Postcards from Abroad: Montpellier, France

Lucy is a History & French student (no, not just French History), spending her year studying at Paul Valery University in Montpellier. A self-proclaimed Brunch Queen, she enjoys music festivals, yoga and Hugh Grant films. After living in South Korea when she was younger, Lucy loves visiting new countries, but has no sense of direction whatsoever. Lucy is freakishly organised, and is compared to Monica from friends on pretty much a daily basis. Lucy is enjoying the relaxed coffee culture in France, however is struggling to adapt to life without Yorkshire teabags.

After what felt like an incredibly long countdown to moving day and endless paperwork, I touched down in the land of berets, baguettes and Breton stripes nearly two months ago now, and it’s safe to say I’ve fallen well and truly in love with this pretty little city in the South of France. A charming mélange between Barcelona and Rome, Montpellier is the place to be if you enjoy exploring seemingly-endless winding narrow streets which open onto beautiful squares, picturesque cathedrals and roman-esque monuments. I’m such a sucker for the high-rise apartment buildings, decorated with rustic wooden window shutters, wrought-iron balconies and colourful hanging baskets.

Like Leeds, Montpellier is a predominantly student city, owing to its multiple Universities. It’s also the perfect size – small enough to walk everywhere, but big enough that there’s always plenty to see and do. Cafés, bars and restaurants spill out onto gorgeous outdoor squares, always teeming with people enjoying an al fresco Plat Du Jour – typically three courses for €9, or Café Gourmand, which comprises a coffee and assortment of desserts. The French certainly know how to do their food, and ensure to take their sweet, sweet time to enjoy it – dedicating at least two hours in the middle of the day for a long lunch in the sun. Best of all, you can buy a baguette and bottle of wine for less than £3.

The first few weeks in MontyP were a whirlwind of unpacking, shopping and familiarising myself with my new habitat – new country, but still no sense of direction. To help settle in, my flat-mate Coralie and I visited a local flea market, which we thought would be a cool place to pick up some antique bits n’ bobs and/or funky trinkets for our new pad. After traipsing along rows of vendors who were literally selling everything from old TV remote controls to broken babies toys, much to our disappointment, we realized the ‘cool’ market turned out to be nothing more than a glorified car boot sale in a giant car park. It was as if they’d emptied out the contents of their entire wardobes/kitchens/bathrooms and hoped that people would pay money for them. It wasn’t until after a day spent at IKEA that Coralie and I successfully kitted out our new abode. It definitely felt like home as soon as we’d bought a brand new tupperware set.

We also attended our first Erasmus event, where after a few mojitos for dutch courage and good measure, we headed to Andaluz bar – where the majority of Erasmus students meet for pre-drinkss, before what – we assumed – would be a bar crawl or a night out. No no, it was pre drinks before going to sit in a park and continue to drink …….. Flashback to WKDs in the park à la year 9. Bizarre. Nonetheless it was nice to meet some cool people from all over the place, who have since hosted some pretty fun flat parties. Unfortunately it’s become clear that clubbing in France is just not the done thing, after paying for extortionate taxi rides to clubs in the middle of nowhere, paying €10 for entry, another €12 for a single vodka and lemonade, and spending the entire night running away from slimy French men, we’ve accepted that the clubs here just don’t cut it, and I already can’t wait to reunite with my old friends Mint, Warehouse, Canal Mills and the Faversham. On the plus side, in the first week we managed three trips to the beach and are still enjoying temperatures in the 20s with glorious October sunshine. It’s pretty surreal wearing shorts and sunglasses to Uni rather than jeans and sweatshirts. Though the nightlife doesn’t even come close, there are enough bucket hats, Eastpack backpacks and New Balance trainers to rival Leeds and you’ll find more students at Paul Val Uni rolling cigarettes in seminars than there are taking notes.

Though I’m still enjoying the honeymoon period, settling into my new home certainly hasn’t been a total breeze, primarily owing to the fact that the French insist on doing absolutely everything at a glacial pace. Walking along the pavements feels like playing Space Invaders; trying to dodge obstacles moving painfully slowly and resisting giving them a gentle shove out the way. The bureaucracy isn’t much better, after completing endless paperwork, it took nearly 3 weeks for my bank card to arrive. I’m still not used to everything being closed on Sundays, prompting a mad panic on Saturday evenings when you realise you have no food in the fridge. That said, despite (wrongly) believing stereotypes of the French as unfriendly and hostile towards the English, I’ve been so pleasantly surprised by the cheery locals of Montpellier – constant ‘Bonjours/’Bonsoirs’ and peoples’ genuine politeness is really welcoming, especially when feeling a bit like an alien.

The prospect of starting University didn’t excite us either. Especially after completing and sending 346283432 forms over to Montpellier at the beginning of the Summer. When I arrived at Paul Valery University, I was told they had lost all of my paperwork. Merde. To make things worse, French Universities are at least 10 years behind those in the UK, and completely incapable of using any form of technology. After hours traipsing around campus searching for timetables pinned to walls outside lecture theatres, and signing up to classes on pieces of paper, I managed to enrol for my modules and fashion myself a timetable.

My schedule at Paul Val is a far cry from the breezy 10-hours-a-week I enjoyed in Leeds, with a 3 hour (yep – 3 HOUR) lecture at 8am on Monday, made even worse by a 2 hour lecture the same day which ends at 8pm (yep – 8PM). Despite the silver lining of having no University on a Friday, the gruelling lectures and school-like seminars are really mentally draining – having to constantly mentally tune in to translate everything, and attempt to keep up with the lecturer talking at 43294634 miles an hour.

So despite having a great first couple of months, my heart is still firmly anchored somewhere between Beaverworks and the Hidden Café, and have booked to return to the city of dreams and drugs for a few days at the end of October and I can’t bloody wait!!!!


Lucy Carlile x

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