Tag: Museums

Study Abroad: ‘It’ll be an adventure so don’t waste a second!’

In a few weeks, many of our Year 3 students will be setting off on their integral semester of Study Abroad. We wish them all well for the semester and hope they have a fantastic time, and are very grateful to Lily, who was at the same stage a year ago, and who has just sent us this extremely well-timed post. Lily spent her semester in France as an Erasmus exchange student but much of the advice she gives will be helpful for students heading for some of our other Erasmus partner countries or beyond the Erasmus network to Quebec, Morocco, Switzerland or (for those also studying Spanish) to Latin America:

2019 Dec Lily Ice Cream‘This time last year, I was preparing to move to France for my ERASMUS semester abroad, and I was panicking. Endless paperwork, the terrors of flat-hunting and of moving to another city… think first year of uni all over again, mais en français.

I’ve now moved to France on two separate occasions – first as a teaching assistant just outside Paris, and secondly on an ERASMUS exchange to Angers. Both were amazing experiences, though terrifying at the outset as I figured out how to navigate a new country and settle into a whole other way of living.

So, for this year’s French students preparing to go on their university exchanges: it may feel totally overwhelming right now, but believe it or not, you can do this. If there’s one thing I learned from my time in France, it pays to be prepared. With that in mind, I’ve put some information together that I wish someone had given me before moving to France.

Paperwork

Take everything. In triplicate. Every piece of paper you’ve ever touched. You may have heard of the stereotype that the French like bureaucracy. This is a lie. They LOVE it.

For enrolment, accommodation, banks, housing benefit: here’s some of the stuff you might need. Originals and copies!

Passport photos, Passport photo page, Proof of home address (bills or bank statements from the last three months or so with your name on them), Birth certificate, Stirling University enrolment letter, Host university enrolment letter/paperwork confirming exchange, Proof of activity for the last five years or so (if not covered by your university enrolment letter), European health card…

Any student cards, youth cards or Young Scot cards are also good to have on you for getting into museums and attractions for free. Many attractions are free for EU residents under 25, so have proof of age with you wherever you go (post-Brexit, you may also need proof of residency in France such as your French student card). Failing that, many museums and galleries are free on the first Sunday of the month – but arrive early, as these tend to be their busiest days!

2019 Dec Lily Les machines de l’île Nantes

Money

Money: believe it or not, you’re probably going to need some.

My friends and I chose a lot of different ways to handle our finances abroad. Here’s a few options to consider. Also: take some hard cash with you when you first head out – enough to survive on for a week or so while you get yourself set up or in case of complication or catastrophe.

Opening a French bank account.

Pros: If you want to try and claim French housing benefit, you need to have one of these. Some services – like renting a bike in certain cities – require one. The simplest way to avoid messing around too much with currency conversion and international payment charges.

Cons: I won’t lie, it’s difficult to set up an account. Most banks ask for proof of a French address (bill/bank statement with your name on it, letter from landlord, etc.) as well as proof of identity amongst other things. Some banks may be hesitant to set up an account for so short a period of time.

My opinion: Probably the most faff, but worth it for the security and flexibility it gave me while abroad. My university in France made an agreement with a local branch to help their foreign students set up short term accounts, so check with your exchange coordinator or ask other exchange students which branch they have gone with.

Using your British Bank

Pros: Easy. You already have it!

Cons: You’re subject to changing exchange rates and foreign transaction fees depending on your bank, meaning this is one of the more costly options. Additionally, it’s hard to say how Brexit will affect access to your British account –  there’s been a few newspaper articles about UK citizens losing access to their accounts while abroad in the case of a no-deal.

My advice: This seemed the more popular choice amongst my British friends but come prepared to look into other options just in case. Check your British bank’s rules and charges and notify them before leaving the UK so they know your details haven’t been stolen by a French tourist, lest you be blocked from your own account for buying your pre-class croissant.

Travel Credit Card

Pros: A card that will let you withdraw money in any currency in any country without charging foreign transaction fees. Simple and flexible.

Cons: Again, interest fees. Some cards use their own exchange rates.

My advice: This is good for frequent travellers as it will work for you almost anywhere in the world. However, be careful what kind of card you get, and make sure to keep track of your spending lest you end up with the mother of all debts at the end of your holiday semester.

2019 Dec Lily Rennes StreetTravel

Lucky you! France is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Top tips for getting around:

Trains

The SNCF carte jeune is a 50 euro youth railcard valid for one year for 18-25 year olds, which gets you a decent discount on most train journeys. It may feel expensive for just a few months, but train fares in France are rarely cheap and if you plan on doing lots of exploring, you’re sure to get your money back. You can also get offers on last-minute tickets that haven’t sold. Ouigo is also worth checking, as it offers budget rail travel often far cheaper than its competitors.

