Accommodation in Toulouse
I was lucky enough to get a room in halls here which has its good and bad points.
Good Points: I wasn’t on my own for long. I met some lovely people (mainly Brits) very quickly although the French students proved to be a bit more reserved in coming forward with anything more than a “Bonjour”. Halls for me means I don’t have to worry about bills as it’s all included in the price, however, I must point out how lucky I was to get halls in the first place, let alone get a refurbished room with its own en-suite as I will explain in Bad Points:
Bad Points: As decent halls aren’t in huge supply here, you have virtually no choice as to what you get or where you get it. My accommodation is a bus and metro ride away from the university which can take up to 45 minutes on a busy morning.
I took French as a Foreign Language (FLE) classes (as well as German) for which I was placed in a higher level group, however these advanced classes aim to perfect your French rather than teach you grammar and new vocabulary so I don’t really feel my language has benefitted as much as it could have done.
Good points: There is a lot of choice for courses with lots of sports on offer too.
Bad points: Mirail is a terribly organised university and you’ll be lucky to find a friendly face there. Having been told I could come to start proceedings in early September, I was shocked at how unprepared they were for new arrivals. I therefore had no internet access in halls for weeks. When I arrived, half of the FLE staff were still on holiday and few members of administrative staff were of any help. Bureaucracy in France can push the most patient of saints to their limits! The other Erasmus students and I found the whole registration process highly frustrating and stressful. It should also be noted that the university is in a rough area and should be avoided at night.
My tips (and the majority of these don’t apply solely to Toulouse!)
Toulouse is close to so many places of interest you’ll be lost for choice for where to visit. Carcassonne, Lourdes and Bordeaux are personal recommendations from experience. Keep in mind that the Spanish border isn’t far away (does a day trip to Barcelona sound tempting?) nor is Montpellier, Andorra and the Pyrenees mountains!
2. Invest in a carte pastel.
It cost me €6 for the card and then €10 for every month I wished to travel UNLIMITED on the bus and metro!
3. Immerse yourself in the culture!
Don’t come to France to eat burger and chips. Find out what the local delicacies are and try them out! Get lost in the city (obviously taking cautions not to wander into rough areas alone, especially at night) and you’ll find all manners of things. Investing in a good guide book and doing your research on the local area will also come in handy in those first few days. Museums are usually free to students and all museums are free throughout France on the first Sunday of every month. The cinema is very cheap for students, which is great on Sundays when all the shops are shut. The view from Galleries Lafayette is a personal favourite and a stroll through the Japanese garden at Compans-Caffarelli on a sunny day shouldn’t be missed.
4. Pick up the free papers.
Reading the local rag on the metro in the mornings has kept me informed with what’s happening around the city. This is good practise for your French reading but also means you find out about some great things to do. For example, I read about an artisan chocolate market on the way to a meeting and within hours I was sampling some of the Midi-Pyrénées finest handmade produce for free!
5. Do not believe everything you see on Facebook!
It might seem like everyone is having a much better time than you but the likelihood is that they still miss their family, friends and general home comforts just as much as you do!
6. Say “Bonjour” and throw in a friendly smile.
You never know, initiating a bit of conversation in the kitchen might just be what is needed to kick start a beautiful friendship and get you practising your language!
7. Count your pennies.
e.g. A bag for life from a supermarket makes a great makeshift laundry basket.
8. Relax and enjoy.
Yes, you want it to be perfect but you only live once and fretting over the little things won’t get you anywhere fast. Have patience and eventually, everything will all fall into place.