Notes on an experience

Sam McDonald

Exchange to France, Semester 2 2017

Well it’s almost the end of semester here in Lille and with exams almost halfway done, I thought I’d take some time to reflect before I write my final post before leaving my little French home and posting again for a final wrap up of my experience.

Of course we all know that if you’re doing exchange, you’ll be travelling heaps, during my time over here I travelled to Croatia, Belgium, Holland, England, Portugal, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Hungary and I’ve still got a few more countries as well as some exploring of France all planned before I’m headed home mid-Jan. One of the things that still baffles me about Europe is how close everything is here! From where I’m situated here in France you can pop between here and Belgium or England and back again for the day as the train journey only takes an hour and a half to London or a mere 30 mins to Belgium! It’ll be strange to be back home and living on a giant island again, something that keeps us far enough away from the rest of the world to be able to trick them into believing in Drop Bears and telling them all sorts of myths and untruths about Australia which makes for particularly hilarious fun when you’re around other Aussies too.

Aside from the travelling and meeting incredible people from all over the world, there’s much to tell about life here in Lille too. When speaking to people back home, it’s almost hilarious to recount how different French Uni is compared to the Australian system, or really any other style of university in Europe. Instead of large lecture theatres with hundreds of people, we pack into small classrooms of no more than 20 people and sit at wooden desks and tables, similar to how you would at high school in Australia. The lecturers are all called “Madame” or “Monsieur” and instead of having two hours of their teaching and a tutorial, we are given an hour of their lecturing and an hour of group work and no tutorials. The reading is also considerably less than it is in Australia, for most of my subjects I’m not given more than a page or two per week, sometimes not even that. This may sound easier than my home Uni but it’s balanced out when the exams and essays are done in page count as apposed to word count (meaning they’ll ask for 12 pages instead of 2000 words which means essays are typically way longer than in Australia) and you’re taking between six to ten subjects instead of four. It’s a really different system than Aus but more than anything it’s taught me how social norms are different in different countries.

I’ve found this again in the way the French interact from day to day. It’s interesting how I’ve noticed my own habits creeping in to my use of the French language as I always say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to everyone who performs any kind of service to me as I would back home but this isn’t really the norm in France. While the French are more chill on the ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ front, the flip side is that you’ll always be expected to say ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’ as well as ‘good day’ or ‘good evening’ to everyone after any interaction, if you’ve just paid your bill after eating dinner or have just bought a dress, the French are always very genuine in these interactions too and it’s something I’ll really miss when I’m home. I love these little French-isms that I get to build into my vocabulary as a part of my life here in France, I’ll be sad to leave but it’s not over yet! I’ll be writing one last time before I depart Lille and finish my holidays, but things are certainly winding down now as Christmas looms closer and we’re gearing up for the end of exams. We even had snow last Thursday which was amazing, I’d never seen snow in Europe before and it was honestly one of the most magical experiences of my life. Here’s to more magic ahead!