Travel With Ysabel: Exchange Student Life in Lille, France (FAQ’s ANSWERED!)

Eiffel in love with France. 

As I’ve mentioned in the previous blog post, my I took a chance to seek an adventure of a lifetime as an exchange student in Lille, France. It’s undeniably one of the most memorable memories I had as a college student. I’d like to think I came at a perfect time despite the bomb threats that scared us here and there (the Charlie Hebdo shooting was at peak during that time); it was also a perfect age for me to get out of my comfort zone and become independent. In essence, my experience was nothing short of fantastic.

Since my stint as an international student in France last 2015, I’ve received numerous inquiries from friends, family and readers alike how life there was like – how’s the culture shock? Did you have to learn French? How are the people there like? Was the accommodation expensive? How did you manage to travel? How’s the application process like? Did you get homesick? Is university life different from Lille and in Manila? Were you delayed in school? Was it worth it? This post is dedicated to all those answers and inquiries!

How did you apply as an exchange student? Any tips on applying?

In DLSU, the International Center sends out announcements regarding exchange programmes in the students’ My La Salle emails. Back in my time, it was subjected under [EDERI]. As of writing, it’s subjected under [OVPERI]. The IC offers programs to over 10 countries and cities. These include South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, Brazil, Brunei, Hongkong, Singapore, France, Spain, United States, Canada, etc. Some offerings are for fall or spring term, some could last one academic year (three DLSU terms, or two semesters). Some are offered during summer that could last a month or even as short as a week or two.

I applied during the spring term of the Université Catholique de Lille, which ran from January to May 2015.

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I applied and fortunately, I got in. In my batch, there were six of us, all ladies. It was a tough process as there were a lot of students applying for the same programme. I found out I got accepted about a week and a half after the deadline. It was enough time for me to prepare important documents – including my visa, accommodation, plane ticket going to Europe, etc. I left January 1, 2015 and returned home June 5, 2015. Luckily, it was the academic year shift of DLSU so I had the chance to extend my stay in Europe instead of coming home immediately on the third week of May (my classes in Lille ended second week.)

TIP: It also helps to give the director or the person-in-charge of your home university’s international center a visit. Express your intentions of applying to the program of your choice (or if you’re undecided, s/he could also recommend a program that would be a good fit for you!). Additionally, it helps to have a colorful resumé/CV, but what would also stand out is your application essay, as I’ve been told. Goodluck!

Where did you stay? Why Lille?

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My flatmates and I on our first week together.
My flatmates and I on our first week together.
Heading out for groceries.
Heading out for groceries.

 

Accommodation in France (I think Europe, in general hehe) is expensive. I opted to stay in a flat with my fellow Filipino students from DLSU. The flat was furnished and it was spacious enough for us ladies. We lived on the second floor with two bedrooms, and two restrooms. Luckily, for Asians like us, a rice cooker too.

Our flat was a 15 minute walk (and if you’re cold and you brisk walk fast enough to prevent yourself from getting frozen, 10 minutes) from the university, so it was relatively near.

I chose Lille for many reasons. I knew Lille was a student-centric city. I think of it like Manila, where it’s got a university belt filled with, of course, students. I love the laidback city vibe of Lille, it’s got a metropolitan vibe but it’s more relaxed. Two, it’s near many places in Europe – I can take the bus going to Paris (1 hr), Amsterdam (3-4 hrs), Belgium (1 hr), it’s got pretty great access to many beautiful places in Europe. The train is the most convenient mode of transportation, too – and availing a Eurail pass saved me a lot for my travels! I’ve been told by both friends from DLSU and Ateneo that Lille was chosen by many students for the same reasons.

TIP: Try to get in touch with former exchange students of the country you’re planning to apply in. They may recommend the place where they previously stayed, may it be a dorm or a flat, or even a house. We were able to get this flat because of a good friend from Ateneo who also went to Lille, France for exchange the term before I went. You can also ask other student exchange life tips from them as well!

How were your classes like? Did you have to learn French before coming to France?

Université Catholique de Lille is an old university. As the institution’s name suggests, just like DLSU, it’s a Catholic university. What I love the most about my school is that it is filled with international students. For my classes, my classmates consisted of American, British, French, Spanish, Australian, Chinese, Korean and Indian nationalities. In DLSU, we were allowed to enlist as many subjects as we like. I designed my schedule in such a way that reflected DLSU’s, where my classes only ran from Mondays to Thursdays so Fridays to Sundays can either be my rest days or an opportunity for me to travel to neighboring countries or cities. Some classes lasted for an hour, some for an hour and thirty and one lasted for three hours. What was interesting also for my friends who were LIA-COM (Liberal Arts – Commerce majors) / double degree majors was that they were also able to take business classes in UCL’s Business School, IESEG School of Management. As a literature major, most of my classes were literature subjects. I enrolled two subjects that weren’t in my curriculum and were only of personal interest – public speaking and Shakespeare in Film.

