The first few days are always a rollercoaster of emotions. Extreme excitement to be back in the country you absolutely love mixed with intense fatigue after not sleeping on the 3 flights and 30 hours of travel to cross the globe. To add to the exhaustion, I had my Mum’s very long birthday lunch the day before my departure.
Sydney to Abu Dhabi is 14 hours. Arriving in the middle of the night, the wave of heat hits you as you exit the plane. This was my lowest point. I then boarded my next flight to Paris and was sat next to a smiley, young guy from Melbourne who was on his way to Nantes for his French Father’s wedding. Jesse was my saviour. I am so grateful for his positive energy that got me through the next 8 hours to Paris. We both had to continue to the domestic terminal so the gentleman that he is, helped with my luggage.
(I was travelling with a huge board bag – surfboard, snowboard, wetsuits, snow gear, helmet etc – not much room for clothing!) Travelling can be lonesome so it was nice to chat with someone who was also excited to be in France and be reunited with friends and family.
I arrived in Bordeaux and the one person I know, Niko, picked me up and since I hadn’t been successful in finding somewhere to live I spent my first month at his apartment. I imagine it is much the same in other cities of France that have multiple universities where it is an absolute ‘shit fight’ to find somewhere to live.
There seems to be more students than affordable places to live but that shouldn’t deter anyone, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
I started my search for an apartment long before I had even received my acceptance letter from Bordeaux INP. A friend of mine from Réunion Island completed her studies in Bordeaux some years ago and advised me to start looking ASAP. I signed up for all the flatmate finder websites – Appartager, La Carte des Colocs, Locoservice and the multiple groups on Facebook. I found it super difficult to lock something in as I didn’t feel comfortable sending money online as a deposit to my potential roommate or land lord and as an exchange student I was only looking for somewhere to live for 5 months (most people wanted someone who could commit to staying for at least 10). I also came across quite a few options that were too good to be true and of course, they were.
Unfortunately, there are a multitude of scammers trying to take advantage of the young and naïve students simply looking for a home. So, I let go of my incessant need to being super organised and said to myself that I would work it out once I get there.
Of course, all my ‘calmly looking for somewhere to live’ stars aligned one day when I caught up with my old roommate from Capbreton (small town on the surf coast – 2 hours south of Bordeaux). He was visiting friends in town and invited me along. One of his girlfriends had just found a brand spanking new, 2-bedroom apartment and thanks to his recommendation I moved in the next week.
I loved my first month at Niko’s place with his 2 spoilt felines, Xu and Yumi. Even though it was more than an hour commute (bus and then tram) each way to school, it was the perfect time of year to cycle, riding past the vineyards and actually doing some exercise. I was clocking 50kms some weeks when I wasn’t lazy. Since then, winter is on the horizon and arriving at school not long after the sun has risen makes the 15 min tram ride the more feasible (warmer) option. My poor bike that once was zipping through the streets is depressingly chained up till a warmer day.
In comparison, Bordeaux’s transport system ‘shits all over’ Sydney’s. I guess it helps that Bordeaux is flat whereas Sydney’s topography is a civil engineer’s nightmare (or dream problem to solve?). In Sydney, I live by the beach in the most northern suburb and it is known to be the most difficult place to travel into the city from. So, going from a 2-hour commute to uni to a 1 hour commute seemed doable but my teachers strongly advised me to move closer as most French students live a maximum of 30mins from their school.
Now that I feel my life is successfully set up in Bordeaux I am keen to sink my teeth into my Environmental Engineering studies, improve my French in any and every way possible and visit my old stomping ground – Hossegor, Europe’s capital of surfing. I will be needing a thicker wetsuit to get me through the colder months but also incredibly excited to snowboard in the Pyrenees (only 3 hours away by car).
Here is a handy check list of what to set up in your first week (month) of living in France:
- Somewhere to live (if you haven’t done so before you arrive). Student housing through CROUS or a private rental agreement – flat share or studio. Make sure you find something that you can happily call home.
- Mobile sim card – Sosh.fr have the cheapest deals with no lock in contracts
- Bank account – if your home country doesn’t use Euros (get a local bank account, that way you can transfer lump sums and only get stung with one transfer fee rather than multiple. I have been using Transferwise – seems to the best currency conversion rate)
- Public transport card – TBM in Bordeaux, agencies are super busy at the beginning of semester so set your alarm and get there at 7am to be first in line. €20/month unlimited travel for students 27 & under (I turned 28 one month before I arrived in France! So €40/month for adults)
- Bike & lock – search on leboncoin.fr, Facebook Marketplace, etc. Having wheels makes settling in so much easier, you can get your bearings, explore in your free time and work out where the best supermarkets are. (Gotta eat!)