I've been asked about my experience living in Lyon and whether I recommend exchange. I thought it was worth writing down.
Exchange in general
These are true of any international exchange
- You will have a great time - Everyone you ask will tell you this, so, I'll say no more.
- You will be forced out of your bubble - Before I had travelled, I never understood just how many things I took for granted, from public transport quality, to brands of groceries on the shelves, or which side of the road people drive.
- You will meet heaps of interesting people - Unless you hole yourself in a room and refuse to speak, you'll make new friends just by showing up.
- It will put things in perspective - the cliche about 'discovering yourself' is a bit over the top, but there is a grain of truth there. The experiences you have can totally change your set of priorities - I never planned to leave Australia and even hoped to move back to my hometown one day. After travelling more extensively, my goals now include living in Japan and America for at least 6 months, after I fell in love with each.1
Specific to France/Lyon
- You will have the opportunity to immerse yourself in French - I honestly believe the best way to learn a new language is immersion - being in an environment with native speakers and using it as much as possible. If you want to learn French, going to France is the best way to do it.
- You will learn to appreciate bread, cheese, and wine - I remember the first time I went to the supermarket in Lyon, and went looking for the cheese section to stock up on the essential ingredients for my vegemite and cheese sandwiches. I was sorely disappointed when it came to the vegemite but there were 3 full aisles dedicated to cheese! Soft cheeses, hard cheeses, specialty cheeses. It was a whole new range of different cheese and different cheese flavours, I imagine like what a blind man feels like seeing for the first time. Bread is substantially better due to the freshness and daily bakery lifestyle.
- You will live in a beautiful city - If your motivation for exchange is a change of scenery, I'd definitely put France high on the list. Lyon, where I lived, is great from that perspective, with it's old buildings and history, streets crammed with restaurants and riverside views.
- You will learn to adapt to the rhythms of French life - The French way of life is definitely different - their idea of time and punctuality is more of a suggestion than a deadline - and this takes getting used to. Still, it was eye opening for impressionable 21yr old me to see that there was a different way to prioritise your life at all.
Exchange in General
- You will have a hard time - everyone does at some point abroad - whether you get sick while travelling, or miss a train or flight, or get stuck in some cramped butthole of a place, there will be at least a few downs. That's ok though, if you're willing to accept that and tough through it like a true stoic, the rest of the time will more than make up for it.
- You will miss your safety net - From the simple things like the inability to go to your parents for dinner, to the realisation that 'holy shit I don't know anyone within a thousand kilometres'
- You will have to make new friends - this can be good if you like the process of making friends (and normally I do!) but after doing it every day for weeks on end as you travel - the same introductions and backstories and small talk - it can be nice to just skip straight to hanging out.
- You may find that the world has moved on without you - Things change, and you might be surprised at how different people or places are when you return.
Specific to France/Lyon
- You will struggle with French - Ignore this if you're already fluent. If you're not used to actually speaking it on a regular basis though, prepare to struggle. You can and will get better at the language if you apply yourself, but there are going to be many times, especially at the beginning, that routine tasks are made incredibly difficult due to language barrier. Unlike Paris, Lyon doesn't have anywhere near as many English speakers and it can be hard to find someone who understands you at times.
- You will miss sliced bread, vegemite, and goon - OK that last one is a joke. But seriously, something that I definitely didn't expect was how much I'd miss ordinary staples back home. Yes, vegemite is an obvious one but even sliced bread can be hard to find in France. It's one thing to learn to love baguettes (and they are fantastic) but that doesn't mean you won't get a hankering for a good old aussie sanger. It works both ways though - I have cravings every now and then for French food I discovered on exchange that I can't easily get in Australia.
- You will find yourself at odds with French life - There are going to be some things you don't like. Some examples for me: the on-campus convenience store was only open from 12-2, 4 days a week. Not what I would call convenient. There's also very little open on a Sunday. Another example is the beauracracy - There will be hours of paperwork to do just to stay in the country, and a lot of processes that involve waiting, mailing things off, waiting, visiting some random part of the city to get the next form, waiting... etc.
- You will feel like an outsider - Nothing against the French students at our uni, they were very friendly. But at the same time, everyone around you knows you won't be there in six months, which was new to me. It might be a first world problem, but the subtext of 'you are leaving soon' underwrote every relationship with locals, not only in terms of meaningful friendships but even from lecturers, who preferred to invest their time into full time students.
Just a few points that often come up - if you've been on exchange and have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment below.
Notably not France, primarily because I've already had my fill in six months there and want to use the time I have to see other places. ↩