Thanks to a program called ‘off-campus’ at CBNU, I was able to have the chance to study in France as well as do an internship in the business department at the Hotel Kenzi Group, meanwhile studying at HEEC in Morocco. While I was in either of these countries, the most important thing I did was to make friends with local other international people.
Paris, the capital of France is where everyone wants to go on their exchange year, but there are many other smaller cities all over France where we can have just as much fun, if not more. At first, I went to Belfort, a city in northeastern France. I found many advantages about living in a small city. First of all, in terms of budget, the rent was much cheaper. My rent was €190 per month with CAF, which is housing assistance. The city is small enough on its own, that I could go around the city on foot saving a little money on public transport.
Secondly, it is easier to progress in the language while practicing French with local people. Since it is a small city, there are not that many people, who speak English fluently. I had to face to speak only in French to get a baguette at Boulangerie and to solve the administration problems, which was really helpful to progress my French in the end. Speaking of being fluent at French, integrating with local people is one of the best ways of improving your French. Learning French language is way easier with French friends, who can correct you if you say something terribly wrong.
From another aspect, it was easier to get along with multinational friends in the beginning as an exchange student. Yet, it wasn’t that easy to make friends with French students, as they have already established their groups of friends. I found there was a kind of division between international students and French students. So, I made a big effort to interact with locals by joining associations and buddy programs since then I‘ve gotten to know several French students. Here is my tip. I learned French slang words that French youth actually use now. I have used slangs when I spoke with them so that I could be more familiar with them. And it worked well to have more French friends.
The Life in France as a Student
Despite the stress of study, deadlines and exams, the French pace of life soothes my stress. So, after a hectic day spent in the library it was nice to have a drink at a local bar, or a picnic in the park. Normally, Thursday night is the day reserved for student parties, basically we had nights out with mates to have a beer at bars or at some friends’ places. Moreover, in Korea we often eat out with buddies in the street since we can find various affordable food menu outside. In contrast, in France we rarely eat out in restaurants in comparison to Korea but we prepare ourselves to eat. Diverse fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and cheese are very affordable prices at the markets compared to Korea. So, I’ve enjoyed going grocery shopping and cooking so I shared my dishes with my neighbors in accommodation. Every dinner was like a party in the shared kitchen. But there was one thing that I didn’t enjoy. I was required to be patient all the time with the administration and their bureaucracy. Dealing with things like student housing, OFII (French Office of Immigration and Integration). Within the three months following arrival in France, I had to accomplish a certain number of formalities with the OFII. I had to send by post, to the closest OFII office, CAF (it provides us some financial aid to pay our rent). It can be a very long and draining process. In addition, I had to get a “Rendez-vous” in advance, which means appointment, in order to deal with the office employees concerning administrative issues. I also had to deal with banking issues which also took a long time.
Coming back from France, one semester later, I received a great opportunity for an internship at the Hotel Kenzi Group, in Marrakesh, Morocco. So now I would like to share with you about my experiences in Marrakesh. I’ve got close Moroccan friends when I was in France, I had been already fascinated about culture, especially the food, Moroccan mint tea and their music and dance. So, I was overwhelmed with joy to be surrounded by the cultures in front of my face. Marrakesh is the second largest city in Morocco. It is known as the Red City. It has about 800,000 inhabitants and most of the houses are colored red. Marrakesh Medina is truly a colorful city that gives pleasure to your eyes and it’s regarded as one of the pearls of Morocco. This city is the major economic center and hosts several upcoming industries and markets. It lies at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, a very beautiful location. Like many north African cities, it is mainly divided to Medina, which is the old fortified city and a modern city nearby called Gueliz. The city has a wonder climate with shimmering white, snowy winters and warm, humid summers. The warmth and the sociability of the inhabitants is a world-renowned feature of this city. I was an intern at the hotel where the international services and systems are well established. Before I went out to Jemaa el-Fnaa, it was not enough to see the authentic beauty of the city. Jemaa el-Fnaa is a square and marketplace in the medina (old quarter of the city) of Marrakesh. I was invited for dinner at Moroccan home. And I‘ve been served with the dishes called ‘couscous’, a Moroccan dessert, and my favorite ‘Atay,’ Moroccan mint tea. My hosts informed me that every Friday is the day when they have couscous; that day was Friday. Men traditionally head to the hannam (sauna) in advance of Friday’s midday prayers, while women stay at home preparing couscous. After all, preparing couscous in true Moroccan style takes many hours. It’s a day when families gather, children have the afternoon off school and businesses may not open until late afternoon.
Overall, I had an amazing time on my exchange program to France and internship in Marrakesh, Morocco. I met lifelong friends from all around the world and I am very lucky to have had such a heartwarming experience as there were so many people and services set up to help me. If you are considering taking the leap to study in a foreign country, I cannot help but encourage you more. It is an amazing opportunity.