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Brennan Strandberg-Salmon

he/him
SFU Alumni
2023
Environment › Resource and Environmental Management

Program:
Location:
Time goes by so quickly while you’re on exchange – seize the moment to step outside your comfort zone at every turn because you will always grow from those experiences. Approach your exchange term with an open mind and you will not regret it!
Experience Details
Semester
Fall
Year
2022
Introduction + Preparation

Sciences Po sent me an email a few months prior to exchange with an enrolment time. It was a one-hour timeslot in CET time (so it was very early in the morning) that everyone was given to enrol in courses. I prepared a course schedule in advance but wasn’t able to enrol in one class I wanted because the workshops fill up very quickly. I also wasn’t able to enrol in a French Language course because I was never sent the evaluation test, so be sure to follow-up if you don’t receive an email about the test about a month prior to enrolment.

Financial Preparation

Most places in France will take credit cards, but I used both cash and my Canadian visa card for my first few weeks in France while I waited for my French bank account to be activated. I took out cash a few times from my Canadian bank but it costed 4 dollars each time.

Packing

For my 4-month exchange I packed one carry-on suitcase and one large backpack. Most people brought more than this (at least 2 suitcases), but it was enough for me. I brought a range of clothes for different weather types, from summer to winter, including a winter coat. I also brought some cash in euros. A few things I bought in France instead: pillows, blankets and bedsheets, an extra towel, and an extra pair of shoes. On my return trip I had to bring back another bag to fit things I bought in France – mostly gifts for family and friends.

Travel and Transportation

I was able to get a return trip flight for under 1000 CAD. The flight there had 2 stops, in Calgary and Frankfurt. In terms of ground transportation, I bought a train ticket from Paris to Reims in advance, which is supposed to be cheaper. You can also buy a bus ticket which is a lot cheaper (as low as 5 euro instead of about 30 for the train) but it was nice to experience the train and it drops you off at a more central location in Reims than the bus does.

During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

I arrived in Reims on the very first day of orientation week. Ideally I would have arrived a few days before to settle in, but I had a complicated situation with my passport renewal so I couldn’t book an earlier flight. I also couldn’t check-in to my accommodation until 5pm that day, so I had to lug around my suitcase, but I ended up storing it with the school’s librarian.

Orientation week consisted of a series of workshops and lectures organized by the university to familiarize exchange students with the campus, the city, its history, and the academic methods used at Sciences Po. There was also “integration week” organized by the main student association at Sciences Po, which costed 50 euros and consisted of social events and activities over the course of Orientation week. I participated in as many events as I could, although unfortunately each event had to be signed up for separately via Instagram so I often missed them or they sold out before I could get a ticket. The first week was where I met most of my friends that I stuck with throughout the rest of the exchange term.

Accommodation and Living

The cost of living is cheaper than Vancouver. A few months prior to my exchange I secured housing via a platform called LivinFrance, which is a good platform for students because they are accessible and they act as a guarantor for you. I found an apartment on that platform for 410 euros per month including utilities. The apartment had four other roommates, which I was happy about because I wanted to get to know other students. The platform allowed me to see their age, nationality, and gender, so I could find French-speaking roommates which was my goal.

Day to Day

As mentioned before, I secured housing via a platform called LivinFrance and I had four roommates. Most of my other friends lived in student residences but I was happy with my choice. My accommodation was 410 euros a month and I lived in an apartment 2 blocks from campus and 2 blocks away from a grocery store. My landlord was an organization called “Colocatere” and they were generally friendly and easy to reach. I loved how easily accessible most services were – I either walked everywhere or took a bike via the Zebullo

Learning and Adaptation

I took 3 seminar courses and 1 French language course, which was very manageable even with my extensive travelling. All the seminar courses were 2 hours of lecture per week, and the French course was a total of 4 hours per week, mostly workshop-style classes.

