Moving away from home is never easy. The anticipation of adjusting to a new city, new people and a new culture is high and the transition is always scary. Usually, in the beginning, you find yourself alone and in a confused headspace, where you miss your family and the comfort back home but are definitely excited to explore new situations and face new challenges. I come from India, more specifically a city down south called Bangalore. I am a student of law and I am pursuing my education at O.P Jindal Global University in Sonepat (a town close to the capital New Delhi). I consider myself lucky to have this opportunity of a semester exchange programme presented to me by my institution.
Amongst the plethora of options present before me of various reputed and eminent institutions across the globe, my eyes were fixated on one particular University. I had not heard of this University before, but something about it piqued my interest enough to choose it for my programme. I was happy with my decision to commit to my semester exchange programme at the Universite Catholic de Lille situated in the humble city of Lille, France. I was elated to know that I would be spending four months in a city in France and was excited to learn about French culture, the French language and more importantly, the most well-acclaimed foods of France.
A major portion of my preparation for the semester exchange was deriving my visa from the authorities for my four-month stay in Lille. I used the Livinfrance website to understand how the visa process works and when and how I should apply. The website was also crystal clear about the documents I would need for the purposes of my visa application and even gave me a timeline of the visa process which was very helpful. Using the information from the website, I was able to collect all my required documents and apply for the visa without delays and errors.
My semester exchange programme for the Fall Semester of 2022 was confirmed to me well in advance, earlier in March 2022. Therefore, I had sufficient time to research Lille and France and more importantly, look for my accommodation and reserve my air tickets for the travel from Bangalore to Charles De Gaulle Airport, Paris. For my flight, as I booked very early in the year, I was able to get a great deal with the Gulf Airlines company and I was able to book my tickets for a reasonable price. The flight was comfortable and the service onboard the aircraft was very well done.
For my accommodation, I began looking at different places and types of accommodations in Lille very early in March 2022. I had a limited budget for the accommodation and I was looking at properties that were safe and placed in lively locations as well. Once again, through the Livinfrance website, I was able to narrow down my selections to a few properties very close to the Grand Place of Lille and the Lille Flandres (Lille Train Station). The website gave me many options for both individual and shared accommodations where all the taxes and extra service costs were included. This made it easier for me to understand the total cost of my stay in Lille. I was able to find and book a shared accommodation near the University near the Rue Solferino. The website also had some pictures with which I could understand how the shared accommodation (colocation) looked and it also had an inventory of all the amenities the apartment had which was definitively a great help.
Packing my luggage for these four months was a big task. I had so many things that I wanted to bring to Lille but so little luggage space and had to make some tough decisions to include some but remove some of my things. However, as a true Indian, I couldn’t forget my box of spices behind as I knew I would definitely need it here.
After an 11-hour journey, I finally landed in Paris at the Charles de Gaulle Airport. I took the SNCF train from the airport to Lille (which arrived at the Lille Flandres station) and was surprised to find how short the journey was on the train, only about 45 minutes. The train station called the Lille Gare was magnificent and the architecture was stunning. A few weeks before my arrival in France, I had found out who my flatmates at the colocation were and had gotten in touch with them. There were three of them and they had already arrived at the apartment before me. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they too were students studying in Lille and were around the same age as me. They were very nice in our first interaction and one of them even offered to pick me up from the Lille Gare as I had my heavy luggage with me. I arrived at the colocation and got settled in my room. It was a very pretty room with a beautiful view of the road, which I would be missing very much once I leave here.
I dropped my luggage and headed straight to the University as I had a meeting with my faculty administrator. The Universite Catholic de Lille had a beautiful campus spread across multiple buildings. I particularly liked the Bibliotheque (the library) due to its unique design and structure.
The campus was also very green and had multiple green patches of trees all around the buildings. After my meeting with the administrator, I had planned to meet one of my flatmates to go shopping for groceries as I needed to buy all my essentials for my stay in Lille. While walking from the Universite Catholic de Lille to the SuperMatch (the supermarket) I stumbled upon a beautiful gothic-style church called the Eglise Catholique du Sacre-Coeur. Unfortunately, it was closed for the day, however, I was determined to come back and visit the church as it was so close to my colocation. I also saw several pubs and bars and other small eateries along my way to the supermarket. I was more than excited to come back and try these places as well.
