A Week in the Life: Studying in Angers, France
Mondays were often an unwelcomingly early start to the week, made only slightly easier by the fact that I lived a mere two-minute walk from campus. My first class of the day, Spanish, began at 9 am and mostly involved me desperately trying to convince my brain that it had to switch from French mode to Spanish mode, which at 9 am, did not prove to be particularly easy. That said, the class was actually great for helping me to keep up with my second language whilst in France. We mainly studied written texts and idiomatic expressions, with a little bit of grammar thrown in for good measure. I must admit though, everything seemed a great deal easier than Uni in England, with a noticeably smaller focus on independent work and research.
After Spanish I had a three-hour wait until my next class, which was usually spent in the library studying for my Year Abroad Research Project (YARP), or in the small canteen trying to decide which of the frankly inedible sandwiches looked most edible. In hindsight, I probably should have just brought my own food. My next class was techniques de traduction (translation techniques) and mainly dealt with – you guessed it – useful techniques when translating. I really enjoyed this class, despite not exactly knowing what I was doing half the time. All in all, it proved pretty useful for helping to improve my French and the work was pretty straightforward once you (finally) got your head around it.
After that, I was done for the day and so me and my French flatmate would spend the evenings watching French films (and the occasional badly subtitled English film) on her laptop, having lengthy discussions about I-don’t-know-what, and making crêpes with whatever we could find in the kitchen (mouldy jam was probably my least favourite suggestion).
After Monday’s early start, Tuesdays were much more relaxed. My first class was at 3.45pm and so I spent the mornings working on my YARP and doing any leftover homework for my classes. In fact, Tuesday mornings were relatively uninteresting and mainly involved trips to the fridge only to discover that I probably should have gone shopping already. My first class of the day was translation practise, working from French into English. The majority of the class was made up of French students minus the bunch of 6 or so Erasmus students. Translation turned out to be a relatively big part of the majority of my classes, but seeing as I actually really enjoy translation I didn’t particularly mind. We covered all sorts of texts, but mainly focused on major literary pieces.
Afterwards was the mutually dreaded cours d’expression française (French expression class), which went on till 8 pm and meant that half way through most of us were already dreaming about our dinners (for me, the distinct lack of an oven meant that my diet mainly consisted of pasta, stir fry and then pasta again). The class was designed specifically for Erasmus students and mostly covered aspects of grammar, vocabulary, and cultural phenomena.
Wednesdays meant another late start, with my first class at 2.30pm. On Wednesday evenings I worked as a voluntary English teacher, giving hour-long English classes to a group of French beginners, all aged 60+. So, my mornings consisted of preparing whatever it was that we were going to be studying in class that evening. Around lunchtime I would then make the routine trip to the printing shop to print off all my material. I honestly became a regular and earned myself a nod of acknowledgement every time I walked in. I was never entirely sure whether this was common French practice or something reserved just for me - I like to think the latter to be true.
My afternoon class was, once again, translation, and was much the same as any other translation class I had ever been to. Aside from the fact that our eccentric Scottish lecturer, who was potentially slightly crazy, meant that entertainment levels were always guaranteed to be at a high. In this class, our translation material mainly focused on newspaper and magazine articles, which I think I preferred, as the texts were always really interesting and varied.
At 5.30pm I would be picked up by one of my English students who had taken me under her wing, having already warned me that she had a tendency to mother just about anybody. I didn’t mind; in fact I was very grateful not to have to get the bus. I was especially reluctant to get the bus following one unfortunate incident in which I rather skilfully managed to get off at the wrong stop and wandered around lost and unashamedly panicked for about half an hour. The English class lasted one hour. I would usually start by explaining a specific grammar point or introducing some new vocabulary/phrases and then the latter part of the lesson would involve activities and games based on what we had just learnt. I really enjoyed teaching English, and it was exceptionally useful for helping me to improve my French, as the whole hour was spent communicating pretty much solely in French.
On Thursdays I only had one class in the morning: translation. This, to be honest, was only to be expected given my (not so varied) schedule for the rest of the week. This time, however, we were working from English into French, which meant that the work was noticeably more challenging.
I then had the rest of the day free to spend in whichever way I so wished (which technically meant I probably should have been working on my YARP, but incidentally that wasn’t always the preferred activity). Instead, my friends and I would spend the afternoon having lunch in one of our favourite little cafés, Un Brin Folk, which served a delightful selection of homemade cakes and tartines (a kind of glorified cheese on toast). Lunch was often followed by walks around the lake and, later, drinks on the terrace of the rooftop restaurant. One week we took a train to the nearby city of Nantes, and another week we chose to visit Tours. Monuments and museums galore welcomed us on both occasions, which actually turned out to be really interesting and gave me a taste for the culture of the region.
