Exchange Diaries: Settling in for the semester

Chloe Grande is in France on exchange for the upcoming year. She will be sharing her experience as a regular contributor for QJBlogs.

My anxiety levels hit a new high the day I left for France. Until then, when asked how I felt about leaving, my go-to reply was always excited.

As my departure day approached, however, I grew increasingly nervous and even began questioning my decision to go on exchange. Communicating in French, missing paperwork and getting lost were my main concerns (In reality, though, I should have been more preoccupied with baggage weight restrictions). Despite the occasional mispronunciation and anglicism, my French speaking ability has been adequate enough to open a bank account, order meals and get me mistaken for a Quebecois.

Paperwork, though, has been more difficult. France is renowned for their slow and inefficient administrative process. For instance, you need a student I.D. to purchase insurance, yet the university won’t give you I.D. without an insurance certificate. Go figure.

As far as getting lost goes, I’ve come to accept my lack of internal navigation. Luckily the transport system is easy to use and more punctual than anything in North America. My favourite mode of transportation so far has been “Vélo'v” — a city-wide bike rental system that charges nothing for the first 30 minutes and only one euro per hour afterwards.

Fortunately I live within walking distance to the university so transportation isn’t an issue. The university itself resembles a large high school with its narrow hallways, courtyards and intimate campus size.

Two things in particular caught my attention upon arrival: first was the lack of cleanliness in public washrooms and second was the 3€ lunch menu. Not only are washrooms unisex — urinals are in plain view right next to the stalls — but they also reek of rotten fish. I even overheard one student say she’d been in cleaner porta-potties. The lunch menu, on the other hand, couldn’t be better. For just over four Canadian dollars, you can get a three-course Lyonnaise meal.

“Prix-fixes,” complete meals with specified courses for a set price, are common in Lyon and especially at “bouchons.” These types of restaurants feature traditional Lyonnaise cuisine, i.e. a lot of meat dishes. Naturally, my first meal out was at a bouchon where I enjoyed a Lyonnaise salad (lettuce with bacon, croutons, poached egg and Dijon vinaigrette), an entrée (sausage smothered in Beaujolais sauce, roasted potatoes and more salad) and a dessert (crème caramel). Bon appétit indeed.

Naturally there have been a few unexpected drawbacks, but the city’s charm has made my exchange decision worthwhile. It’s safe to say my pre-departure anxieties have settled, just as I am settling into the Lyonnais life.

Keep track of Chloe’s journey. Her next post will appear on Sept. 26.

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