As I stepped off the Rhone Express tram at Lyon’s huge Part-Dieu train station, I immediately felt a million miles away from home.
Surrounded by loud French accents, speeding taxi drivers on the ‘wrong’ side of the road and the scorching sun beaming down on my head, I was overwhelmed. I tentatively crossed the road, struggling with my two drastically overweight suitcases, and made my way towards the Metro. I was extremely thankful that I had researched my route to my accommodation prior to my arrival and was equipped with a map of the Metro and of the city of Lyon.
As I later found out, the Metro in Lyon is one of the cheapest, easiest and fastest ways to get around the city; if it is possible, I strongly recommend buying a monthly Metro pass if you are going to live in a large urban city in France.
Another great way of commuting around French cities is by bicycle. Lyon had a great scheme called VéloV which was cheap and easy to set up; you can find out more info about it here. Definitely check out whether there is a bicycle scheme in the city you plan to live in, as it is very popular in France. You’re going to need to find a way to get around your town or city as soon as you arrive, so do lots of research before you go!
Arriving at my apartment, I felt I was over the first hurdle. I found my accommodation through the partner university where I would be studying, which made the often daunting process of finding somewhere to live abroad relatively straight-forward (for France anyway!) and I was able to get unpacked and settled in quite quickly. I had researched my accommodation well before applying for it and was lucky with what I was offered; I cannot stress how important it is to research your accommodation choices before applying.
The main thing to research is definitely location; how far away is it from your university, school or workplace? Is there public transport available nearby? Is it close to the town/city centre? Is the area recommended for students to live in – crime rates, for instance – or do you know anyone who has lived there before? Living in a good location will play a big part on how your year abroad pans out.
The cheapest option isn’t always the best. Katie Sullivan, a fellow University of Liverpool student who last year studied in Lyon for a semester, commented on her experience of living in French halls of residence: “I applied for my accommodation before I went over to France through the university in Lyon and chose the cheapest place I could find. However when I arrived at my halls I realised they were in quite a remote location. I was really far away from the university campus and the city centre; I had to make quite a long journey to and from university. The distance also prevented me from socialising after dark as I didn’t want to make the journey home alone at night.”
This isn’t to say that you need to spend a lot on accommodation for it to be in a ‘good’ location – there are a lot of options available when it comes to finding your digs which will save you money. One of the most popular options is to form a ‘colocation’ with other students, basically a house or flat share. This a great way to practice your language skills in a relaxed everyday environment with other Erasmus or French students, as well as keeping costs down. Sites like Appartager are good for advertising colocations, but be wary of scams and don’t send any money or give any bank details before you have been to visit the accommodation.
When it comes to housing, one great thing about living in France for your year abroad is that you are eligible to apply for CAF (caisse d’allocation familiale), which is a monthly housing aid payment either taken off your rent or given to you as a direct debit each month. The amount you will receive depends on how much rent you pay, but it is definitely worth applying for as soon as you have your accommodation sorted out.
During the first few weeks of your time abroad you will no doubt be faced with some challenges and maybe some difficult situations, but have no fear; with good preparation and the right information at hand everything can and will be overcome! For some great travel advice on living in France and on French culture, check out the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) page for France.
Check out my future articles to keep updated with travel tips for your year abroad and info on living in France!