Travel Writer Zoe Willis gives us her initial impressions of French life in comparison to UoB

Written by Zoe Willis

Being now halfway through my year abroad with just four months left to go, it’s an appropriate time to make an update of the best and worst of going on an Erasmus exchange. I’m at Aix-Marseille University in the beautiful town of Aix-en-Provence right in the heart of the south of France. I must confess that at first I was quite disenchanted with French university life when first arriving, but the long hours and almost schoolish approach which the system adopts, means I have one thing in abundance: free time!

Rather than spending hours slaving over assignments and researching in the library, most of the work is done in the actual classes; hours outside of class suddenly become filled with new possibilities. Of course, the most obvious of these is travelling around the area, and there have been a variety of ways to do this.

One place can be filled with so many undiscovered treasures

The local buses in Aix run to nearby seaside villages, as well as to Marseille for a mere €2; Flixbus can take you to most of the nearby big cities for a budget-friendly price; trains go both to small towns nearby and to more touristy destinations. At first, I was all for ticking off the big bucket-list style cities in France, but the prices of the trains and flights makes this less feasible for a student. Instead, I’ve been pushed to make the most of the beautiful region of Provence and to get what I can out of the area around me – this is something I’ll definitely be doing more of when I return to the UK. One place can be filled with so many undiscovered treasures, so it fills me with shame to say I have rarely ventured into the centre of Birmingham other than for a night out.

The biggest difference from UoB is the extreme disorganisation embedded deep in the underfunded French higher education system. It takes a lot of mental energy to deal with the administration, let alone spending up to seven hours a day in classes taught in another language. While tough, the main thing I do to stay sane is put something in each day I will enjoy.

Whether this means giving in to my newfound croissant addiction, going to dance practice, chatting with my friend after cooking dinner, or simply walking into town to admire sunlight on the golden architecture, this year abroad has kickstarted practising mindful enjoyment of the small things. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it for both the geographical and personal adventure it takes you on.