Attention! Check strike dates before you book your ticket. There’s usually a lot of them. It’s France – what were you expecting?

Planes

Companies like Ryanair offer fare discounts and free luggage for students with an ESN (Erasmus student network) card. Check esncard.org for more info.

Cars and Coaches

Probably the cheapest options out there. Coaches operate just about everywhere for the road-tripper on a tight budget. Alternatively, Blablacar is very popular in France as a kind of long-distance rideshare scheme. [Note from the blog: Do remember to take the same precautions with such sites and schemes as you would do anywhere else!]

Accommodation

This is the one that seems to stress everyone out the most. Step one: don’t panic!

Where to look?

Your university may have an accommodation services office – this is a great place to go to for help, and they’re usually prepped to help the wave of incoming exchange students.

University accommodation: some universities will offer one-semester digs in their student accommodation. This is a great way to meet students both local and on exchange.

Famille d’Accueil: Some universities have programs that will lodge you with a French family during your stay. A wonderful way to make friends with locals, practice French and perhaps try some homemade French meals!

Airbnb: Surprisingly, several of my friends found studio flats on Airbnb. Search for properties with discounted monthly rates.

Roomlala.com: This is the site I used when I moved to France as a teaching assistant. Good for finding spare rooms in flats or houses shared with other people. Range of different options/types of accommodation available. Other students have recommended appartager.com

My main recommendation is to live with French speakers if you can. It may seem daunting at first, but it really is the best way to immerse yourself in the language and culture. You’ll really see the difference down the line!

Addition: For moving in, some students have recommended companies like Send My Bag as a cheaper and easier alternative to lugging your suitcases from one country to another. They’ll send your luggage right to your door so you don’t have to struggle with heavy bags while you’re travelling.  

Housing Benefits

Rent prices can be higher in France as landlords know that many of their tenants receive help paying for accommodation. Luckily, you might qualify too!

If you can make a successful application to CAF (Caisses d’Allocations Familiales) then you can do anything. CAF is notorious for being an awkward, laborious mess of bureaucracy, even for native French speakers, but a successful application can pay a couple hundred euros a month towards your rent. No pain, no gain!

Top tips:

Start early, work fast. CAF is usually very slow to reply, so send in any paperwork they ask for as soon as you can. Additionally, who knows how the rules will change after Brexit – try to make as much progress as you can ahead of the deadline.

Make your account the month before you arrive: CAF won’t pay benefits for the first month your account is opened, so don’t wait until your arrival to begin setting up your account.

Practice makes perfect: CAF will let you “faire un simulation” i.e. make a pretend application to estimate if you are likely to qualify, and for how much. There’s no guarantee that you’ll get what the simulation estimates, but it might help you decide whether the process is likely to be worth your time.

Check with your uni: my accommodation services office offered to help exchange students with their applications.

Remember, to receive CAF you will need a French bank account. Which means… more paperwork. Quelle surprise!

Phones

Most UK networks will now let you use your phone as usual, up to a point. The fair usage policy means that if you use your phone more in another country than you do in the UK, they’ll add roaming charges. If you’ve been on your contract for a long time, this will be fine as long as you don’t use more data in France than you’ve already used in the UK the whole time you’ve been on your contract. If you’re on a newer contract, you’re more likely to pass the amount you’ve already used at home, at which point you will start getting roaming charges. Insert usual warning about Brexit changing all the rules here.

If you’re going to be charged for using your UK number, Free Mobile is popular as a pay-by-month sim card for short-term French residents.

Pros: No contract, decent value for money

Cons: Notorious for difficulties in ending subscriptions.

Make sure your phone is “unlocked” if you think you’re likely to get a French sim card. This will allow you to switch out your sim card, but can take some time, and may be easier to do before leaving the UK.

Other

2019 Dec Lily UCO Scottish Desk

Your university will likely organise a lot of events and exchanges for foreign students. Take food, flags, decorations, postcards etc from Stirling/Scotland/the UK for displays or for sharing. That is,if there’s any room left in your suitcase!

2019 Dec Lily English FoodIf you find yourself dying for a taste of home, check out the foreign food section of your local supermarket, if only to laugh at what the French supermarkets think qualifies as “English” food…

Most important (if cliché) advice of all: have fun, try new things, and roll with the punches. It will be an adventure, so don’t waste one second!’

