The Mole Diaries: Nancy
Before heading off on my first Erasmus placement in Nancy, France, I spent the entire summer in complete denial that it was even going to happen. Why? Because I had absolutely no idea what to expect, didn’t know whether I would enjoy it, and Nancy wasn’t even one of my choices. Nevertheless, from Day One I realised just how unnecessary all of these nerves were, as I very quickly came to grips with my new lifestyle and settled into my new University with ease.
As for the town itself, it is a wonder that Nancy is not more of a well-known/popular choice for year abroad students as it boasts a UNESCO world heritage site (Place Stanislas) and is in an excellent location (only an hour and a half away on the train to Paris, and one hour to Strasbourg and the German border).
Additionally, I found it the perfect size; not so small that you get bored, but small enough to be guaranteed to bump into people you know on the high street. I wouldn’t recommend Nancy to those in search of a bigger, more bustling city, but its comforting size suited me down to a tee. What’s more is that Nancy is not a touristy place, meaning that EVERYBODY will speak to you in French – the ideal way to improve your language skills as quickly as possible.
How to get there
There are several options for arriving in Nancy, and throughout the course of my time there, I used all three!Firstly, if you are lucky enough to have your parents accompany you on arrival as I did, then you can take a ferry from Dover to Calais and then drive. A bit long winded, but if you/your parents are up for the drive it can be fairly inexpensive for all of you to travel at once. Secondly, you can fly using RyanAir from Strasbourg, or Easyjet from Luxembourg. Both of these airports are about an hour away on the train and you can get super cheap flights. (I bought my flight home from Strasbourg to Stansted at Christmas for 20 euros)! Thirdly, and my preferred method, is Eurostar. Depending on where you are travelling from in England this can be ideal. From London Kings Cross to Paris Gare du Nord it takes about 2h, and then from Paris to Nancy is another 1h30. Eurostar can be expensive but if you book tickets well in advance and travel on inexpensive days (for example Tuesday or Wednesday), it can cost as little as £30 each way. I preferred this option because you don’t have to wait around for as long as you do at airports, and there is an unlimited baggage allowance included in the ticket price.
AccommodationWe were given the option to apply to the University Halls, known as CROUS résidences. However, as I had heard that this accommodation could be incredibly basic (one hob per at least 20 students), I chose to look elsewhere. Nevertheless, if you can handle the limitedness of these residences, then you could end up saving a lot of money paying less than 200 euros a month. Be warned though, it is not the sociable student halls experience that we are used to in England. CROUS résidences are very strict on noise and Pre-Drinking is unheard of! Instead, I chose private halls with the company Les Estudines, where I had my own studio flat (bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom). It was a comfortable set up with everything I needed and a great central location right on the tramline, but a lot more than I had initially planned on paying (527 euros per month plus bills of about 70), and, again, it was very unsociable. If I could do my experience again, I would have chosen to share a flat/house with other students (known as a 'colocation'). The only reason I didn’t choose this option initially was because I was too nervous about moving in with people I didn’t know. However, it is much more common to do this in France, and all of my friends who did this had lovely flatmates and great overall living arrangements. There are a few websites that you can use to search for a 'colocation', one being www.appartager.fr.
What to packIf you’re going in the winter: warm clothes and an umbrella! If you think it rains a lot in England, think again. Also, people still sit outside in the bars at night when it’s freezing cold, so make sure to pack a good coat! In terms of going out clothes, wear a bit more than you might in England as people dress casually here; most go out in jeans and you’ll be looked at funny if you wear a short revealing dress. People don’t take taxis either so you have to walk everywhere, meaning that heels are unnecessary. Boys: jeans and a t-shirt/jumper will do! Keep a pocket-sized Bilingual dictionary in your pocket at all times. Okay, so this won’t see you through a University level translation assignment, but it is very useful to have handy for those annoying situations when you just can’t remember the most basic vocab.
The University offers a free two week French course to all Erasmus students, and you are grouped according to a test taken on the first lesson. I’m not sure if I actually learnt much from it, but it was useful for meeting other Erasmus students. It also gave us an opportunity to find our way around the faculty a little bit before the main lectures started, speeding up the settling in process and helping to get into the University routine.
You’ll get emails about this group from the University before you arrive, and it is 100% worth signing up to them. Run by a group of very welcoming French student volunteers, they organise nights out as well as day trips, weekends away, laser quest, “club cuisine”, and film nights – all exclusively for Erasmus students. I met all of my friends on the ESN welcome week and I did not need to organise my own social life, as ESN did it all for me! Places I visited with ESN include: Strasbourg Christmas markets, a weekend in Les Vosges, Metz, and Oktoberfest in Munich. The ESN membership card also entitles you to discounts at many of the high street shops and bars.
What to see/do in NancyPlace Stanislas – As previously mentioned, this is a UNESCO world heritage site and is Nancy’s main attraction. A beautiful square in the middle of town that is bright and beautiful on even the dullest of rainy days. Café Les Artistes – This cute café on 3 floors is perfect at any time of day, whether it’s cocktails at happy hour, or to warm yourselves up with a cup of hot chocolate. You're guaranteed to bump into people you know here and it also has a chilled atmosphere which is great for studying. Parc de la Pépinière – Just off Place Stanislas, this pretty park is ideal for walking, jogging or just relaxing with friends. It also has a mini zoo with monkeys! Musée des Beaux Arts – I’m not so much into museums myself but for those who are, this one is very highly rated. Eat “raclette” at La Bouche à Oreille - Great food and a great atmosphere. My top choice for where to take any visitors. University Exercise and Dance Classes – The University offers exercise classes to all students! All you have to do is pay is £10 at the beginning of the semester. Classes include variations of cardio and toning, with the dance classes including Salsa, Swing, Hip Hop etc. A perfect opportunity to try something new! Baba Noel – The 1st December saw Father Christmas arriving in Nancy, and he came in style. There was a whole weekend of events, including the best firework display I have ever seen and a parade throughout the town. Most importantly, travel!! – Metz, Strasbourg, Luxembourg and Paris are all easy to reach by train. I also used the coach company www.eurolines.com to travel to Brussels for a weekend. It went from Nancy town centre, took about 4 hours and cost only 40 euros return. You can also travel to Amsterdam with the same company for a good price.
My one piece of advice for any year or semester abroad is: don’t panic! Yes it is nerve-wracking to move abroad and suddenly have to be fully operational in a language you may have only ever used in a classroom/university situation. However, the positives outweigh the negatives by miles, and you’ll soon get so wrapped up in your new Erasmus life that you forgot you were even worried in the first place. As for Nancy itself? I would go back in a flash to do it all over again if I could!