It’s well and truly exam season. With less than a month left here, it seems my semester at the Université de Strasbourg has whizzed by. September consisted of a little work and lots of trips and cultural activities. October started off similarly, but as November approached, I gradually metamorphosed into a caffeine-dependent, quasi-nocturnal creature. With midterms having finished two weeks ago, and exams starting in less than a fortnight, it really feels like the final stretch. To make the most out of this melancholy mood, I want to do some reflecting and offer you an insight into my life as a student in Strasbourg.
As it’s once again time to get stuck into revision, I’ve had to find an environment where I can study effectively. I like to work in silence, so I tend to favour my room or the library. The main library here is the Bibliothèque Nationale et Universitaire at Place de la République. Modern and spacious inside, with desks looking out onto the spiralling staircase that shoots up through the middle, it is a beautiful place to study. Although it was fairly easy to find a seat earlier in the semester, during peak study season it’s every man for himself. Unfortunately, it’s a couple tram stops from the university campus, and is even further still from where I live.
For the most part I study in my room. I lucked out and got a bright, airy studio in student accommodation, so I don’t feel too cooped up when I sit down for a lengthy study session. However, after several hours in silence, it can get a bit lonely. There isn’t a common room in my residence either, so I try to get out and study somewhere else for a bit.
I usually like to round up some friends and go to a café, but if there isn’t anyone about, I’m quite content to go on my own. There are lots of cafés in Strasbourg, especially in the centre. If you ever get the chance to visit the city, one of my favourites is Café Bretelles in Petite France. However, most businesses are closed on a Sunday, which is something to bear in mind. During my first weekend in Strasbourg, instead of the soaking up French café culture, I ended up at Starbucks. Since then, it’s become one of my top places to go when I need to study elsewhere – though I might hope for something more French, I won’t complain about free WiFi and decent table space.
It’s not all work though. Knowing that I’m only in Strasbourg for a few months has really motivated me to make the most of it. Back at the start of the semester, when the weather was glorious, my friends and I could lounge in Parc de l’Orangerie for a few hours, or stroll around the city centre, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Although Strasbourg has now donned its winter coat, there is still every reason to get out and about, especially as the world-famous Christmas market has installed itself for the festive period.
Strasbourg is also inundated with brassieries and bars, with many student hot spots like Delirium Café. Being a student has its benefits, especially as the student card at the Université de Strasbourg is also a Carte Culture. With the Carte Culture, students have free admission to a range of museums and discounts on other cultural attractions. If you don’t have the card, it might interest you to know that Le Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain is free for everyone on the first Sunday of each month. It has an impressive variety of works on display, including some by Picasso and Gustave Doré, so I’d definitely recommend a visit.
The intention behind my semester in France has been to improve my French and immerse myself in the culture in different ways. For example, the Université de Strasbourg offers Français Langue Étrangère (French as a foreign language), and through that course I found out about language workshops which I’ve been able to attend at the weekend. Additionally, Erasmus events can be a great opportunity to practice. ESN in Strasbourg holds a language café every Monday, so not only can you meet other exchange students, but you can converse with people in French (though perhaps not native French speakers).
The most effective way to build up your confidence with a foreign language is to put yourself out there. It can be discouraging at first when, after years of studying, you find yourself stuttering in the most mundane situations, or when a shop assistant or waiter insists on speaking English. However, you mustn’t let your fear of messing up hold you back. Every mistake you make is a lesson learned too.