Before moving to Montpellier nearly a year ago, my knowledge of living in France as a foreigner extended only as far as brief holidays and watching Emily in Paris. Clueless and anxious, I flew over less than a week after my 2nd-year exams finished and soon became acquainted with the trials and tribulations of French culture, administration and Erasmus paperwork. Although I enjoyed my first week or so running around the city, here are some tips I wish I had known before I showed up in France, wide-eyed and oblivious to what was in store.
My first tip is to contact the Student Language Bureau!
Rewind to when you’re still deciding if a work placement is a good idea for your year abroad. Typically sitting in those endless Erasmus (well Turing now!) talks is overwhelming with endless amounts of information. The advice is always general and many universities, including Warwick, state that finding a work placement is up to the individual. This can be daunting, and my first tip is to contact the Student Language Bureau! Their website is specifically designed to help British students going on a year abroad, and you can explore all their options completely free of charge. If you get in touch early, they often ask about your work preferences, send you a selection of placements, and set up interviews with their contacts – making the process hassle-free.
Next, I’d be sure to start looking at accommodation early. Reach out to friends or students in the year above that have been to the same place as you, and find out where the safest and cheapest areas are. Often, they have tips for websites to look at or even contacts they can share – the majority of students know the struggle and are willing to help out if you ask! Watch out for scams as they are common with foreign students. I’ve witnessed far too many unlucky people show up and realise their apartment doesn’t exist or the landlord has ‘ghosted’ them. The benefit of a work placement is that you already have people in the country that know the area really well – my boss even kindly acted as my guarantor for my rental agreement so I could avoid the fees of a third-party company!
A great idea to avoid stress would be to travel a few days before your work placement begins to give yourself time to settle in and explore your new home. Although frustrating, I would highly recommend setting up a foreign bank account as you will most likely lose a lot of money in conversion rates and international fees. The easiest way to do this would be in person, as online banking is not quite as evolved (in France at least) and you will end up going for a ‘rendez-vous’ regardless. It’s definitely worth having a folder with copies of your passport, visa, birth certificate, Erasmus paperwork, proof of student status, rent contract (all things I was asked for) and anything else important in case of emergencies and for ease of access. If your destination has a particular student area, check out the banks there as they often have previous experience with internationals and know the drill.
Another thing to consider in your first few days would be getting a SIM card – after Brexit, roaming fees have become super expensive so it may be worth getting a monthly contract. I ended up with a 20€/month SIM from Free Mobile that offers unlimited calls, texts and data which has worked well. A trip to IKEA or a similar furniture shop may be important to get basics like clothes hangers, crockery and storage boxes if they are not already supplied by your accommodation. You may also want to buy a tram/bus pass if you’re intending to use public transport daily, which again may be easier to sort out in person by popping down to the local offices.
Take a day trip on the weekends. Make the most of your bank holidays and spend a few days in a city you’ve always wanted to visit!
When you’re all settled in and have started working, my top tip is to just enjoy it! It’s really easy to get consumed by your work, particularly if it’s related to an industry that you are passionate about, but you have to remember that this year is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Take a day trip on the weekends. Make the most of your bank holidays and spend a few days in a city you’ve always wanted to visit! Travel is cheap in Europe with FlixBus and RyanAir flights (they offer a discount with an ESN card) so make the most of it. You will undoubtedly meet fewer people while working as you’re not attending university with thousands of other students, so it is important to get out, make friends and don’t forget to practice the language!
As I’m coming to the end of my 12 months in France, I’m already feeling nostalgic about the year I’ve spent here. While I’ve spent more than a few hours enraged by the French administrative systems and stressed at work, I’ve spent countless more laughing, drinking and benefitting from the cultural discovery. A work placement is genuinely the best decision I have made and has offered so many surprising opportunities and experiences along the way.