France is one of the most romanticized countries in the world. A lot of people dream of going there, falling in love and all that other stuff the movies make us believe. What is France actually like, though? And what does it feel like for a Ghanaian student studying there?
Anneka Adams was a student of the University of Ghana, Legon, who spent two semesters—a year—living in Nantes, a waterside region known for its numerous galleries, museums, castles and notably young population. Anneka tells us about the application process here and about the experience living in France for a year.
The Application Process Is A Little … Long
In her third year at school, there was a workshop organized at the French Department on campus. The department hosted students who had participated in the year abroad program. Basically, they came, and they shared a bit of their experiences at different schools in France.
After that, if you were interested, you would have to look up the different schools, figure out where you wanted to go, and complete an online sign-up on the school’s website. Pretty simple, right? Well, it would be if that were all.
However, there was also the fact that you needed to put together a list of documents to be sent to the school. Then there was the VISA application process here—you needed a copy of your transcript, together with all supporting documents—and finally you had to put 7000 euros (at least) in escrow and attach the proof to your VISA application.
7000 euros is quite a lot of money. It is also what you would be living on for an entire year.
International Student, Studying In France
Before the academic year began, all students took a language aptitude test. The test would determine if you were a beginner french speaker, an intermediate speaker or if you were fluent. And it was necessary to gauge student’s levels of language-speaking; they would be grouped in their classes according to their results.
As an international program, there were people from many other countries as well. So naturally, classes were going to be taught in one common language. French. Anneka needed to adjust quickly, because she realised that although she had studied French for three years in Legon, hearing the language spoken by natives with their local accent was completely different from what she heard back home in Ghana, and it took some getting used to.
Learning hardly felt like learning, as each class had fun and very interactive lessons. Lessons which also presented opportunities to see and learn about other cultures as there were about 15 students in the class—all from different parts of the world and from different walks of life. In fact, while some students were taking the program as their year abroad, others were Master’s students who were taking a compulsory year of French, some were visitors who were simply hoping to enrich themselves, and a few more were taking the course to learn French as they had recently relocated or started a family in France.
Academics aside though, Anneka recalls there being a lot of events, if you knew where to look or where to go. There was always something going on somewhere, and passing though some of them gave you a way to explore more of the city.
In addition to schooling, Anneka also taught English to children. This was done in a casual environment as a means of incorporating English language into the everyday life of a child, and putting a little more cash in her pocket. She found the experience especially enriching because it brought her into the homes of people she wouldn’t typically meet in the street, and presented her with an inside view of what family life of the French was like.
Fast Food And The City Of Nantes
There were a lot of sweet things that Anneka could get in Nantes. She fondly remembers the many bakeries, viennoiseries and yoghurt shops all around town. Much of the affordable food that is sold in Nantes are pastries/fast food. Restaurants were an option for more traditional French cuisine, and like any cosmopolitan town, there were the Asian and African eateries too.
In Nantes, there was a market at the center of town that came every Saturday and offered cheaper deals on fruits, veggies, meat & other stuff you’d typically get in the supermarkets and shopping centers. The market catered to the needs of the immigrant community as well. And making meals for herself wasn’t hard because in Anneka’s words, you could get whatever ingredients you needed to buy. If not, it was quite easy to improvise using the things that you could get around. So if you really wanted Waakye, you’d visit the African shop, and leave with everything you needed to make it.
Nantes is planned such that the more that you moved towards its center, the less residential and more commercial it got. Houses were located more outward, and the commercial center, aptly named Commerce, was at the center.
The city of Nantes invests heavily in tourism, and thus on any day, there was a place you could visit for whatever mood you were in. From the cruises on the Loire river, drinks by the river with friends at summertime, and getting doused with a shower of water by the quirky Machines de l’Île to guided (or independent) tours of castles and Modern Arts museum and galleries, sobering visits to the Memorial of the Abolition of Slavery or kicking back at any of their many public parks—there was always something to do. And she did. And even when she had seen enough of Nantes, there was the rest of France and Europe to explore. Plane and train tickets were fairly affordable (when booked in advance), so there was no excuse to stay in one place.
Memories Of Nantes
Anneka is back home now, but still recalls with some fondness, the most exciting parts of her year abroad. Those moments happened inside the classroom as much as outside it. She loved the experience, mentioning that she had some of the best teachers in her life that year.
One thing she definitely misses? How easy it was to get around in Nantes.
She enjoyed her stay there, and in her words,
If you get the chance to go off on your own to a different continent on your parents’ tab, and you get to explore while you learn, you should definitely take it.