First Impressions: Harriet

Hey everyone! It’s been a long time coming, but I have finally made it to Lyon, France and am starting my new life in the gastronomical capital of the world. The first few weeks have been full of many ups and downs, but as soon as I entered the gates to the annual Street Food Festival last weekend, my heart was sealed. I knew I was in the right place.

Before arriving in Lyon, I made the most of my three months off by doing some travelling on the way. I visited Bahrain, Dubai, Paris, Angers, Barcelona, Madrid and Lisbon over five weeks, soaking up the European sun and sweltering in the Middle Eastern heat. I had the best time of my life, but it was such a nice feeling arriving in Lyon after so many weeks of hostel-hopping and living out of a suitcase.

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I hadn’t organised permanent accommodation before I arrived in Lyon, and am still suffering from PTSD from the frustrating days I spent trying to find a flat or apartment. I was so determined to find a flat with French students so I could improve my French with them, but this proved impossible so I ended up finding a private boarding situation with a semi-host family. This option has definitely turned out for the best, as I am living reasonably cheaply in the most beautiful part of Lyon, with a family who will help me improve my French and get the most out of my experience.

There are two courses available for international students at Jean Moulin: the SELF course, taught fully in English, and the DEUF course, taught fully in French. I am doing the DEUF course, meaning I’m in for a semester of full immersion and full intensity.

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The university offered an optional immersion programme for DEUF students in the week before classes started. This included ten hours of French classes, introduction seminars, pub events, and a trip to a (beautiful) nearby village. I signed up for this programme, and am so glad I did as it meant I was easily able to make friends with other exchange students who were nervous and friendless like me in their first week. It seems so scary approaching people to say hi at first, but if you remember that everyone else wants to make new friends just as much as you, it’s much less intimidating!

In terms of O-Week activities, the best idea is to join the Erasmus Students group on Facebook. The Lyon Erasmus Students Network hosts events most nights in the first few weeks of semester, including boat parties on the Rhône river, speed dating, information seminars and more. This is a great way to meet all the international students in Lyon, not just from Jean Moulin but also the other universities.

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I have never appreciated the relaxed nature of New Zealand as much as I have since being in France, where the bureaucratic system makes every piece of administration a nightmare. Every document you need signed needs another signed before the first one can be signed, and it seems like every time I’ve tried to get a form handed in or a class changed or a bank account made, the required people have been on their lunch break. That said, the International Relations department at university has been extremely helpful and welcoming when it comes to helping exchange students navigate the administrative chaos. Speaking from experience, it pays to be as organised as you can
before arriving, to make your integration to the new way of life so much easier.

Jean Moulin has two campuses in Lyon, but most international students have all their classes at the Manufacture des Tabacs campus, which used to be a tobacco factory. You definitely get a sense of the building’s old use when you are on campus, as it seems a bit dark and uninviting. But it is very small, so you can feel a real sense of community when all the students are standing in the two courtyards, having a chat and a smoke in between classes. The campus McDonald’s also helps me feel very at home!

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Classes have thus far been quite difficult; there’s nothing quite like learning a language for seven years, only to sit in your first lecture and understand absolutely nothing! Most of my classes are two hours long, without a break in the middle, so it takes a lot of brainpower to stay focused the whole time. I’m sure things will get easier over time, so for now I just have to sit there and hope that everything the lecturers are saying will miraculously come to my mind through osmosis. However, the assessments for internationals seem to be quite simple, with most classes having just a final exam, which can be either a written or oral exam, or a home-written essay.

I have been in Lyon for almost a month now, and it’s starting to feel like a nice little home away from home. It is such liveable city, with everything very close together and a friendly and relaxed vibe. That’s not to mention its close proximity to so many other European cities and landscapes, which I’m sure will make my bank account suffer this semester! The French social culture is so alluring; there are always so many people sitting on the banks of the Rhône enjoying a bottle of wine, or making the most of the good weather by dining in the outdoor areas of every restaurant. The city is so beautiful and historic, with a new cathedral or community square around every corner.
I can’t help but smile every time I walk home, I just can’t get used to how amazing it is everywhere you look.

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For more on my adventures this semester, you can find me on Instagram at @harrietkeown or on my personal blog, sans-carte.com. Feel free to leave a comment on this post or email me at hkeo511@aucklanduni.ac.nz if you want to know more about studying abroad, especially any questions about Lyon or France!

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