards, emergency phone number and procedure for the country, procedures for classes, grading, tests and different activities that were held for the students to get them more involved and integrated into Poitiers student life.
As with all international students, I was required to take a General Study Seminar which consisted of learning about all the different regions/provinces in France, what they are most known for and the cheeses of France. This means we had an awesome cheese tasting experience which I found really interesting. I found during this course that I am a person who likes simple cheeses (Cheddar, Monterey, Mozzarella, etc.). However I did find 1 or 2 that I would like to try again. Overall the class was very interesting, it lasted for 3 days, 6 hours a day and that was probably the hardest part to get used to. Sitting in a classroom for 3 hours at a time for 6 hours total each day is very difficult for me. I am used to my classes changing every hour or so, giving me a new topic to focus on. So it definitely was strange when my brain had to focus on the same topic all day. Just a note, it’s hard, but you will get used to it after about the first week.
I mentioned before that class scheduling was very different in France compared to most other countries. I now have an example of this to give you a better idea of what to expect when studying in France. My schedule for this semester goes like this: only 5 days of 6 hour classes in September with a French Language class once a week for 3 hours. Those 5 days are split up so that the first week I have 2 days of class, the next week I have 1 day of class and the following week I have 2 more classes. In October, my schedule is similar but with 10 class days. In November and December my class schedule is a mixture of 3 classes throughout the 2 months with an average about 7 or 8 class days in each month.
As you can see, it really is a lot of down time. To put this into perspective for you: Universities in the United States require, on average, approximately 45 hours of class time per class. In France, that number is only 30 hours of class time. In the United States, one class has 45 meeting days (assuming your class meets on Monday, Wednesday and Friday). In France, that number is only 5 meeting days. It’s pretty easy to see the major differences here. While this new way of scheduling seems amazing (and truly is if you plan to travel often) it can be a lot to handle for one day, but it is doable.
Overall Positives and Negatives
- I arrived in Poitiers 2 days before I was able to move into my apartment. I’m so glad I decided to do this. During those few days of waiting, I really enjoyed walking around the town and City Center and getting a feel for where everything was. Getting to see this amazing place before all of the chaos of getting ready for school was really a blessing and I recommend it.
- Bring shopping bags with you. One cultural difference between the United States and France (and most of Europe for that matter) is that shopping bags are not generally offered at grocery stores. If they do offer them, you usually have to pay a fee like 10-30 cents. A family member of ours knew this because they had been to Europe before and she sent us with 2 sturdy shopping bags (that also double as your shopping cart because those cost money to use too). I am so grateful for these because it is so much easier to use the sturdy bags than to have to purchase cheap, thin, flimsy ones each time we go to the store.
- Voltage Converter: (Follow this like to find out what that is in detail: Travel Power Adapters: How to Choose)
In general, a voltage converter is something that you plug your electronic device (hair dryer, straightener, razor (for men), anything that is not dual voltage, etc.) into and then you plug the converter into the wall. It converts the voltage from the electricity outlet to the correct voltage needed to run your electrical device. This is needed on anything other than dual voltage devices because the US runs on 110 voltage whereas most of Europe runs on 220-240 voltage.
Everyone told me to not pack my electronic devices and just buy new ones when I got to France because they would be hard to find. I didn’t believe them and they were right. Now I have many devices that need a voltage converter and I am having to buy one online with extra shipping fees because it has to ship from another country. My advice, if you absolutely cannot live without your hair dryer or straightener etc., then buy it when you are already in the states. If you can live without them for a few days, wait till you get to France and buy new appliances.
- I didn’t like how uncomfortable I was with the language when I arrived. I thought I was doing pretty well until I had to actually talk to native French speakers and then I learned how much I really didn’t know. My recommendation is to spend a little more time than you think you need learning French before you come. I would have loved to know simple things like:
- I would like…
- Where is…
- How much is this…
Those simple phrases really would have been helpful.
Despite the negatives, these first few weeks have really been fantastic. I have met some great new people at ESCEM including a lot of students with my same interests to study international business. I have become closer friends with the other student from my school who came to study at ESCEM for their semester program and I’m looking forward to all of the time I will soon have to travel all over Europe.