Many, many thanks to Lily for having taken the time to send through all this advice which will be incredibly helpful for future students. And for those reading this and getting ready to head off, profitez bien de ce semestre et on se reverra en septembre!

Welcome to Nina Parish!

Over the past 6 months or so, we’ve been able to report on a whole series of fantastic new appointments to French at Stirling starting with Beatrice Ivey, then Emeline Morin, then Aedín ní Loingsigh and finally Hannah Grayson who took up her post at the start of this year. And it’s with great delight that we get to welcome another new colleague in the shape of Nina Parish who will be joining us as Chair in French at the start of July. Nina is currently at the University of Bath and her research expertise encompasses representations of the migrant experience, difficult history and multilingualism within the museum space. She was part of the EU-funded Horizon 2020 UNREST team working on innovative memory practices in sites of trauma including war museums and mass graves. She is also an expert on the interaction between text and image in the field of modern and contemporary French Studies. She has published widely on this subject, in particular, on the poet and visual artist, Henri Michaux.

Our students will get their first chance to meet Nina in the Autumn semester and we’re all very much looking forward to working with her and doubtless gently persuading her to write a few blog posts along the way…

Conferences and ‘To-Read’ Lists

Next up in today’s blog catch-up, I’m delighted to have our first post by Hannah Grayson who joined us as a Lecturer in French at the start of this year, focusing on her research trip to the States earlier this semester:

‘Back in March I was lucky enough to be in the USA for two academic conferences. My first stop was Washington, DC, where the American Comparative Literature Association was hosting its annual meeting at Georgetown University.

Unlike a lot of conferences, the ACLA has a distinctive structure where seminar groups of 10-12 people meet for two hours each day over three days in order to foster extended discussion. I would definitely choose to participate in this kind of structure again, as it allowed us lots of time to develop our conversations and draw links between papers. Our seminar stream, organised my colleague Eloise Brezault from St Lawrence University and myself, was titled ‘Responding to Violence: Hierarchies of Memorialization in Postcolonial Africa’. Our aim was to explore why certain instances of violence take precedence over others in terms of historicization, and how literary/cultural texts can both reorient historiographical trends and provide new lenses for revisiting historical moments. Among other things, we discussed the use of digital technology to tell stories in new ways, and different forms of responding to the silencing of history.

Our Stirling colleague Fiona Barclay presented research on the contested memorialisation of the massacre that took place on 26th March 1962 in Algiers from her current project. My own paper ‘Responding to Ebola’ was on En compagnie des hommes, a recent novel by Véronique Tadjo who is one of the authors studied at Stirling in the option module French and Francophone Cultures of Travel. I discussed Tadjo’s itinerant writing, and her critique of political responses to the 2014-16 Ebola epidemic. There was also plenty of time to attend other sessions, and I followed a fascinating seminar stream on injustice and witnessing. On the final evening, the keynote address was given by prize-winning author, Amitav Ghosh, who spoke to us about the challenges of representing polyglot societies in what he described as the essentially monolingual form of the novel.

2019 HG US Trip Pic 1With a few days to spare I took the opportunity to visit the Library of Congress, which is the largest library in the world. Though I was mainly marking first-year commentaries, it was also a great opportunity to read some new material on Tierno Monénembo, a francophone Guinean author whose writing was at the heart of my doctoral research. I also got to see the Lincoln Memorial and the White House, but will have to plan a return trip to make the most of Washington’s amazing collection of museums.

 

The next stop was Oklahoma City: a place, according to those I asked in DC, known for being totally flat, extremely windy, and not much else! Oklahoma City certainly isn’t known for being a centre of interest for scholars of French and Francophone literature, but it is there that we gathered for the annual 20th and 21st Century French and Francophone Colloquium. I presented on Tadjo again, but this time on a panel about the suffering body: ‘Corps en souffrance: s’adapter et survivre face à la maladie’. It was great to discuss the place of illness and mourning, and the position of the patient, in literary texts by René Allendry, Maëlys de Kerangal and Emmanuèle Bernheim.

The theme of the conference, ‘Catastrophes, Cataclysms, Adaptation & Survival’, had caught my eye because of my research interest in fictional representations of crisis in sub-Saharan Africa. Where the majority of papers were based on texts from metropolitan France, those from the wider francophone world particularly interested me and I’ve now added Edgar Sekloka’s Coffee and Failles by Yannick Lahens to my to-read list for this summer. Stirling students who take the French Atlantic Slave Trade module would have especially enjoyed Fabienne Kanor’s presentation on the process of writing her novel Humus, which tells the stories of 14 female slaves who in 1774 chose suicide in the Atlantic rather than a life of slavery. She spoke about the journeys she made from archives in Nantes to Badagry, Nigeria, and her process of writing those 14 voices, always keeping the sounds of the sea present in the text, and asking herself, “comment témoigner à leur place de cette catastrophe?”

