Maths at UPMC is taught very differently to Warwick; lectures do exist, but the focus is very much on 2 or even 3 hour long TDs (support classes). Attendance is compulsory and group sizes are small-ish, around 25 usually. The set-up makes it very similar to secondary school maths classes: you sit in pairs and the class teacher works through a bunch of questions on the board, occasionally stopping to see if anyone has answers they’d like to offer. There is a participation mark (with very small weighting it must be said, and in some classes, none) rewarded for offering to go up to the board and work through questions. There were also class tests a few times a semester (devoirs sur table) which were not compulsory but useful as their format was very similar to the final exams.
Trying to make friends in these classes is nigh-on impossible - despite persistent attempts at striking up conversation and then following up by inviting people to nights out etc, we came away after 30 weeks of classes with a grand total of zero friends. So don’t be too discouraged if you find yourself sitting alone! It’s really not you, it just seems most students have come from the same secondary schools so they’re in very well-established friendship groups and aren’t looking to waste time with people leaving in a few months... also it seemed most students lived at home so university was a continuation of secondary school life, and as such our expectations of university life weren’t aligned.
History of sciences is an interesting course to take, and probably the only one where your French will be tested as the vocabulary used is far more extensive than that needed for an analysis class for example (though knowing bourné=bounded will help in the first few weeks!) Depending on your aims, you may find it useful to take a few 2nd year modules as they turned out to be a good way to ease into the French university system while consolidating topics you will have probably covered in Warwick before leaving.
When it comes to the format of the examinations, they are, as you would expect, different to that of Warwick. There is no choice in questions and generally, nothing I would call give away marks and depending on the module, there are few to no past papers to practice. The system is very reliant on students having a good understanding of the subject so you can’t expect to pass without putting in some effort.
Z: One way of making actual French friends would be to join some of the (few) societies they have to offer. UPMC have a selection of sports and other extra-curriculars but you will probably find with your timetable you wont be able to do many of them. These are not only great for meeting French students with the same interest but also for improving your French. I attended a dance class for the first semester and I met students from other Parisian universities. They were quite welcoming – I was invited for drinks/party on two occasions. Unfortunately my French at this stage wasn’t good enough to engage in conversation as I would have liked to. Also, each week, I would notice my French listening improve greatly as my dance teacher directed us for FOUR hours.
DO go to Finnegans, the Irish pub, near the University on Thursday evenings. This is an International evening and so this is another opportunity to meet other Erasmus students, and the occasional French student. We didn’t go for the first few weeks so missed out when the Erasmus friendship groups were originally forming.
DEFINITELY take the French language classes as this is where you will make friends with other Erasmus students at UPMC. They are quite good at placing you in an appropriate group, though the ability in a class can be quite varied so at times you are likely to find it too slow/fast. We’d also recommend doing another language (if you’re feeling up to it!) as it’s free and the classes are small so you progress fairly quickly.
The bureaucracy at the university is what you’d expect from France. Getting Erasmus forms signed takes a long time as only one person is authorised to sign them and you’ll find that she’s not there a lot of the time. The long lunch break is sacred in France, so don’t expect to get much done between 11.30-2.30 as it’s likely the person you’re after is out to lunch. To be honest don’t expect things to get done after lunch as people don’t always come back. And if it says the office opens at 9am, really that means 10am. The staff at the maths reception are very friendly and accommodating with foreign students; don’t be afraid of asking them organisational questions as they’ll do their best to direct you to the right person.
And finally don’t be put off when you first see the campus - it’s very ugly and incongruous with its surroundings. It was being renovated the whole year we were there, but apparently it’s been in a state of renovation and construction for the last 30 years so it’s unlikely to be ready any time soon. Its location is great if you’re doing babysitting etc as it’s very easy to get to most places. Only downside is that its very central location means finding cheap but decent lunch nearby is hard. Crous (the canteen) is alright but it’d probably get dull 5 times a week, so you’ll almost definitely venture out at some point at which point you’ll be hit by crazy prices. Rue Mouffetard (5mins walk) is worth going to as there’s a good variety of cheap and tasty places.
As we already mentioned, there are language classes so even if it isn’t up to scratch, you can still have some support in that area once you are there.
Z: I would say, personally, this was my main aim for a year abroad and almost the sole reason for doing one – to become fluent in another language. I went to France with a GCSE in French and two years at the language centre. I thought my French was a lot better than it was – I arrived not being able to understand or say very much, realising that my strengths were actually in reading and writing.
It is a lot harder than I thought it would be. There are times when you really don’t want to speak French, when you wish people could just understand you when you do speak French but that’s all part of the experience and it allows you to have a whole new understanding on what its like to be a foreigner.
I realised that I couldn’t be lazy and expect it to just happen to me (especially when living with another English speaking person!) so I sought out tandems (mutual language exchange partner) – this is a great way to meet French people and they have an interest in English and English culture. The first two I had were from Sorbonne – courtesy of a Warwick friend but in the second semester, I asked to put up a notice on the language centre board in the Atrium at UPMC and contacted an English language teacher at the University, asking her to spread the message to her pupils about an English student in search for a French student to speak with in English and in French. In addition, to the language practice, my tandems could show me parts of Paris that I had never ventured including taking me to museums, gave me hints and tips about living in Paris. In exchange, I could tell them about British culture and help them with their English language skills.
