Skip to main content

Janelle Pilgrim

SFU Student Undergraduate
Arts + Social Sciences › French | Arts + Social Sciences › Political Science
Study Abroad › Exchange

Studying abroad was a truly indescribable, fulfilling experience where I have gained knowledge, created memories, and gone through experiences I will remember and cherish for years. I've learned more about the world and about myself.
Experience Details
Introduction + Preparation

To prepare, I first looked at my options for exchange. Since I wanted to improve my French, I wanted to pick a city in France as it is where the language first originated. My second thought was to choose a location that would be budget-friendly and that would be close to Paris because I knew that I would want to visit often so I picked Tours--a small city by the Loire River within a three-hour drive from Paris. I then asked people who had previously gone what their experience was like and it was highly recommended by many people, particularly those with similar interests as me so I decided on Tours as my location. Other preparations included buying items I did not think would be available in France such as certain teas I liked and researching what the city was like and what places I should visit.


Preparation Tips for Future Students

My first tip is to bring more than you think. People usually advise to pack light but I wish I brought certain items I needed with me, especially if they are light and/or hard to find in the chosen study abroad location or just to minimize leaving so many things behind. For example, peanut butter is much more expensive in France so it may be worth buying a small jar and bringing it along. My other tip is to budget more money than you think you will need. Even staying within budget, there are costs people do not often mention.  Additionally, I spent about $230 on the visa processes and then an additional couple hundred euros on insurances and deposits while in France. 

During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

There was a lot to do in the first week and things to buy to be properly settled in and although it was busy, I arrived in France a week before the first week of classes so there was no pressure to do anything quickly. During the end of the first week and during the first few weeks as well, there were numerous opportunities to help the students get used to their new environment and resources that would be available to them, both through the school and through Erasmus events. In this way, settling in did not feel difficult nor was it stressful. 

Day to Day

The day-to-day in France felt much more relaxed than it is here in the Lower Mainland. The French culture is laid-back and people are not in a rush. There are many local markets in numerous parts of the city where fresh produce is sold. Otherwise, grocery stores are usually less than a 10 minutes walk in all major areas of the city. The public transportation was reliable and the tram is often used to get to school.

Learning and Adaptation

The French education system was likely the hardest thing to adapt to. It felt like France was a bit old-fashioned because registering for the classes is done by speaking directly with the professor and asking to be put on the course list and sometimes by a coordinator but it was not possible to do it online yourself. The school has a learning platform similar to Canvas called CELENE but it was not used by all the professors. Additionally, most professors do not structure their course with a PowerPoint and more often than not teach the class by reading from their notes. In the beginning, I felt overwhelmed because of the differences in the structure of the education system and the language but with time it became easier to adapt to the change and the courses were easier to follow. Even though the French professors do not have set offices or office hours, they are kind and are willing to help if you send them an email. The grading system is also different from Canada and the grades are numbers out of 20. Normally, a passing grade is 10/20 but this isn't always the case and if the average is low, the passing grade or "la moyenne" is what determines what a passing grade is. 

Cultural and Environmental Observations

One of the first differences that I noticed was how connected Europe is, in general. It is easy to travel to another country nearby and is not as expensive as it would be to travel from British Columbia to a nearby province. Numerous modes of transport are available in a wide price range and oftentimes, flights are one of the cheapest options--a flight from Paris to Madrid can cost as little as $45. Likewise, public transport is very good even in smaller cities. Having a car, while convenient, is not necessary and many people use public transportation because of how reliable and practical it is, as a result, there were fewer cars on the road compared to Vancouver. The cost of living in France is much cheaper than in Vancouver but some non-necessities I found to be more expensive. Necessities such as rent and food were significantly less expensive in France but non-essential items such as electronics, gifts, and eating out were (on average) more expensive than in Canada. My biggest culture shock would be adapting to France's Sunday. For the French, Sunday is a rest day, meaning businesses are closed. Some grocery stores may be open until noon but often they will also be closed on Sunday.  It is important to plan ahead and not wait until Sunday to go shopping for food.

Social and Extracurricular Activities

I was pleasantly surprised with how many activities were available for the students, especially those specifically for exchange students. The school itself organized a lot of activities almost every week, from Halloween-themed video game nights to plays and concerts for the students and the community to enjoy. The events were posted throughout the university and prices were reduced for students to make the events more accessible. There were other events also hosted by the school but were only for international or exchange students. My favorite activities were the cultural events where the coordinators took us to visit castles. I'd never been to a castle before and the experience was marvelous and mesmerizing! I was surrounded by so much history and culture. I was fascinated to learn about history from specific points in time and saw hundreds of years of history with my own eyes. Outside of the university, there was a program called Erasmus that organized events during the semester which were not only fun but helped foster many meaningful connections between the exchange students.


Reflection & Tips
Most Valuable Aspects of This Experience

The two most valuable aspects of my experience studying abroad are how independent I became and how my horizons and perspectives have broadened. I'd never left my home to live on my own in a completely different country but through Study Abroad, I got a glimpse of what that is like. I quickly had to learn to budget better, manage my time, cook, and study in a place different from where I grew up. That being said, I grew accustomed to cultural changes faster than I thought I would. Soon, I was living independently in a way I had not imagined for myself before I had come. I feel more confident and capable after my experience. Secondly, the world feels so much bigger than it did before I went to France. I have more knowledge of the world and its different parts and understand more about the culture, history, and people of France and even Europe than I ever have in the past. This experience has filled me with curiosity and I enjoyed hearing about the world from the French perspective.

Connection to Academic Studies or Career Goals

I enjoyed my experience and liked living in France and would love to return. This exchange has made me consider going back to pursue a co-op or a work program there. From there, I will decide whether or not I see living in France as an option for my career or future. My main goal during my exchange was to improve my French and I believe I succeeded. After even just 4 months abroad, my fluency in French has improved tremendously and I feel much more competent in the language. Although my program is taught bilingually, I don't often have the opportunity to practice my French orally and this opportunity helped me to improve my conversational French and to be able to communicate my ideas well. I know that in the future, I'd like to be able to use French in some way so having lived in a French-speaking country and improved my French helps me greatly with my future career.

Advice for Future Students

My biggest tip is to put yourself out there and experience all that you can! Studying abroad is a magical experience and you'll enjoy it no matter what. That being said, it is important to make the most of it. Go to events you wouldn't normally go to, talk to other students, try different foods, and enjoy new experiences. This will make your journey all the more memorable and open up your world to encounters you may not have ever considered. Be sure to remember that you are still studying but don't let that hold you back and manage your time and explore your environment. I'd especially recommend traveling to different countries. Flights are inexpensive and you can learn and familiarize yourself with the world around you. Go out of your comfort zone and experience what the world has to offer!


Janelle Pilgrim

SFU Student Undergraduate
Arts + Social Sciences › French | Arts + Social Sciences › Political Science
Study Abroad › Exchange
visibility  237
Dec 28, 2023