On the final day of the conference I made my way through a huge St Patrick’s Day parade to the Oklahoma City national memorial and museum. Having discussed the filmic and literary representations of so many episodes of violence in the two conferences, it was very moving to walk around the monument to the 168 lives lost in the domestic terror attack of April 1995. I spoke with staff there about the process of designing the memorial, the decision to have an empty chair for each of the lives lost, and the presence of an elm tree which remarkably survived the blast and all the destruction that followed. I was also reminded of research I’ve done in Rwanda around how museums, monuments, fiction and testimony all contribute to building a memory landscape in the wake of the Genocide against the Tutsi of 1994. But perhaps that’s something for a future blogpost!

All in all it was a great trip, and I came back to Scotland with a huge to-read list, and lots of ideas to follow up.’

2019 HG US Trip Pic 2

2019 HG US Trip Pic 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many, many thanks to Hannah for this article and we’ve taken careful (and grateful!) note of the promise of future ones!

A Semester in Paris: An impossible adventure that really happened

In just under a fortnight, our Autumn semester begins and we’ll once again be welcoming a new intake of Year 1 students and welcoming back all our returning students. Among the latter will be our 2018-19 finalists most of whom have just spent a semester on Study Abroad, like Stefano who studies International Politics and French and who has sent us this blog post about his semester in Paris:

2018 Intropido Pic I‘Looking back at the last six months feels already like waking up from an incredible, fast-paced, marvellous dream, recalling all the things that happened, hanging onto each moment, not to forget a single memory of what still seems like an impossible adventure.

Yet it has been possible. And yes, it did really happen!

I remember the excitement of getting accepted into SciencesPo Paris, one of the world’s leading universities for political science and international relations, as well as the thrill of living for one semester in the Ville Lumière. When I left for Paris I could not expect how great this period abroad would be. So, let me now tell you some of the highlights of studying at this institution at the very heart of France.

First things first. Whenever going to a new study destination, collecting as much information as possible represents a vital part of process, especially in terms of housing and living arrangements; luckily for language students at Stirling, the French and Spanish Departments organise an informal get-together each year for all those past-present-and-future cohorts of students involved in the compulsory semester in a French- or Spanish-speaking country with the aim of making new friends and connections with those who are going, or have just been, to the same foreign university; my personal advice to all interested language students out there? Just GO along!

In my experience, that was literally the moment when I first met a nice group of Parisian students who I later befriended. Spoiler alert: as well as new remarkable international friendships, I ended up renting a studio at one of my Parisian friends’ place without whom I would have had a totally different French experience.

Another point which is worth mentioning, I guess, is the money side of the story to be considered well before applying for unis abroad. In case you were wondering… yes, Paris is hugely expensive. It is nonetheless fair to say that going to a renowned, private  Grande Ecole as part of a language Stirling degree can be a once in a lifetime experience not to miss.

All sorted then: we are ready to fly to Paris.

2018 Intropido Pic IIIInternational students like me had the chance to attend a week-long orientation programme of activities, classes and socials to familiarise ourselves with SciencesPo’s environment and, most importantly, methodology. Once again, I would highly recommend it to anyone thinking of going to SciencesPo for one semester; leaving aside the scavenger hunt around Paris (where you can have lots of fun and get lost in the capital at the same time), the extra 250€ fee is totally worth it. Among other things, this initial programme allowed me and my international course-mates to enjoy some of most remarkable highlights of Paris, to gain some useful tips and skills for the semester ahead and to deliver our very first diplomatic presentations in French surrounded by the beautiful paintings of the Sorbonne’s lecture theatres.

If you are an art lover, then Paris is the city for you! A part from the fact that most of French museums and galleries are totally free of charge for European students under the age of 25, studying at SciencesPo can make your art-addiction even more irresistible; conveniently located in the heart of Paris, SciencesPo is just 5 minutes walk away from the Louvre and the Jardin des Tuileries and 10 minutes away from the Jardin de Luxembourg where you can easily go to enjoy the sun, read a book or just take a break with your friends in between classes.