Accomplishments and Challenges

Sciences Po is very strict with attendance – if you miss more than two classes (unexcused absence) you fail the class automatically. In terms of assignments and projects, most classes seemed very presentation-heavy. Grading is always on a 20-point scale.

It's also possible to enrol in Sports courses, which don’t count towards your grades. I enrolled in a bouldering course one day per week which was a great way to get exercise, have fun and meet new people.

Cultural and Environmental Observations

The champagne region of France has weather similar to Vancouver, with mild temperatures in the summer and winter. Of course, the south of France is warmer by the Mediterranean and the north is colder. French culture is most commonly associated with Paris, which is center of fashion, cuisine, art and architecture, however, the rest of France is very different, including Reims. Reims is somewhat of a university town, with lots of young people and a mostly friendly and lively atmosphere.

Social and Extracurricular Activities

There are plenty of social activities and events organized throughout the year by different student associations at Sciences Po Reims. I participated in dinners, club nights, picnics, and other socials organized by these associations. Reims Campus also organized plenty of events during my semester that included students from other universities as well. As mentioned above, I joined a sports class once a week and I also joined the environmental association to meet new students, practice my French, and learn a bit about how French students approach environmental challenges and initiatives.

Wrap Up

France is a large country with many places to visit. During my time there, I mostly explored Paris, but I also travelled to the north of France and the south, as well as within the champagne region where Reims is situated. Highlights include a trip to Marseille where we boated and swam in the Mediterranean, a trip to Mont Saint-Michel to see the castle on the island, and taking a train to Epernay, a town in the heart of the champagne region. I would also highly recommend biking through all the vineyards and French communes in the summertime.

Reflection & Tips
Reflection

My decision to study in France has been the best choice I've made during my degree. My first week in Reims was a big shock for me because I have never lived anywhere else except with my parents in Burnaby, so it took some time to get adjusted. I didn't know a single person in Reims and I was terrified I’d be lonely the whole time. These things seemed like big obstacles at the time, but turned out to be what I needed to really step outside my comfort zone and enjoy France to its fullest. Since then, my exchange term turned into a life-changing and truly worthwhile experience.

Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience

I met countless amazing people from all over the world, I travelled to places I never expected to see, I improved my language skills, and I experienced new tastes, smells, sights and sounds everywhere I went. There were ups and downs of course, but overall I am so grateful to have had this opportunity.

Advice for Future Students

My advice to other students is to spend your first few weeks really exploring your own city and meeting other people. Attend all the socials you can, and organize your own activities and meals with other students you meet. Most of the friend groups form because someone starts a plan and invites others, so you can be that person. At the same time, take time for yourself to adjust to your new surroundings, and stay in touch with people back home. In addition to students, make an effort to meet some locals, and try to seek out roommates who are from your host country as well. After a few weeks of getting settled in your own city, feel free to explore other regions and countries nearby with those you’ve met or by yourself if you prefer solo travelling.

Author

Brennan Strandberg-Salmon

he/him
SFU Alumni
2023
Environment › Resource and Environmental Management

Brennan Strandberg-Salmon (he/him) is a researcher, project manager, and volunteer coordinator with a passion for youth-led climate justice advocacy and climate policy. Brennan is a recent graduate of the Bachelor of Environment program at Simon Fraser University, majoring in Resource and Environmental Management with a Minor in Dialogue and certificate in Corporate Social and Environmental Sustainability. He works as a Policy Analyst for Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Policy Priorities team and Integrated Climate Lens (ICL) Centre of Expertise. He also chairs BC Nature’s Climate Change Committee and leads the youth Climate Change Branch of the BC Council for International Cooperation, which empowers young people to build skills for climate careers and advocate for equitable climate action through hands-on research, communications, and delegations to international climate change conferences. Brennan thrives in outdoor environments and enjoys hiking, dragon boating, water skiing, and exploring nature locally and during travels abroad.

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Jul 6, 2023

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