By Brian Crowley
If there is one thing I have come to realise while being on Erasmus here in France, it is how relieved I am to be Irish. Us Irish have managed to strike the perfect balance on our approach to life, not too relaxed and not too serious. Our sense of humour is truly unique. Although people from other continents cannot always figure out if I’m joking or being serious at times. I suppose the language barrier does not help; very few exchange students here are native English speakers. Funnily enough, there is quite a lot of students here to improve their English, somehow surviving without a word of français. They don’t always know where Ireland is located, that it uses the Euro or worst of all that it is not part of the United Kingdom, but goodness gracious do their eyes light up when I tell them I am Irish.
I’m studying at Audencia Business School in the city of Nantes, the capital of the Pays de la Loire region in the north west of France. Audencia is one of the most prestigious business schools in the country and one of only seventy-odd business schools in the world to receive Triple Accreditation. However, let me stress the word school in the college’s name. I left secondary school rejoicing I would never have to learn in a similar environment again. How wrong I was. There is usually about 30 people in each of my classes, no lectures. I must arrive on time and classes always run for the full set period, which are two or three hours long. I must attend each class and sign the attendance sheet or raise my hand when the teacher calls my name. Forget “golden weeks”, at the moment it is looking like I am going to have a golden semester. I get homework, and I write that homework in my diary. All that is missing is a school bell and a uniform. At least I don’t have to ask “An bhfuil cead agam dúl go dtí an leithreas?” Group projects are especially annoying, especially when I am the only one in the group who is a native English speaker or not on a pass/fail basis (I am studying in the English track).
The French are notorious for striking. At our orientation day, one of the teachers retold a story of the farmers going on strike in the local area a couple of years ago. They covered the buildings in cow dung and the smell lingered in the summer heat for days later. One day I knew the SNCF rail workers were holding a demonstration in the city centre at 2pm. Since I had class at 2pm I made an effort to leave my residence before 1pm to avoid it. All was going well until I met said demonstration marching towards the city on the tram tracks. Off the tram I embarked and walked the rest of the distance.
Never again will I complain about a 9am lecture when I return to Limerick. Each week I will have between one and three 8.15am starts (my timetable changes each week), meaning my alarm is usually set for just before 7am. I live pretty close to the city centre of Nantes. My accommodation is rather small and basic but I thankfully have my own kitchen and bathroom. It is expensive but I should hopefully get accommodation assistance once I stop getting asked for more paperwork. I get two trams each morning, usually taking 30 minutes to get to the door of Audencia. Which I might add, since the increasing of the Vigipirate national security alert last January, is now guarded by a security guard. I have to scan my student card to enter the building and have my ID card displayed at all times, annoyingly dangling around my neck. It is also not uncommon to see some members of the Police Nationale or even the army casually strolling around in the city centre, parks and other public areas. One night two tall stocky men dressed in long black heavy coats and boots approached me at the bus and train station while I was waiting for a friend. They produced identification, Direction générale des douanes et droits indirects (French Customs) and proceeded question me on why I was waiting about. They moved on almost immediately after examining my Audencia student card; I obviously didn’t fit the profile of a drug trafficker.
The best thing about my Erasmus here is the city of Nantes itself, which really is a brilliant city to live in. It is easy to get around and there is always something to do. Nantes recently came 4th place in the European Best Destination 2016 award. I love living here and I have no desire to come home for the time being. I must also sing my praises for the international department staff members at Audencia who are extremely efficient. It is really reassuring having that support there and I am very lucky compared to other UL students on exchange.
If I was to give any advice to students thinking about going on Erasmus or who are heading off next academic year, it would be to not expect everything to go perfect. Overall, the experience is definitely worth it. You will encounter challenges but that is part and parcel of the whole Erasmus experience. I asked myself while writing this, “What is the one thing I miss the most about Ireland?” After some hard thinking, I realised the only thing I miss is the University of Limerick. I have become a promoter of sorts for UL, recommending it to the French students who go on exchange in their final year. I look forward to returning but for now, la vie est belle.
Brian Crowley is a second year B.B.S Economics & Finance student currently on Erasmus in Audencia Business School in Nantes, France.