In the evenings we would usually make our way down to Rue Bressigny or Rue Bress, as it became known. This was the go-to student hangout, with bars, pubs, and an impressively large (and frankly ridiculous) amount of kebab shops. Drinks were incredibly expensive compared to UK prices. Beers, on the other hand, were relatively cheap (which is no consolation when you don’t like beer). Luckily, in a country famous for wine producing, wine was also pretty reasonably priced.
On Fridays I had no classes, much to the astonishment of my flatmate who, try as she might, couldn’t get her head round my measly 9 hour week. This meant that Friday was food shop day. So, bright and early, the trek to the nearest supermarket began. Unfortunately, the nearest big supermarket was Monoprix. I say unfortunately because Monoprix is somewhat renowned for being one of France’s most expensive supermarkets, and I would have to agree. Navigating the aisles, I firstly lamented the lack of cheddar cheese and later stood aghast, scanning the prices on the shelves. I think it’s safe to say that I probably spent the majority of my student loan on food (mainly pasta) that year. French supermarkets are mostly like English supermarkets, except the fruit and veg section, which is by far superior to what Sainsbury’s offers back in the UK. Then it was time to pay, which involved haphazardly stuffing your purchases into bags as quickly as humanly possible in order to avoid the glares of the person behind, undoubtedly waiting to be able to shuffle into your space, once vacated. French people whilst food-shopping are neither patient nor fun. So, once through the till and with $80 worth of food slung over my shoulders, I began the 20-minute walk home again. Ironically, it was only a couple of weeks before I was due to leave that I discovered that there was another, cheaper supermarket directly on the bus line which, incidentally, left from just outside my flat. How I had not managed to figure this out before, I am not entirely sure.
The afternoons/evenings were generally more relaxed. I would work for a while on my YARP and then maybe head to a bar or restaurant with my flatmate. Sometimes we would invite her friends round ours instead and host a typically French soirée with Raclette (my new favourite invention – basically a variation on cheese fondue) and enough baguettes to feed the entire world. It may sound stereotypical, but it’s true!
Saturday was market day, and that is how it became known. In fact, we actively avoided making any other plans for Saturday morning for fear of missing market day. And so, every Saturday morning at 11am, a group of us would congregate by the fountain readily discussing our expected purchases. The reason why market day was so eagerly anticipated was that you could buy ridiculous amounts of fruit and veg for ridiculously cheap prices. I would stock on up on carrots and peppers and onions and courgettes and oranges and bananas and 6 avocados, all for a couple of euros. Stallholders would basically scream at passers-by, offering 2 pineapples for 50 cents or 2 kilos of strawberries for 2 euros. A bit further up the road, the fruit and veg would give way to more unusual delicacies. Among my favourites were: a shark, live eels (one of which escaped and thrashed around at my feet for a good few minutes), and a cow’s head.
Angers is a beautiful city, and so the afternoons were often spent taking advantage of what was around us. Sometimes we would just sit and have ice creams in the local public garden, the Jardin du Mail; other times we would take a wander up to the cathedral just to take in the view of the river over the bridge. The chateau was another great place to visit, especially as it was free for under-25s and steeped in local culture. One Saturday we even took a boat tour along the river, which was a lovely, relaxing way to spend the afternoon.
Sundays were mainly spent lamenting the fact that nothing was open. Banks, supermarkets, shops – you name it – it was closed. The laundrette, however, remained dutifully open. And so, for lack of anything more riveting to do, and quite frankly, for sheer necessity of clean clothes, Sunday was often laundrette day (incidentally, having a washing machine to hand became one of the things that I most missed about home). So, as the minutes ticked by I would sit in the hard plastic chairs and read my newest French novel in an attempt to look 1, effortlessly French, and 2, somewhat intellectual. However, the undoubtedly best thing about laundry day was the little patisserie a few doors down where I would treat myself to the occasional tarte au citron. This was my idea of a reward for having dragged myself to the laundrette in the first place. Well deserved, obviously.
The afternoon/evening was generally spent cooking and then eating (but mainly eating). Over the 9 months we cooked up all sorts of feasts: a roast dinner, a full English breakfast, a Mexican extravaganza, and a market-inspired summer salad. Although, my all time favourite was baked Camembert and bread for dipping, a true French classic.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about what I got up to, and good luck for your year abroad, wherever it is that you’re off to!