2018 Intropido Pic IV

Needless to say, art and culture are not the only attractions for those who study at SciencesPo Paris. This Grande Ecole offers an incredible and almost overwhelming number of opportunities to foster one’s interests in political sciences, law and economics, both from an academic and social perspective. It might sound commonplace, but studying abroad is really all about challenging yourself to get the most out of this unique experience and SciencesPo does give students the instruments and possibilities to do so. If being immersed in a new culture, as well as language, is not enough for you, then I would strongly advise you to consider taking some (if not all) courses in French to live a first-hand experience of the Parisian style of teaching. Moreover, I found the equivalent of our clubs and societies extremely fascinating and engaging. Let me give you some example; from the very first weeks of uni I managed to get involved in associations like SciencesPo Nations Unies, Junior Diplomatic Initiative France, SciencesPo Refugee Help, etc. Just to give you an idea of why I got so excited about these societies, I had the amazing opportunity to attend workshops and classes on the functioning of the UN to prepare ourselves as delegates to the Model United Nations and, most importantly, to participate into meetings and round-tables on current issues with Diplomats at the Embassies of Norway, Belgium, Greece and Canada.

If diplomacy is not your cup of tea, don’t worry; SciencesPo offers a wide range of other societies and they periodically organise socials and events for all sorts of interests, from the Trial of Lord Voldemort to the Drinking Mate Society.

To conclude, my semester at SciencesPo has been one of the highlights of my degree for so many reasons that it is almost difficult to list them all in a single blog post. The friends I met there from, quite literally, all over the world and the memories I made there will be something I will cherish forever and I am deeply grateful to Stirling for having made this semester abroad possible. It has really been an adventure, from learning how to get your head around the Parisian transportation system to the challenging and yet amazingly fascinating courses at SciencesPo. I have come back from Paris with a better awareness of myself, my academic and research interests and of the world we all inhabit; to all the students out there who might consider whether SciencesPo is the destination for you, trust me, it is all going to be worthy if you feel ready to get the most out of it.’

Many, many thanks to Stefano for the great post and we look forward to hearing Semester Abroad tales from all our returning students in a couple of weeks.

French at Stirling Stevenson Successes

2017 Stevenson winners in Strasbourg Stefano Nicolas AnnikaFélicitations to Annika, Nicolas and Stefano – three French at Stirling students who have just finished their 2nd year and who have each been awarded a Stevenson Exchange Scholarship to help them undertake a project of research during their Semester Abroad next Spring. This is a great achievement for all three and we’ll post updates on their progress while they’re away on Study Abroad but we wanted to share their success.

The Stevenson Exchange Scholarships are awarded competitively each year with applicants from across all the Scottish Universities who have to submit an application including a research project outline and then attend an interview at Glasgow University. The range of topics Annika, Nicolas and Stefano will be exploring thanks to their scholarships gives a really good sense of the variety of research interests across undergraduate Languages students.

Annika is interested in the development of French social structures with particular focus on the relationship with the EU and the scholarship will help her, among other things, travel to Marseille to visit the Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée and to Roubaix to spend time researching in the Archives nationales du monde du travail.

Nicolas’s project aims to build on time he has already spent working in the fashion industry near Milan in order to further pursue his interest in fashion and the development of the fashion industry in France. As well as attending events around Paris Fashion Week, he intends to visit the Musée de la Mode in Albi and the Musée de Tissus et des Arts Décoratifs in Lyon.

As for Stefano, he wants to use the scholarship to enhance his knowledge of Human Rights, with a particular focus on those of refugees in France. The key components of his research project include planned trips to Mechel (Belgium) and to Geneva (Switzerland), to visit, respectively, the Kazerne Dossin–Mémorial, Musée et Centre de Documentation sur l’Holocauste et les Droits de l’Homme and the Musée International de la Croix-Rouge et du Croissant-Rouge.

This year’s trio will be following previous Stirling Stevenson successes, including Jeanne who is currently in Granada for her Semester Abroad, having been awarded a Scholarship through Spanish at Stirling. Having already undertaken a good deal of research into the question of the teaching of ‘untold’ histories through discussions with teachers at school and University-level about their experiences teaching on aspects of Franco’s Spain, Jeanne is now planning to focus to expand her research to include visits to historical monuments. “I will visit the Centro Federico García Lorca, where there is a library, to see if the War and the dictatorship are depicted and if so, how. I will also visit the rest of the Provincial Prison of Granada, almost fully destroyed, and the Campana prison for political opponents during Francoism, and the Cartel de las Palmas (where torture used to be carried out). She’s also planning a trip to Madrid, to see Guernica, and to Toledo, to visit the Museum of War.

Félicitations once again, to both the new Stevenson Scholars and those currently completing their projects from this past year!