My study abroad advisor asked if I had any tips for students interested in studying at Bordeaux-Montaigne, and I thought some of the readers of this blog might be interested.
Program : I chose this program primarily because the classes are in French and are relevant to both my majors (Arabic and Linguistics). The best part was the chance to participate in campus activities – I joined a Kung Fu group and an Arabic Calligraphy group. The hardest parts were connecting with other students and trying to figure out the very different system. Hopefully this post will help with the latter.
Student Housing : The on-campus housing consists of single apartment rooms that are partially furnished: bed, desk, shelves, and kitchenette provided, but linens and utensils must be bought. Mine was 243€ a month, and you have to pay up front for longer than you will likely stay, but they will reimburse you at the end. Utilities were included. The kitchen facilities were a burner and small fridge. Although the room was small there was ample storage space. I would definitely recommend applying for on-campus housing, as the Erasmus students I talked to who did not often had a difficult time finding housing upon their arrival. I requested to stay in Village 3, which was extremely close both to my classes and a tram stop. Be aware that laundry facilities, while located on campus, are rather expensive – about 6€ for a small load. I primarily washed my clothes by hand to save money.
Packing : One of the first things I did upon arriving was to go shopping for bed linens and basic household supplies. I did not pack them as I knew I would not want to bring them back. One thing I wish I had bought there instead of packing were school supplies, particularly paper. French students use a different style of paper, and for any tests or homework assignments where the professor does not give you a booklet it useful to have the folded sheets that they use.
Shopping : There are several stores accessible by tram. Personally, I primarily shopped each Saturday at the open-air market at St. Michel, which has excellent prices for fruits and vegetables in addition to a variety of clothes and household goods. On the way back I would stop by Auchan, which was slightly cheaper than Casino, another grocery store. There is also a Leaderprice in walking distance, which is also not terribly expensive. If you plan to regularly shop at a grocery store, I would recommend trying to get one of the rewards card, as I think I would have saved more by doing that. For household items, the Auchan Meriadic, in a mall (centre commercial) has a good selection. Also, if you arrive in January, the annual sales (soldes) will be happening. The open-air market is also useful for smaller things, such as knifes or dustpans, that you can get for just one or two euros. I also visited a couple of bookstores: Mollat, which is huge and a treasure chest of books, and Le Fouillis du Livre, which has used books as well. There are nearby public libraries called mediathèques as well.
Transportation : Definitely get a pass to use the public transportation. There is a youth rate, and you purchase either months or weeks at a TBM office (either at Gambetta or Arts et Metiers). Then you can add to it at a ticket machine. Months run from the 1st to the 31st, but weeks are seven days from the purchase date.
Communication : I brought my phone, as I have a plan that gives me unlimited data overseas and free texting to American numbers. However, I do somewhat wish that I had also had a French phone – while most French people I met had Whatsapp or Facebook, not all did.
Food : I primarily cooked rather than eating out, as I had a burner and fridge and my food allergies make eating out complicated. I particularly enjoyed buying fruits and vegetables at the weekly market. For those without food allergies, the cafeterias are pretty cheap (3,25€), though not open very late. For a nearby dinner that’s open later, Cafe Istanbul is nearby and not too expensive.
Academics : First of all – scheduling. You will not be able to sign up for classes until probably the Thursday after they have started. This is rather unfortunate, but in the end not too big of a deal. I would highly recommend going to the room where tutors are working to sign people up and ask them to look up the hours of the classes you are considering taking. You will need the course code. Look up more classes than you expect to take, as some will overlap. This was extremely helpful, and allowed me to start attending classes as early as possible. In hindsight, I probably could have begun attending classes even before being signed up for them. Do not be worried if you have back to back classes with no break in between. Classes tend to run till the end time, but start slightly late.
As far as the class style, it is heavily lecture-based, with limited class participation. Listening and note-taking skills are very important. I did not receive much homework at all until about half-way through the semester. Be aware that your entire grade for a class will likely be based on one homework assignment or test. Definitely talk to the professor at the beginning to know how you will be graded, as you do not stay for the exam weeks after classes are finished but are graded in “contrôle continue.” For most things, except for some paperwork, you will be grouped in with the Erasmus students (a European exchange program) and it’s usually convenient to go along with the name instead of clarifying.
I wondered before I went how expensive textbooks would be, given that the price tag in the States. However, my classes did not require textbooks. For a couple of classes I read a book each, which were available in the libraries. Even though professors will often mention other works in class, which may be helpful for more information on a topic, in general class notes suffice.
If anyone has any more questions, feel free to ask!