Someone recently asked me what is the one piece of information I wish I’d had before I ventured abroad. Quite frankly, reducing it down to one piece of information is hard; there are so many things I wish I’d known! However, my response to this question was that I wish I’d known more about university accommodation here.
University halls are undoubtedly much cheaper. However, the old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ has never been more in evidence. My university recommended a certain residence and as it also happened to be the cheapest, I put it down as my first choice. I then got my first choice. Hooray! I can arrive in Strasbourg, I thought, go to my new abode and meet lots of people. I pictured a flat, not dissimilar to an Edinburgh university residence, filled with freshers who were just as eager to make friends as I was. But when do expectations ever meet reality? I arrived to some sullen administrators (not good when you’re homesick and you get snapped at for struggling to do maths in French) and a room on a long, empty corridor. The ‘kitchen’ contained four hobs and a sink. The bathroom resembled the changing room at a swimming pool. But the worst thing was the complete absence of humanity. I felt like Will Smith in I Am Legend, but I didn’t have a dog.
What were my mistakes? I hadn’t really done my homework. I chose somewhere without really thinking because the thought of moving abroad seemed so insane I didn’t really think it was going to happen. If I’d spent more than two minutes thinking about it I would have seen that I wasn’t in a flat with obligatory friends, but on a corridor. In France university halls are for everyone and most people move in later. There doesn’t seem to be a freshers’ week as we know it, filled with drunken events and eager new friends. I think I also didn’t realise my own limits. If I don’t have a decent kitchen, I just won’t cook and therefore will not eat properly. As I wasn’t in the kitchen often I struggled to meet people when they did arrive and those I did meet I did not make enough of an effort with.
Before this turns into a tale of woe I shall say that I am now in a fantastic new flat with lovely flatmates. When I visited a friend in another city who was in a flat share I realised that that was what I wanted. As soon as I got back I started researching and was ridiculously lucky to come across where I live now almost immediately. I suppose this puts me in the somewhat unusual position of having experience both university halls and a flat share whilst on an Erasmus year in France.
So, you’re doing an Erasmus year in France, where do you live? University accommodation is cheap and very easy once you’ve been allocated a place. When I arrived I could go straight there and didn’t have the worry of finding a place to live. Honestly, I’m not sure I could have coped with that kind of pressure on top of everything else when I got here. However, now I am living in a flat share I am so much happier. I like seeing my flatmates every day, cooking dinner and being involved in conversation. As I am living with French people, I feel like I am finally fulfilling my point of being here, i.e. learning French. I also like living like a grown-up again! I think the university accommodation is fine for one semester; but equally if you want to learn more French it would be better to find a flat share. I do know people who have had a wonderful time in halls and speak French every day, but they do seem to be in a minority. Flat shares can go wrong, so choose wisely if you do opt for this option.
Whichever you go for, if you’re unhappy, change it! The Erasmus year is too short to be wasted. Yes, moving is a nightmare (thankfully my boyfriend is a wonderful removals’ man). Yes, trying to get out of a halls contract is also a nightmare. Yes, you have exams and nights out and better things to do. But as you look out your window to see Alsacian medieval buildings lightly dusted with snow, you will know it was worth it.