Why go on an ERASMUS+-Semester and what to experience trying to

27 Sep 2018 erasmus exchange france academic experiences

Hi folks, I’m Martin and this is the first real post on this blog - at least for me unexpectedly, I imagined this to be a thing about some software engineering feat I accomplished. But alas, no. Instead, let me tell you a bit about my background and how I came to decide to do the exchange I’m on right now.

Normally, I study Computer Science at the Technische Universität Berlin. This is the 5th semester of my undergraduate studies which means that I’m almost done. Next semester, I will have to write a bachelor thesis to finish the program.

Beginning from the first year of university, you are being told that doing an exchange is extremely beneficial to your personal development and your CV and that your university specifically facilitates easy exchanges and offers you an opportunity to venture abroad with ease. Even if you - like me - found the idea of going on an exchange vaguely intriguing you have learned over the course of your studies that in spite of the undergraduate curriculums of most subjects are quite similar across different universities, there are some roadblocks from an academic viewpoint to going on an exchange if you are keen not to lose time. The TU Berlin proposes a mobility window for its students in the 3rd/4th semester - where there are still many obligatory and a set of highly specific elective courses which might not be found at the receiving institution and were doing them after you returned might let scheduling issues arise. So I chose to do my exchange in the 5th semester - where there is only a big set of courses of which you have to take some and a part of “studium generale” where you can take any courses which makes validating your foreign ECTS as equivalent to the courses you would have done at home easier.

The decision for me to do an exchange and to do it in France are very interconnected. I learned the language for 6 years in high school and finished with a moderate grade while not having the feeling that I mastered the language - like I feel about English - or even without being able to have a meaningful discussion. I do not want to blame my former incompetence on my teacher or school. Instead, I believe that I myself and the way the state of Germany I lived in wanted the second foreign language to be taught are responsible. Anyways, when I entered university, I felt like that I should have got more out of 6 years of French classes than sorry stuttering, otherwise, they would have been a waste of time. And I was not willing to accept that which meant that I would somehow have to get to be able to speak French. The most promising action plan was going to a place where people speak French! As a convinced European and someone who made …. captivating personal acquaintances of that nationality, France was and is the obvious choice!

In the third semester, my decision to go abroad during Bachelor studies solidified - if I wanted to go, I had to apply soon. So I started to get some info from the person in charge of exchanges from my faculty - Which cities can I go to in France? How and when can I apply? Is there financial aid? I went home with the answers to these questions and a bunch of brochures. The next thing that I did was to apply for a Conversation + Grammar course in the Berlin branch of the Institut Francais, which is the language school of the French government because I figured that I could not go there wholly clueless. First, I considered Paris, but there was no convincing institution there that I could go to using the ERASMUS+-Agreements of my university - either they were too remote or too unknown for my tastes and all of them required me to do some administrative foo because they were only peripherally intended for CS students. So I figured that I live in a European capital anyways so I could try something different, right? The cities that I decided on were (in that order) Lyon, Marseille, and Bordeaux. It became Lyon for me and I’m incredibly happy with that. I already knew the city a bit because my family always stopped there for a night when we were going into the holidays in the Mediterranean coast by car which was a reassuring thing.

This decision-making process was followed up by pure bureaucracy at the start of the fourth semester: Your university will expect you to fill out a sizeable stack of forms, write one motivation letter for each of your priorities, and already specify in detail what you want to study at each institution. Stressful busywork which will make you ask why you are FILLING OUT THE SAME FU**G INFORMATION ON A DIFFERENT FORM CONCERNING THE SAME UNIVERSITY FOR THE FOURTH TIME. Do these people not have access to the technology of copying whats on a sheet of paper or something? Also, you will have to provide some credentials that you know the language - good thing that the perspective of going abroad will make you a much better learner. I put my Netflix in French (no subtitles) and watched an episode of Star Trek TNG each evening that way, set out to complete my Duolingo French tree, read some news articles of the country and bought and practiced with a DELF guidebook (no affilliation). With the help of Jean-Luc Picard, Duo, 20 Minutes and the workbook, I passed the DELF B2 certification. Also, my university accepted my application and sent it to the INSA Lyon, my receiving institution of choice. This prompted them to send me a WHOLE NEW STACK of forms with the demand of a french cover letter (good thing I already translated my German one).

And then, everybody finally accepted that I was going to France, I was told to bring a lot of paperwork by the French and was given some by the Berliners, yay. Also, this really already was an occasion for celebration, the process up until now was far more painful than people would want to make you believe - and a good explanation why less than 20% of students do an exchange at my university.

But then, I packed my bags - one suitcase, one big backpack and one sports equipment bag. Sure thing that my computer monitor came with me, wanted to have the same convenient working environment here. Also, I needed to pack for summer and winter in spite of only staying one semester. I hope this will justify the amount of baggage to the reader - if not then just know that I’m a person that likes stuff.

One slightly cumbersome train ride later I arrived at the first (and prolonged) of three stops on my journey to France. I had to fly back to Berlin once to do the last exam, then I returned and after the visit of a friend I and my mobile household inventory (had a cooking pot) set out to the Train station once again, off to the land where people speak French!

In the next post, I will write about the experience arriving there, how a community of exchange students formed and an interesting weekend with the locals.