The Mole Diaries: Montpellier
Maria in Montpellier by Maria Tomlinson
Maria Tomlinson has just finished her year abroad. She's studying Greek and French at King's College, London, and opted for sun, the Mediterranean and studying abroad in Montpellier for her time away. Here's her account on the French city...As I got out of the car just outside of my future family’s house, I felt sick. My two years of French and Modern Greek at King’s College London had led me here, to a tall rusty blue metal gate. A little girl opened it and led me into the dilapidated house where I was to find a family of 6 waiting for me, all talking loudly and quickly at me in French. ‘What have I got myself into?’, I thought to myself. What I got myself into was one of the best and most profitable experiences of my life.
I would recommend anybody going to France to choose Montpellier. Below are some reasons why and some helpful tips for you, if you decide to go.
- Despite what you might hear, the student halls in Montpellier are not awful, but I would not recommend them because it is hard to meet French students in this way.
- I would recommend living with a French family. There are two main companies to look out for:
1) The first and slightly more expensive company is Acceuil en famille.
2) The slightly less expensive option, and, coincidentally the one I used was Accueil en France. They contacted me immediately with the details of the family they had allocated to me but I had to phone them a few times before they answered any of my other questions. One thing they did not tell me is that I would not be the only student there. The family also rented out 3 other rooms to other students; so check if you will be the only student before you arrive. I enjoyed meeting these other students from around the world, especially two people from Guadeloupe, one of whom had an adorable little white dog, but at one time there were 15 people sharing one bathroom.
- You can also find French students or a colocation on appartager. Many of my friends found great places to live in, thanks to this website.
What to pack
- Montpellier has a Mediterranean climate but it does still get cold there in the Winter. October was particularly good. It was 0 degrees the Winter I was there, shivering in my thick coat and woolly hat after becoming acclimatized to warmer weather.
- Pack a small notebook which you can use as a vocabulary book, writing down all the new words you hear or read. You can also read the free papers found on the tram stops to improve your language.
- A scrapbook
- A folder with all your important document and copies of them
- Sun cream – you can still burn in October. I know. I did.
Paul Valéry University: settling in
- You should definitely take part in the 1 week intensive French language course called Campus d’été, organised by Paul Valéry the week before term starts. It costs 50 euros to improve your language, and includes an excursion. It is also a great way to meet friends and get used to the language. But, most importantly, they assign you a French buddy who shows you around the university and answers your questions - really useful.
- The administration is terrible - typical French bureaucracy. They lost my enrollment papers but I was able to get my revenge when I was asked by France 3 (the TV channel) to take part in a mini-series about Erasmus students and told my side of the story.
Picking your courses
- This caused me 2 weeks of aggravation. Basically, what you have to do is find the department appropriate to the subjects you want to study and search for a list of courses, credit values and time tables. Write down every course that interests you on a piece of paper (make sure you write down more courses than you need because there will be time table clashes) so you can decide what you like the most.
- All lecturers I met were very helpful. Don’t be scared to ask them questions; they were simply thrilled someone was keen to learn more because most French students seemed disinterested and often disrupted class. I recommend French linguistics; the lecturer enjoyed asking me questions about English grammar and he had a novelty ringtone (always a plus, in my book).
- Exams are very informal and you are allowed to take in dictionaries. Language mistakes are not penalized. If you have a disability make sure you talk to the disability office because they can issue extra time etc in exams.
- There are two tram lines and a third is being built. There are also buses, and coaches to the beaches.
- You can get a Clé Tam from any Tam (Transports de l’Agglomération de Montpellier) office which you top-up online once a month. A student, Clé Tam is 32 Euros. Go to the offices as soon as you get there and as early on in the day as possible to get your Clé. The offices are busy just before term starts. http://www.montpellier-agglo.com/tam/index2.php
- There is also a little tourist train which is worth a ride and may help you get your bearings in Montpellier’s network of narrow streets.
Top 6 places to manger:
- Fournil bakery: there are 3 of these, one near the university and two in the centre. Of the latter, one is at Antigone which is a newish area of the city with Greek statues, fountains, a river, and lawns - a great peaceful place to chill. You must try Fournil’s Americain- it’s a delicious baguette with steak, chips, salad and sauce - in my opinion the tastiest thing in Montpellier. The café crème (it is not au lait in Montpellier) is pretty good too. But don’t bother asking them for tea with milk because the first time I was given only milk and water and the second only a tea bag and milk!
- Le Montpel: a very reasonably priced tapas restaurant. You can eat outside or, as the months get colder, you can sit in the basement on funky stools. The food is delicious and great to share with new friends.
- Piazza Papa: an Italian restaurant on the main square. You can eat outside on the térasse or inside in the beautifully décorated interior. The set menu is reasonably priced and the chocolate dessert is delicious.
- La Dernière Séance: the restaurant has great décor, with walls covered with old movie posters. The fish burger was a personal favourite.
- Flunch: a canteen in the central shopping centre, cheap and cheerful. The calamari is good and coffee is only 1 euro!
- Wok: good old Chinese restaurant food served in small boxes. Tasty and you get to pick and chose what ingredients and sauces you would like.
5 ways to have fun!
- Drinks at Circus: my favourite hangout. It has many lovely large comfortable sofas and two bars. The ceiling is painted with circus designs. Drinks are reasonably priced.
- Odysseum: this relatively new shopping centre is on the outskirts of the city and has a wide variety of well-displayed shops. Make sure to visit the huge Géant Casino supermarket where you can watch the fish in their tanks and discover all sorts of delicacies such as brains, eyes and intestines! Also take advantage of all the activities the shopping centre has to offer: go ice skating, go-karting, visit the aquarium, the planetarium...
- Clubbing at Panama/Cargo/Manhattan/Australian Bar: you will end up going to these places. Every Erasmus student goes to one of these at some point.
- Trips: you can do day trips by TGV (French trains are cheaper than ours) to Nîmes, Perpignan, Avignon, Sète etc and even organise a trip to Barcelona by coach. It is only 3 hours away!
- Beach: you can get to the nearest beach, Palavas les Flots, by tram to Port Marianne and then get on a coach which does many stops along the sea front. Make sure you check coach times as buses are quite irregular.
Last few words...
I’d just like to say that I hope you chose Montpellier as your year abroad destination and have a wonderful time there. The first two/three weeks are stressful as you try and work out what you are doing but you soon get used to le rhythme Montpelliérain. A year abroad is not just the amazing holiday and rave as many people like to think, before they actually set out on one. It is an opportunity to learn a language and experience life in another country - it can be trying at times but you’re guaranteed to meet some great people and have loads of fun along the way. Make the most of it by making French friends, reading papers, watching TV and embrace the thriving Erasmus community to take time off all that language learning... Profites-en bien!