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Stuart Evans

University of Paris 6

My Erasmus year was a truly unique, unforgettable experience, one that I shall always view as extremely enriching and as an important part of my personal development. Although I wasn’t very successful in my studies, the amount of personal reward I got through the lifestyle, the people and the culture was absolutely invaluable and helped me find nuances in my own personality that I never knew I had. I have taken away so much of Paris with me and I will always be thankful that my Erasmus year has allowed me to do so.

Paris

One of the most striking things about my year was the Paris itself. What a remarkable city. I had never visited it before and was consequently blown away by the architecture, scenery and the culture. It was incredible to just wander around and most days I’d even walk the forty-five minutes to university, despite having a metro pass, in order to soak up the unique atmosphere. The route took me down Montorgueil, past Notre-Dame, across the Seine and into the heart of the Latin Quarter via Boulevard Saint-Germain. Some particular highlights were the Nuit Blanche in October and La Fete de la Musique in June. Two events that sandwiched my year and created a real party atmosphere across the whole city, with outdoor bars and live arts events dotted around the city. I also found myself a regular at the countless jazz clubs and student bars, each one completely different to the last, normally tucked away in a backstreet near Oberkampf, Bastille or, closer to home, the amazing Grands Boulevards. During the day, the many museums and parks provided stunning sights and a rich cultural experience. Monet’s famous water lilies were particularly breathtaking, covering the whole walls of the Orangerie museum at the foot of the Champs-Elysees. The surprisingly hilly Buttes-Chaumont park was the setting for many an early summer picnic, with its views across the whole city. It was also particularly pleasing to uncover some sights that many tourists tend to miss, one of these sights were the vast catacombs, huge tombs buried deep underground and the final resting place of over six million people. However, tourism was inevitable and although irritating at times, had to be embraced and there was no better way to do that than taking a trip to Disneyland at Christmas time.

Lectures

From an academic point of view, the year did not go well. I found myself left constantly infuriated as I struggled make sense of the French mathematics. Differences in style, notation, methodology and of course language made it extremely difficult for me to wrap my head around certain concepts and, as a result, my progress was always slow and I found myself behind in classes often. The lack of Erasmus programmes at the university was a factor in making me feel quite alienated. Problems with the administration systems meant I couldn’t sign up for language support classes during my first semester and as a result, I failed to meet any fellow Erasmus students. I was left to try and penetrate established French friendship groups in order to meet people, an extremely daunting task for a foreign student. You could definitely say my confidence took a hit due to this and I found myself acting very inwardly during classes, not something I’m particularly used to. I did make several attempts to reach out for support. I sent multiple emails to the Erasmus coordinators on campus but the advice given was simply to drop modules, in my opinion, not a very well thought out solution.

The problems I was experiencing carried through into my second semester. I found myself struggling more and more at university and felt more and more isolated there as the year went on. The direction I was receiving was very confused. For example, I turned up to a few cancelled classes since I hadn’t been notified of timetable changes due to not being on the mailing list, doing nothing more than exacerbating my sentiment. I also wasn’t allowed to use a dictionary in some exams, a policy I found unfair and inconsistent. I did however manage to sign up for language tuition, which helped me as I met people in my situation. The language classes were a success and I would encourage all Erasmus students at Warwick to undertake them, as they do much for your confidence in the language. I would also encourage the university to make sure there are strong support networks in place for foreign students. I wouldn’t say however that the academic year was a complete failure. The things I managed to achieve, I felt particularly proud of since they were done so in the face of such adversity. I will most certainly look back on the experience as one of real character building and will certainly not shy away from other such challenges in the future as a result.

Experience

I feel during the year that my confidence has grown remarkably. There were so many challenges facing me during the first months especially, as I looked to settle in to a completely new environment and the achievement of this is probably the most important thing I’ll take away from the experience. I remember stepping of the platform at Gare du Nord in early September and being slightly overwhelmed by what lay before me. It would have been easy to panic and turn reclusive but I made sure it didn’t deter me and put a lot of effort into the early part in order to feel as comfortable as possible. Every slight errand was made ten times harder by the language barrier. One of the first things I did was set up a bank account and I remember feeling extremely nervous about the prospect of walking into a French bank to do business. The fact I came through the challenge lifted my confidence in myself, which I still feel resonate in me today. The countless similar scenarios I encountered during the course of the year served to foster the growth of this confidence and instilled a belief in me that I can handle difficult situations without fearing anxiety. A personal asset I’m sure I’ll find useful throughout my life.

My Parisian experience was greatly enhanced by the people I shared it with. Being an Erasmus student gives you an opportunity to meet people from all over the world, giving you an insight into various cultures and lifestyles. The nationalities of people I met range from Brazilian to Romanian, from Spanish to Australian, giving me a wide network of friends I will no doubt try to visit in their respective homelands in the future. Being able to sample this wide range of cultures has inspired me to travel later in my life, something I didn’t really give much thought to before but something I will no doubt pursue because of my amazing personal experiences in Paris. Then of course there were the French. My extensive contact with French people gave me an opportunity to live by their culture and experience it in a greater way than you could ever capture on holiday. My language skills also improved dramatically as a result. Before I went my French was limited, however, now I feel I can hold a conversation fairly easily with a French person, able to communicate my thoughts clearly and effectively. This has given me a greater appetite for learning languages, something I would like to pursue in the future with Spanish or maybe Italian. It has also helped spark new interests such as French film and literature, both areas that, as a maths student, I haven’t really had an opportunity to explore in the past and probably never would if it wasn’t for the wave of French influence that was my Erasmus year. It has also opened other avenues for future interests. What about Spanish film? American literature? It is completely fair to say that my horizons have been broadened in directions I wasn’t fully aware existed.

The importance of my Erasmus year as a personal development experience is something which cannot be understated. So many of my characteristics, aspects of my personality and interests have been shaped as a result of my time in Paris. The experience was truly unique and the city is somewhere I will always idolise and sorely miss. I would urge anyone thinking about it to take the plunge and go, as the opportunity is too exciting, too rare and too amazing to pass by. I may not have got lots out of the year from a mathematical point of view, but what I have gained undoubtedly outweighs this negativity. I have come away from Paris with lasting friendships, a greater outlook on life and a real desire to explore as many places and cultures as possible. The complete immersion into another way of life is daunting, but succeeding and thriving is incredibly enriching and extremely rewarding.