Whether you are simply dreaming about studying in France or right about to leave for your semester or full year abroad on ISEP Exchange or ISEP Direct, it’s important to know what you are getting yourself into. As an advisor, it’s my job to prep students for their time abroad so you’re truly prepared. The truth is, it’s not all warm baguettes and fancy architecture. While your semester or full year abroad is going to be magical, sometimes the minor details can bring you down. It’s important to know ahead of time what you might encounter, in order to focus on the experiences that really matter once you’re there! Read up on the nitty-gritty below so that you won’t be surprised by these real-life circumstances.
France is not cheap, and there are costs you should be aware of. The student visa for France can run you about US$500 in total:
- Campus France Application: US$180
- Consular fees: US$60
- Travel Costs for your in-person interview at your nearest consulate: US$250
- Airfare to Paris can run you anywhere from: US$500 – US$1500 (economy class) depending on the airline
- Once you are there, train tickets can run from: US$20 – US$200 depending on where you are going
Once you arrive in your host city, this is where the budgeting gets real. If you happen to be an ISEP Exchange student, you will receive a meal stipend of around €300 per month.
Chances are this stipend will not get to you until about one month into your semester, which is why most students have to open bank accounts – read more below.
So what does this mean? You need to budget extra money for your first month! Here’s the recommended breakdown:
- French Social Security (mandatory): €215
- Food: approximately €300
- Costs upon arrival to France: approximately €200
Approximate total: €715 for your first month.
From there you can budget between €200 – €400 per month (in addition to your meal stipend) depending on your travel, entertainment budget, etc.
The First Impressions
You’re tired, jet-lagged, and you just want to crash in an inviting dorm room with comfy bedding. Yet, the reality is, your dorm will be pretty quaint. Although it will be tiny, the good news is, it will be all yours. It will be bare and chances are you will need to provide your own linens, toiletries, kitchen utensils – the works! Hence, arrival costs. You won’t have wifi right away, and that may drive you nuts if you are used to being connected 24 hours a day.
Tip: go relax in a coffee shop with wifi to let your family know that you’ve arrived safely.
Here is the thing about French dorm life, it’s very different from U.S. dorm life. The French are very communal people. Dorms aren’t built with the intention for students to have guests. Students spend most of their time outside of the dorms and only use their dorm to sleep. Your dorm will provide all the essentials, but that’s it! No frills. You will really come to appreciate this though, I promise!
Here’s the other thing about French Uni, it’s almost completely free! French housing is designed to be incredibly affordable for local students. It will be your chance to really live like a local for a semester.
Orientation & Registration
Orientation is different for each university. It could range from a week-long orientation with excursions and activities with 100+ other university students, to simply a one-on-one meeting with your ISEP host coordinator. It varies, so pay close attention to email communication.
Regarding your French ISEP Coordinators, they are some of the nicest people I have ever met in my life! Truly! They are there to help you and they are also there to teach you great life lessons about French culture and student life. However, don’t be surprised if they are hands-off, a little abrupt, or brutally honest with you. It is important to know that this is part of their culture. If you find that your French coordinators treat you differently than how you might be treated in the U.S., know that this is the first step in becoming immersed in a new culture. Many things will be different, and that is ok. If it seems like your French coordinators are not holding your hand, it is probably because they aren’t. In France, the relationship between students and coordinators is different due to many cultural and socioeconomic factors. One of the predominant ones is that French university is virtually free.
Let’s face it, Americans pay a ton of money for school in the United States. In return, we expect our advisors and professors to essentially work for us. Don’t try to deny it, we’ve all had that mentality at some point, myself included, and it’s a completely natural feeling to have when you are going to be paying for college for the rest of your life.
Word of advice in France: try to leave those feelings at home.
When meeting your French coordinator for the first time, we recommend that you always approach him or her in a respectful manner, starting with a friendly greeting before asking them questions. That will really go a long way. Also, it is important to note that many of our coordinators are volunteers and do not get paid for their time. Know that they are there because they care about helping you succeed.
Registration is going to be extremely different as well. You can’t register until you get there. Once you arrive, your coordinators will explain the system. Make sure you listen to them. You register by checking the bulletin boards at each department. Then you wander into class hoping that it’s the right one you saw on the board. Once you decide you like it, you sign a piece of paper to prove that you are in the class. I actually really love this process because you can “test drive” as many classes as you want for a couple weeks before you have to actually commit! It’s different, but it works.
Grades & Transcripts
It’s all about the final exam. Literally! Your only grade might be your final, so make sure you study up! Grades are on a scale out of 20. Don’t worry if you get a 12/20. That’s actually a pretty great grade in France. To get above a 16/20 is pretty rare, so we’ve adjusted the grading scale a bit to make sure grades transfer correctly to your home university.
Transcripts typically arrive two to three months after your final exams. Please make sure you have kept all record of being registered for a class. Keep all emails, assignments, tests, etc. until you know for certain that you have a correct transcripts on file at your home university.
Bank Accounts & Stipends
Not all students must open a bank account to receive their stipends, but most do. You may have a meal stipend or you may also have a meal and housing stipend where you have to pay for housing using the stipend. Because of the difficult administrative procedures with opening accounts, it can take up to a month to open an account. This means that you may not get your stipend until a month into your study abroad semester or year.
Budget accordingly, as this may mean that you will need to pay for both housing and meals your first month (though this should only be the case at Université de Nantes). You will get this money back though!
Tip: submit all documents to open your accounts ASAP. Some universities will not process accounts until ALL students on the program have submitted the corrected documentation.
You don’t want to be the one that is holding the process up for everyone. Always have some back-up money! Stipends can be delayed or arrive at odd times, so it’s important to be prepared.
That’s all I have for you for now! I will continue to update this post as more student feedback comes in. If you are an alumnus of a French study abroad program, feel free to comment below with more topics you think should be addressed!
Thanks for reading!
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