English Literature 4 class
English Literature 4 class
Creative Writing class field work
Creative Writing class field work

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International Students night
International Students night

 

All my classes were taught in English, however, for us international students, it was mandatory for us to take French 1, or basic French. Up to this day, I still have a hard time speaking and understanding French! I do enjoy listening to the locals speak and I do understand tiny bits. It brought me joy when I was able to converse with French delegates during my experience in  World Youth Day in their language.

TIP: It also helps to learn the foreign language you’re going to before flying there. Prior to coming to France, I enrolled in French lessons at Miriam College for a month to learn the basics. The French had difficulty understanding English so it helps if you learn basic phrases and words like hello, goodbye, excuse me, sorry, how much, see you soon, I do not speak English, etc.

How was traveling like? Did you travel with friends, or alone?

Amazing. I’ve always been a travel bug, and I had the amazing opportunities to travel with friends and all by myself. Like what I’ve mentioned, I’d travel on the weekend after a hard week at school. If I get lucky enough, if my Thursday classes get canceled, I leave Thursday afternoon or evening, so I get an extra day of travel! Check out my adventures in Europe here!

Traveling alone is tiring but fun!
Traveling alone is tiring but fun!

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Traveling by yourself - selfies are the key
Traveling by yourself – selfies are the key

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TIP: Travel alone prepared. Spontaneous adventures seem thrilling but e x h a u s t i n g when you’re alone. Send your travel itinerary to your parents or anyone you trust – from hostel check-ins, spots to visit, transportation ticket photocopies, etc so they have their own reference in case of emergencies. That includes bringing enough medicine should you get sick halfway through the trip!

 

 Were you delayed in school? Were your subjects credited?

Yes, I got delayed in school because of my exchange stint. Some subjects were credited. Personally, going on exchange in France was worth the delay. I really enjoyed and maximized my time learning more about myself and being independent.

TIP: Visit your programme coordinator/vice chairperson of your department in your home university and discuss the subjects that you’re planning to take so that you know what could be (and couldn’t be) credited when you study abroad. 

Facetime with my baby brother and Yaya Julie
Facetime with my baby brother and Yaya Julie
Skype with my best friend
Skype with my best friend
Facetime with my family
Facetime with my family
Letters I sent to my brothers
Letters I sent to my brothers

Did you experience homesickness? How about culture shock?

As liberating as it feels being in an unfamiliar place, I did get homesick. It’s inevitable. Admittedly, homesickness only hit me hard during Holy Week (~April), when both sides of my family went out of town/out of the country and I was having major FOMO (fear of missing out). It was hard, seeing everyone together on social media and on Facetime.

Growing up in a conservative environment, well … yes. I did expect culture shock when I became an exchange student. But my ears, mind and heart were open to what was happening around me, so I guess I understood the world better that way, and culture shock wasn’t as “surprising” as I expected it to be.

TIP: Keep in touch with your family. Technology played a vital role in easing my homesickness. I did send close family members handwritten letters to let them know I miss them. Be open-minded and never forget where you came from when you deal with culture shock. Spend time with international students so that you could be exposed to other cultures as well.

Is going on student-exchange worth it?

 

Most definitely, I would say.

The experience most definitely can’t be bought and this is something I prayed for the longest time. My application to Lille was actually my second; I didn’t get in the first time I applied but for a different country. The exchange was worth the delay in school, homesickness, culture shock and many other factors. Whenever I’m sad I always go back to old pictures, blog posts and videos and just viewing them makes me happy all over again.

 

My Filipino barkada in Lille (we're missing one.) A mix of Ateneans and Lasallians.
My Filipino barkada in Lille (we’re missing one.) A mix of Ateneans and Lasallians.
Thanksgiving dinner before we parted ways
Thanksgiving dinner before we parted ways
Tita Juliet Rouze
Tita Juliet Rouze

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Mamu Rubi's wonderful Fil-French kids - Hugo, Vasco and Ate Phiphi
Mamu Rubi’s wonderful Fil-French kids – Hugo, Vasco and Ate Phiphi
Forever grateful for you, Mamu! Thank you for taking care of me in Lille!
Forever grateful for you, Mamu! Thank you for taking care of me in Lille!
Fil N Lille reunion, July 2017
Fil N Lille reunion, July 2017

TIP: Document as much as possible during your trip! I’m not saying to stick on your phone or devices to capture moments but take the time and opportunity to document important moments of your exchange! Stay in touch also with the people you were with – these friends are definitely for keeps. To this day, I’m still in touch with my friends from France – priceless memories and friendships that I will forever cherish.

To those reading this and are bound to go on exchange – goodluck! You’ll have a marvelous time!

Feel free to ask questions, clarifications, etc. in the comment section below or contact me here.