The Mole Diaries: La Réunion
La Réunion by Titou Lannes
Christopher Walker is doing a BA in Multilingual Studies (French, German and Italian) at Royal Holloway, University of London, and is spending the first semester of his year abroad at the Université de la Réunion, and is then then going to study in Pisa from February until the end of the academic year. He's blogging about his experiences, but here is his insider guide to the university, accommodation, nightlife, free time and life in general in La Réunion...
Where?La Réunion isn't particularly well known and when I told people that this is where I was planning on studying for the first semester of my year abroad, I felt like I was spending hours on end explaining where it is. After having chosen the island on impulse, mainly swayed by the idea of living on a tropical island for around four months, I realised that there isn't much information on the internet either, which is why I hope you find this "Mole Diary" informative, whether you are considering La Réunion or have already chosen to come here.
I chose to study at the university, although it is also possible to do the British Council Language Assistantship or find a work placement here.
Studying and the UniversityThe most honest way to start this section would be to inform you that not many people choose to come to a tropical island for a long period of time purely for "educational purposes." Yes, whilst it's true that the year abroad is an important and compulsory part of many foreign language degrees, it's equally important that you choose somewhere that you're going to enjoy. You're not just abroad to learn in the classroom, your language skills will improve in all contexts - sharing communal areas with natives, being introduced to new people, in fact I would say that most of my language acquisition and improvements have been made in "noneducational" situations - nights out, at the shop, trying to explain that the washing machine in the laundry room took your money without washing your clothes etc - No matter how you're doing it, if you're learning and improving then you're doing it right.
There are courses designed for Erasmus students which are French as a foreign language, Translation (from English into French and French into English), Reunion: History, Culture, Society and Environment and also Creole which is an integral part of the culture on Reunion Island.
Then most Erasmus students, in order to fulfill credit requirements set by their home institutions choose other courses on top of this. Personally I have chosen Ethnology and History of Reunion and Madagascar, both of which I am finding very interesting as I am learning about themes such as slavery - something which is rarely studied in Europe.
You can also take part in sports for credits - ranging from Stand Up Paddle to Canyoning, and there is also a scheme known as Plan Anglais, which is where students with a knowledge of English have the chance to undertake paid work and training as English teachers in primary schools in St Denis, however I would advise that applications are made as soon as possible as applying for social security can be a lengthy process!
AccommodationI am living on campus at the University. The Halls of Residence that I am living in (Cité du Campus 1) are basic, a single bed, desk and chair, wardrobe, shelf and sink with a small bedside table and blackboard. I also have a small balcony which is essential in the summer. This might not sound like five star accommodation and it's definitely not, but when I tell you that I am paying roughly 150 euros a month you will see that I am actually getting quite a good deal. And yes, sometimes there are unidentified insects or lizards in your room - but you get used to it, invest in a can of Raid and get to know your new gecko friend, it's character building.
LivingOne thing I will say is that in terms of shopping (for food etc), Reunion is an expensive place. You can get a meal card when you enroll at the university which you charge with money if you want to buy lunch or dinner in the university canteens or café and this does help to reduce costs a bit and you are given large portions.
The main thing you're going to want to do in Reunion is travel around the island because there is so much to see. You should definitely sort out your bus card as this gives you free travel on any of the bus networks on the island and is very cheap when you take into account the cost of buying a ticket every time you travel.
Also a small warning - the internet is not very reliable, although this isn't too much of an issue once you realise that there are a million and one other things you could be doing here instead of browsing the internet.
NightlifeThere are a few places to go out in St Denis, such as Les Récréateurs, Pot'Irons and Le Loft but recently my friends and I went to St Gilles, which has a much better and busier nightlife. We took the last bus to St Gilles, started the night on the beach, went to a club until daylight and then got the first bus back - brilliant weekend. St Gilles is also a nice town during the day, definitely worth visiting. Going out is actually a good way to improve your language skills because a lot of people realise at this point that it's all a question of confidence - even if you think you can't, you probably can speak French and just need a bit of rum (it's probably one of the cheapest things at the supermarket) to prove it to yourself.
Free-timeYou are spoilt for choice with things to do when you're not studying and it's likely that your timetable will be fairly quiet. It would be a good idea to hire a car if you have a few days free and someone who can drive (and is happy to drive on the right hand side of the road) in order to see more of the island. You can spend time on a huge number of beaches (my favourite is either Roches Noires or Boucan Canot) and there is also lots of hiking to be done - the volcano, Piton de la Fournaise, the highest peak on the island, Piton des Neiges and also the "cirques" - Mafate, Cilaos and Salazie.
One thing that is for sure, is that if you choose to spend part or all of your Third Year Abroad on Reunion Island, you will have some amazing, unique experiences, unlike anything those who have chosen to study in Europe will have experienced. It all comes down to personal choice, but if you study French and want to throw yourself in at the deep end by going somewhere completely different, La Réunion is the place for you.