Although it has been stressful getting through all the paperwork this week, I feel it is definitely worth it for everything else I have here. A Year Abroad wouldn’t be a Year Abroad without some stress, tears and difficulties. It’s part and parcel with the package and you just have to deal with it like the line of people who did it before you. It just makes you appreciate all the good things you have which make doing a Year Abroad worthwhile; I have a great house which is a 2 minute walk from uni with great housemates. I am living in the south of France (!!!) and there is so much to do around here, I have something to do every weekend already.
After a busy week of experiencing the mayhem that is the French administrative system, it was good to get away from it all and have an afternoon day trip out with my housemates. But first of all, I am going to rant about my experience with the university registration process in France, as this was one of the most ridiculous things I have ever experienced. This is just how it is in France. C’est comme ça. It has come to make me really appreciate my home university all that much more for making my life as a student so simple in Sheffield.
I spotted a poster on the wall whilst I was in the queue-of-doom and it was so relevant: l’inscription a la fac? La galère! Inscrivez-vous en ligne! (Registering at uni? What a nightmare! Register online!)
This really sums it all up – the French even admit just how bad this system is, yet they don’t really help themselves to make it better. I tried going online for a rendez-vous (meeting) to cut the queue, yet the next available slot was in two weeks (?!?!). Okay, that makes total sense when classes start on Monday. I would like to be able to access the library facilities and the wifi on campus and even the university intranet, from like…now?! I also tried to register online but it was basically impossible.
There are only 9,000 students at the university, less than half that of the University of Sheffield. I don’t know how many of them are first years, international and Erasmus students but all of them must register in one place – the BASE. This is a tiny office of two women sitting at a desk who file your paperwork. They don’t really rush even though there is a massive queue that never ceases. The hours are 9am-12:30pm and 2:30-4pm. If you’re in the queue when the opening hours finish, you need to go home and come back when they are open again. Good luck with that.
This is a nightmare when trying to get things done – most offices, banks etc. all close for lunch for two hours at mid-day. Nevertheless, I see this also as a good thing: for 2 hours there is nothing you can do about anything paperwork related. Therefore, you yourself may as well go, sit down, have some lunch with friends and enjoy the break just like them. In the UK, most people eat at their desk, still answering emails and calls – there isn’t really a true lunch break. In France, this is really important and I think this is a good thing about their work ethic: work hard but have a proper break in the middle of the day. It makes you refreshed for the rest of the afternoon, you get social interaction and a proper meal, even though I have to sacrifice not getting as much stuff done in the day as I would like.
I queued in total for about 2 hours this week just to get registered, before that I was running around trying to get my Acceptance Letter from the university and all the Erasmus documents. I have to say that this was one of the most stressful moments of my life. I got to the very front of the queue, yes, it’s me next! Haha no, no it isn’t. People who have got a ‘rendez-vous’ or who been able to register online get priority. This makes you the bottom of the food-chain. So you may have been waiting an hour, but this guy who has just popped up out of nowhere looking all calm and stress-free has priority and this makes the main queue completely stagnant, as they just keep on coming. I managed nonetheless to wait it out and I finally got seen to. However the secretary did not know what to do for Erasmus students, so I had to wait another 20 minutes for her colleague to see to me. After that, and showing her I did indeed have ALL OF THE MILLIONS OF DOCUMENTS I NEEDED to register, she sent me to another desk, where they had to write up my details on their internal system. After that, I had to see another woman but I don’t really know why as she didn’t do anything… and then she saw me to the FINAL person (nearly there now), who printed my student card and I could finally escape, grab some lunch and get the bus with my housemates for an afternoon trip to Villefranche-de-Conflent.
It was a really bizarre situation and I am just so glad it is all over. At university in Sheffield, I remember how smooth it was to register and get my Ucard when I was in first year. They use the largest buildings on campus to accommodate everyone and have loads of staff available, so that they can answer students’ questions and sort out any issues quickly and efficiently. Here it was indeed la galère. I mentioned that it was so different at my university in England and that this was just so stressful. The staff were so shocked that registering at university could actually be simple somewhere else. Someone, send help to France s’il vous plait.
So the bus never really came in time from the university to get to the Bus station, so we missed our bus to Villefranche by 30 minutes. The next bus was in two hours and that was just not worth it. We decided instead to jump on the next bus out of Perpignan to another small town, and we decided on Banyuls as we are going to Collioure tomorrow!
Okay, so French public transport is not always on time, but what I love about this region is the bus prices. To get to any of the nearby towns (Collioure, Banyuls, Villefranche, Argelès etc.) by bus, it is just 1€ each way. The journey was about an hour and a half, and it was 1€…no excuse to not explore the region at all!
Banyuls is a beautiful seaside town, although everywhere was in lock-down when we were there. It felt more like Spain as it was ‘siesta time’ and there were abundant amounts of tapas bars and seafood restaurants with the Catalan flag flying high. It was impossible to eat lunch at a restaurant as they were all closed, but luckily we found a supermarket that was still open. We only had about 2 and a half/3 hours before we needed to catch the last bus back to Perpignan, but that was sufficient for what was available to us. We ate our little picnic on a bench by the sea and just sat, walked around the beach, soaked up the sun and enjoyed the great views of the sea and the boats on the horizon. Here are a few pictures:
Tomorrow we are spending the day in Collioure, under an hour from Perpignan and also 1€ on the bus. Everyone says this is the most beautiful town in the region – great views, food, shopping, there is a castle, a museum and there is also the sea for swimming! We passed Collioure on the way to Banyuls on the bus today and I must admit, it looks just as good as it does in the photos online!
Classes start Monday 8th September. I have managed to construct my university timetable, thanks to my Personal Tutor here who printed out all the classes available to us in the entire Humanities department, across 1st, 2nd and 3rd year as the online version is missing half the classes. I will talk more about my experience of doing things like Spanish-French translation, explication de texte and all the other classes I am going to try, next week.