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  • Albena Tsacheva

My French adventure or: How students help students

I already told you how my Erasmus semester in Rennes (France) began. Some of you probably haven't been able to sleep in the last few months because you've been waiting impatiently for the story to end. The waiting is over. In this short burst of inspiration, I'd like to tell you three things: the highlights of my Erasmus semester abroad, why you should do it too and the most important things to know on exchange.

C'était vraiment un plaisir! First of all, I will share my impressions of France and the French people, starting of course with a story. The country is geographically very big. I had the opportunity to visit Paris, Saint-Malo, Lyon, Nice and Quimper and I still haven't seen 95% of the country. Long before I went to France, I wanted to visit the capital. I actually always thought that Paris was overrated, that they were exaggerating and that I would most likely be disappointed. Well, I was wrong. Paris is fascinating. I could stay all day and all night in Place du Trocadéro looking at the Tour d'Eiffel. Something happened in front of the most beautiful monument I have ever seen that I will never forget. There was a man singing and playing the guitar and behind him, the Eiffel Tower was bathed in golden light. Suddenly he started playing "Shallow" by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, and I noticed he was alone, so I suggested I’d be his Lady Gaga. It was a surprisingly good duet for two worldUNfamous singers who had never met before.

My other incredible experience was a trip to Lyon, Nice and Monaco. The French Riviera is as beautiful as I've seen it in films. Nice fascinated me - the blue Mediterranean sea, the long promenade, the narrow streets and the pastel-coloured buildings. I felt like I could walk along the promenade forever. Nice is perfect for any food lover. There are many markets, restaurants and wine bars. My travel partners and I tried not only local food but also excellent Mexican and Indian dishes. We watched the sunset from a bar while enjoying cocktails, wine and beer. We also went to the harbour where I saw boats and yachts as big as buildings. I thought to myself that maybe all you need is one of these boats to spend your life enjoying picturesque sunrises and sunsets every day. At night, we could hear the water lapping at the shore as we gazed at the lights or into the black distance, merging with the sea. As poetic as it sounds, I fell in love with Nice.

There are many beautiful views in the world, but they would be only half as beautiful without nice company. When it comes to the French, there is one word that can describe them best: warm. I expected them to be reserved and a bit closed off, but as it turns out they are welcoming and all in all darlings. I can now confirm that they are truly amazing and unique people. They love - as many rumours suggest - their baguettes, cheese and wine. They know how to party and gather in big places on Thursday and Friday nights. They are people with an opinion. Their language can sound not only romantic, but also gangster and badass. They also love their country and they are proud of it. I could really feel (not just see written) the national motto "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" everywhere. They also know how to protest and manifest. For the French, everything can be decided with big protests. For me, this is a very good quality because they know how to defend their positions. The Yellow Vests movement and the strikes against the president's plans to overhaul the pension system are the best examples. I think this is embedded in their genes and that is why the French are a united nation. The presence of this strong civil society makes a big difference when it comes to important decisions in the country. Maybe some other countries should learn from this.

Let me tell you something: don't hesitate to do an exchange semester abroad. It will be the most enriching experience of your life. I recently read a quote by the famous Brazilian lyricist and writer Paulo Coelho: "Travelling is never a question of money, but of courage." I couldn't agree more. Travelling in this context means not only the physical travelling -moving from one place to another- but also the mental travelling - experiencing another culture, meeting humans who will most likely be friends for life, tasting traditional food, coping with everyday life in another country. Most importantly, this journey starts in your head. As soon as you dream about it, you will get off your ass and fill out the application form. The world is big and unfortunately we don't have enough time on earth to see everything, but that shouldn't stop us from trying.

Now for the more serious part of ERASMUS. Let's face it, university life is a range of different experiences - academic work, everyday problems like deciding what to eat for dinner every night, but also parties and having fun. It's very important to know who will help you when you go to a place where you don't know anyone. As humans, we are aware that it happens every day, no matter where we are. Now I'm going to get into the third part of the article, which I'll start with perhaps one of my worst experiences during my exchange, because I had to (involuntarily) visit the police station because my mobile phone was stolen in one of the busiest party streets in the city centre. I got over it pretty quickly, but I'm trying to say that the students from the organisation who were greeting arriving students offered to help me and one of the girls came with me to the police station. It is important to know these people in the exchange city/university.

If you are reading this article, you are most likely a student at Viadrina University in Frankfurt (Oder),Germany. Let me tell you something else, it is great that you have chosen this university, whether you are a regular or an exchange student. Your choice is right, because here you will feel welcome and free. Interstudis takes care of you and supports you in your exchange. Interstudis is a university group of students at Viadrina University. They are part of the international network "Erasmus Student Network" (ESN), an organisation of Erasmus initiatives run by students currently represented in more than 37 countries and 470 higher education institutions. They also build bridges between incoming and regular students by organising German evenings and events. They will help you in the same way I was helped in Rennes if something bad happens (which of course we hope doesn't). You can follow them on Facebook and Instagram so you never miss the opportunity to meet new people, have fun or explore Germany. You can also send them a message if you have any problems while staying at Franky O.

I will end this no longer short burst of inspiration with the motto from the Interstudis: "Students help students".

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