The very next day, I wanted to explore the city, before my classes began and the hectic schedules started. Lille’s architecture is very unique. The city has the reminiscence of old Parisian architecture but also retains a modern approach to the buildings. This makes them unique, something that I have not seen before. I found myself at the Grand Place very early in the morning. The square was bustling with activity and there were several people already on the street, going about their everyday business. I saw the Opera de Lille building, which was very colourful and ornamental. I vowed to come back here and watch an opera concert, to experience the French opera. I saw the Belfry and was even allowed to climb all the way to the top. The top of the Belfry gave me the most beautiful view of the city of Lille. In the Grand Place, I also saw the Vieille Bourse (the Commerce building) which is a product of pristine French architecture.
I was determined to also make full use of my day of sightseeing and see other interesting parts of the city. On the map I had, I was recommended to go to this unique street in Lille, called the Passage des Trois Anguilles, which is the narrowest path in Lille. It was a little far from the Grand Place but was definitely worth a visit. The pathway was so narrow and there was some artwork on the walls which was definitely beautiful.
After, this I made my way to the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille which is the palatial complex that houses the modern art museum of Lille. I was very impressed by the artwork hosted by the museum. As I was a student and had my student card, I was able to get a student ticket at a discounted price at the museum. The museum also had a temporary show when I visited which was very enlightening as well. While the museum showcased a wonderful series of art, my favourite was the sculpted marble statue. This was magnificent and I stood before the art for more than a couple of minutes admiring it.
The semester exchange/ Erasmus culture at the Catholic University is very well planned and maintained. There are various clubs and societies that welcome us and plan events for students as well. After visiting the museum, I attended an ‘After works Event’ hosted by one of the societies at the University. The aim of the event was to introduce the society and its ambitions to the semester-exchange/Erasmus students and to have an informal event to try out the culture and gastronomy of Lille. We were invited to the restaurant Flams in Lille for this event, where I met members of the society as well as other semester exchange and Erasmus students. This was a well-organized meet and greet as it helped me connect and make some friends within my first few days in Lille. The restaurant Flams is very well known for its special dish which is the “Flammekueche” which resembles a flat pizza with some toppings of your choice such as ham and vegetables. It was a new experience and the Flammekueche was definitely tasty.
On my way back from the event, I once again happened to cross the Grand Place in the night while I was walking back to my colocation. The Grand Place is definitely a must-see at night time as all the buildings in the rectangular area of the Place are lit up with beautiful soft yellow and blue lights. It is a feast for the eyes as this was a new view for me to see buildings have lights on them in the dark. As I walked past the Grand Place and through Place Rihour, I witnessed several restaurants and bars open and completely occupied and lively. It was amazing to see that Lille has a bustling nightlife, one that is active throughout the night.
Before I forget to mention it, one of the first things I did, as I landed in Lille, was to find a good pastry shop to buy some croissants and some pain au chocolat. I went to a nearby pastry shop called Boulangerie Papillon that baked fresh croissants and other bread and pastries. I bought so many different varieties of pastries as well, as I wanted to try all of them within my first few days in Lille. In India, we learn a lot about the beautiful French bakeries and the pastries and truly, I was not at all disappointed when I tried them here. The croissant in particular was soft and warm and melted in my mouth.
It did take me a couple of days to settle down and ease into this new city, but the city of Lille, and its people, made it so easy and comfortable for me to start my few months of life here. This was a small glimpse of my first few days in Lille as a Semester Exchange student and I definitely encourage everyone who has similar opportunities to come to Lille and experience this city as intimately as I was able to. I do hope to keep sharing my experiences and my thoughts on this city, and what it has taught me. I have learnt to be much more independent, and confident, speak a little French and be a true Lillois. Thank you very much for joining me on this short insight into my life in Lille. I hope this helped you and, in the future, would incentivize you to make your plans of staying here. Please feel free to like and share my article if you liked it and resonated with it!
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