I wouldn’t now say I’m fluent in French but I believe there is a HUGE improvement in both my speaking and listening - I can now have conversations, confidently speaking French and express myself,, even if it isn’t perfect.
UPMC also offers a stage intensif (an intensive French course) at the beginning of the second semester, which I found VERY useful. This was three hours a day for two weeks. Safe to say, after that, my French improved greatly. Unfortunately, this is not free or covered by the University so came straight out of my pocket. In addition to this, it coincided with exams and classes beginning. Luckily, I only had to miss 2 sessions due to exams and my classes in the second semester all started after 12 so there were no clashes but made for extremely long tiring days.
However, there are many ways to improve your language level before going: I would suggest joining World@Warwick and participating in their language groups, buddy schemes or language cafes. Also, the Internet is great: we would often watch our favourite tv shows or movies in French. There are also some French Youtubers with shorter, funny videos to watch like Hugotoutseul and Normanfaitdesvideos. Of course, there is also French radio.
R: I came out having done French A Level and continued French at Warwick so I wasn’t feeling too worried about having to speak French. Similarly to Zoe, my main aim for the year was becoming completely fluent and I certainly feel like I achieved fluency. However as a consequence of not making many French friends, my colloquial French didn’t improve as I had hoped. One fun way we’d try to counteract this would be in bars/pubs when we met someone excited enough to learn English, we’d ask them to teach us lots of slang words in French. Sounds silly but it worked! Also texting/chatting on fb with any acquaintances made in French helped me a lot - I’d always keep wordreference open in a different tab and look up words quickly as I went along, I found I learnt well this way.
I also had a tandem buddy and really recommend it. We met a few times and always did half English half French and it was really satisfying to come away after an hour of having spoken quick French with a native.
We went out for a week in July as soon as term ended to find a flat following a recommendation from a French Erasmus student in Warwick. I’d really recommend doing the same if you want to find a flat as there’s more choice so if your budget is more constrained you have a greater chance of finding something nice for less. We lived in 6th which was good as campus was a 15minute walk away so we had no need for a Navego pass, though it a lot more expensive than what others paid. In general, if you’re renting a flat anticipate spending around 500-700euros a month if you are living fairly central, probably a bit less if you are close to the boulevard peripherique. We lived together, though other Warwick friends lived mainly in studios which could get lonely. We found our flat on pap.fr although there are loads of other sites that are good too. Estate agents are easier but will often charge fees - typically a month’s rent.
An option we didn’t really look into before going was student residences - CROUS has a few all over Paris. These are a lot cheaper (around 300-400euros) and you’ll be living with other students from all over the world. Don’t forget that you’re also eligible for CAF (government assistance) which will reduce your rent by around 100-200euros. We had some friends who lived in these and the rooms were nice - ensuite with a small kitchenette, so not at all a compromise.
As with anything in France, renting requires a lot of paperwork. When you go out you need a “dossier” - photocopies of things like your passport, student card, proof of parents income (ie last paycheck), proof of grants/loans... anything that says you’ll be able to afford the flat for the year basically!
R: We both babysat with babylangues twice a week for 6 hours in total. You get paid around 10euros an hour so it’s a good way to earn some money, plus it’s a great insight into French life. You’ll be assigned children between the ages of 3-10, and you’re expected to speak to them in English the entire time to help them learn. Technically you don’t have to speak English the whole time (blank looks on a 3 year old’s face aren’t ideal) and actually I found that this was the main way I learnt french throughout the year.
Z: Babysitting is great! You interact with a demographic you wouldn’t normally have access to on your year abroad : french kids! I would say it is a thoroughly rewarding experience as the families are lovely and appreciate having English speakers in their homes. The kids aren’t always as grateful though but eventually you bond with the kids and feel a sense of accomplishment when they understand something they didn’t previously or use an English word out of the blue that you tried to teach them for weeks. We are still in contact with the families, sending emails and presents. I even went to visit them this Christmas and found out the 8 year old boy had missed me all along, despite him seeming nonchalant at the end of my year abroad!
This was not only a great way to earn money but also to see what French family life is really like. The families can be quite flexible about timings when you have exams and other things so don’t let this put you off. Also, you can normally arrange your TDs and babysitting schedule to work quite easily as there are many different options for times of TDs.
Z :Despite the difficulties we encountered (the course, meeting French people), I have to say it was the best experience of my life – everyone says that but it is so true! I have learnt a lot about myself and I think that is what I have gained the most out of this experience: personal development. Whether it has to do with friendships, motivation, ambition, independence: I think I have grown in all these areas.
My main and pretty much my only reason for coming here was learning the language and as a sidenote seeing if I could live in France. Well as for living here, I think I could live in Paris for a few years, not indefinitely, and it has definitely shown me I can live in a different country.
I love Paris as a city – it is beautiful and small. There is so much to do and so many places to visit. It’s a city that I feel I really know.
After coming back from my year abroad, I expected to miss Paris so much and I do but I also appreciate what Warwick has to offer me academically and socially and so I can safely say that my final year in Warwick will actually be so much better because of Paris.
R: Ditto to everything Zoe has said - Paris was an amazing city to do an Erasmus year. At the end of the year you really feel like you’ve grown and matured, and you’re in the right mindset to come back to Warwick for your final year. Plus stuff like applying for jobs etc just doesn’t seem as intimidating as you’ve lived abroad for a year!
Feel free to contact us at Z.M.Tavares@warwick.ac.uk or R.Zhubi@warwick.ac.uk