Ömer Saygılı
Oct 25, 2022

Being an Erasmus student in Marseille

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6 min read

Becoming an Erasmus student

I am Ömer, pronounced as “eux+mère”, from Turkey but sometimes my name can be understood as Hubert in France. Feel free to pronounce it as you wish, you might find a new variation. I have had the chance to study my second year of Pharmacy education in Marseille as an Erasmus student. Therefore, my original university is located in Istanbul and is very creatively named Istanbul University.

I have always been fascinated by how calming and lyrical French resonates. Thus, I could have listened to it for hours without even understanding a word. After a while, I wanted to understand what these mysterious words would mean and how they were used by great authors and poets like Proust, Baudelaire, Balzac, Apollinaire, etc. Hence, I dedicated my gap year to learning French by entering a French-Turkish University in Istanbul. I was pretty sure that this elegant and charming language would offer new opportunities. As a result, I was indeed right.

Marseille was the only option that my university offered me in France. I was quite delighted to spend my whole year in France. Therefore, I wasn’t even bothered about which city it was. People would be speaking French, I would be eating magnificent French pastries and foods, and discovering the most iconic places in Europe. I was already satisfied with the idea. Moreover, I was interested in the courses that Aix-Marseille Université would offer me. They do not offer only pharmaceutical courses but ones that develop digital skills. I was fascinated by the idea behind it. They were not only aiming to train plain pharmacists but people who developed themselves in different fields. So, Marseille was my only option.

A different Mediterranean

I have heard many things about Marseille both from French people and foreigners. Yet, I always wanted to evaluate with my own eyes rather than relying on people. So, I took the plane from Istanbul and arrived in Marseille after midday. It was a small airport located on the outskirts of the city centre. Immediately, I recognized the rugged hills, the greyish green of the plants and the olive and pine trees. I was in the Mediterranean.

On the other hand, it was not even close to what I know as the Mediterranean. People were as diverse as plants. Even if most of the people spoke French, everyone had a distinct accent behind their French which they brought with them from their hometown. Each had their own story to tell in this pot of the Mediterranean. It was like everyone’s stop during a journey. Each brought something from their hometown, and some brought themselves. They started living, working and enjoying themselves here. Thus, created one of the most divergent and colourful city in the Mediterranean.

First steps in Marseille

I passed the passport control and headed to the bus. An Algerian man came closer to me to say welcome to Marseille. He told his trip to Istanbul and how much he loved it in only a few seconds. The bus driver had an Indian origin. The man in front of me came from Africa, speaking a language that I have never heard before. In addition to that, the men behind me were from Morocco speaking a certain dialect of Arabic. It was like the whole world came here to live together. Every street you pass, every corner you turn; you hear a different accent, a different language. I was fascinated by this diversity. People were as diverse as words in a dictionary.

marseille france harbor

When I first arrived at the Saint-Charles Station from the airport, I did not know where to go. I was an alien among aliens. I walked through the trains and passed people with luggage in different shades of different colours. I found a door which had an exit sign on it, then I headed in that direction. It was like a portal that opens into another world. I was amazed by what I saw. A vast plain, some people are leaning on the railings, and some trying to find their destination. Behind these, there were Marseille’s hilly terrain and guardian of the city which is located on the highest peak. I was appalled by its majesty. From that day, whenever I see the Notre Dame de la Garde I stop and spent some time just looking at it. It surrounds the city with its splendour.

Some language problems

Nothing has affected my experience in Marseille more than the diversity of people. I thought that we were going to speak the language that I have learned at the university. Yet, I was wrong. Spoken French was way different from the language that I have practised. The familiar expression, the speed of the language, the contractions… I was overwhelmed by the things that I didn’t know and couldn’t feel confident to speak for at least one month. Even basic conversations would seem like a speech given in front of thousands.

Normally, when someone learns a language the most common problem would be speaking. Thus, we have a saying in Turkish which translates as “I understand, but I cannot speak.”. The odd thing is that my problem was directly the opposite. I knew how to construct sentences and could ask questions. The problem is that I wouldn’t understand the answers. It could be given in familiar expression or mostly too fast and with an accent. Speaking of accents, one thing I noticed when I arrived in Marseille was that the Marseillaise had a distinct accent. They do not use nasal sounds often and it reminds more of a southern language rather than a Parisian accent. Moreover, they also have special expressions which are mostly familial and inappropriate to use here : )

Being more than a tourist

I found an interesting way to get in touch with local people and dive into the diversity of them. The local markets of Marseille are one of the best ways to discover both the city and its people. One day, I was trying to reach the Vieux Port, where the heart of the city beats. While I was walking on the narrow pavements, and looking always upward to see the buildings and their remarkable shutters, I heard some indistinguishable voices. As I got closer, the sound became clearer and I realised that it was the calls of the sellers. The interesting thing is that “Allez, madame, allez” is the exact translation of the words that are used in Turkish local markets. They might look small but don’t let them deceive you because they are labyrinths where you can profit most of your needs. If you are looking for old books or antiques you can visit the "bouquinistes" who come together once a week. You can get classics of literature or beautiful paintings for the price of a few croissants.

If you have travelled a lot to the local places or you think it is too hot, Marseille can offer you some exciting museum exhibitions. MUCEM proposes you the most Mediterranean experience in a glamorous and enormous building. You can travel in the ancient Mediterranean cities and a few steps later you can compare how they look today. If you get into another door, you might see what Mediterranean people eat and what is a Mediterranean diet. Furthermore, you can go to Ancient Egypt just by going upstairs. You can discover how the hieroglyphs were deciphered or observe sculptures of pharaohs. Just across the street, you can find a more narrow-scoped yet thrilling exhibition. You can see one of the most beautiful paintings of Marseille and the Provence made by Ponchin. Speaking of paintings, Musee des Beaux-Arts can offer you impressive paintings and sculptures from different eras. As I said before, Marseille is so diverse that it can offer anything to everyone.

Housing and the lectures

Finding accommodation in Marseille can be hard as in most European cities, especially if you are a student. One of the first solutions that I found was to search for collocations. Websites like Livinfrance help lots of students to find their new homes. Luckily, I got the chance to stay in a residence of Crous. Hence, I got rid of a big problem. I have my shower and toilette in my room. What would I want more. Also, it is only five minutes from the campus.

When I attended my first classes, I was relieved. Most of the professors would speak slowly. Thus, it was easier for me to understand them compared to spoken French in the streets. Yet, the professors were diverse too. To understand some of them, I had to pay my whole attention to them yet it was not enough. Nevertheless, I get used to it each day. I try to express myself, ask questions and listen to lots of things in French.

Thank you so much for reading and I hope you liked it. I would be glad if you could leave a like and your opinions on Marseille. Please share the link with friends that you would want to visit Marseille.

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