I wasn't sure what to expect. I’m not sure I even knew how I truly felt. It’s not as if I wasn’t curious about what living in another country would be like, yet the feeling of excitement that I was supposedly meant to feel was missing. I felt as if I were blindfolded, throwing myself into the unknown. What seemed to keep me going was the fact that I’d be gaining new experiences and perhaps acquiring skills for life. I don’t think I really ever expected the day to come, where I would eventually leave home for France. It had always been something that was far off into the distance, something that I could not yet grasp nor see, therefore when the day came, it felt oddly surreal. My name is Nawal Simpson and I am in my third year of university. I study Linguistics, French and Spanish at the University of Sheffield, located in the North of England. My hometown is located in South Wales, therefore being far from home isn’t something new. I studied at Rennes 2 university. It has a lively campus with lots to offer. After watching countless videos on Youtube about the city of Rennes, I felt a sense of comfort from it. The university has some decent language options to choose from and I was interested in picking up Japanese, which is available to take at the Centre de langues. The year abroad is a mandatory part of our degree and since I study French, France seemed like the best option as it is close to the UK.
My body seemed to be on autopilot for most of the journey, simply carrying me from one point to the next. My thoughts? They were hardly present. I was only thinking of the next immediate step, which was probably why I seemed calm. I pushed through despite the mishaps during the journey; the delayed Eurostar, the missed train connection at Paris, the dreadfully long waits, the heavy luggage that I struggled to carry up and down the never-ending torturously
long staircases and the tunnels at the Paris metro station. I pushed through it all, knowing that there would be an end, even if that 'end’ seemed unreachable during those moments. The fact that I wasn’t alone greatly helped, and many kind people offered to help my friends and I with our luggage, which we were truly grateful for. We still look back and wonder how we survived such a chaotic journey, filled with panic and fatigue.
Tip: If you have a long journey, try and pack lightly if you can as this will make the process so much easier. In my case I had two suitcases and two backpacks so it was very tiring. You should also plan your route well and leave enough time between train journeys in case of delays.
Exiting the station at Rennes honestly felt like being released from a nightmare. We were welcomed by a cool gust of wind and clear skies. It was the start of something new, yet at that moment it did not feel real. Rennes, the city that I had been researching beforehand, was right in front of me. We had a good selection of cities to choose from, however what drew me to Rennes was the fact that it was the most familiar. Back in college, a group of students from a college in Rennes visited us in Wales, and that contributed to one of the reasons why I chose the city, aside from the architecture, and the general local feel of the place. The half-timbered framed houses also contributed to my decision, as they looked simply fantastic. Its close proximity to Paris was another bonus.
The first few days blurred into a flurry of fresh faces and countless introductions which filled us with hope for our university experience, despite the slight tediousness of it all. We quickly made friends with some of the other English speakers that we had met, as expected. As we had just moved, we needed to grab some essentials, and Ikea called out to us from afar. It was our first time using public transport and surprisingly, with the help of google maps and the momentary confidence to ask people for directions, we arrived in no time. The Ikea at Rennes was just like any other. It brought me solace as it was a familiar setting. Once my friends and I had stocked up, we visited the local Carrefour as we were in desperate need of real food. Despite how close the supermarket was, we soon realised that it was not as affordable as we nervously watched the price increase on the machine. We decided that we needed to find other alternatives if we didn’t want to go broke. I decided that Carrefour would only be for emergencies and later found that I enjoyed visiting Super U, a large supermarket that was much nicer to my wallet. It was only a 15 to 20 minute bus ride away and shopping there soon became a highlight of my week.
My friends and I opted to stay at the CROUS accommodation as it was affordable. It was not too bad, the rooms were a decent size and had plenty of storage, which almost encouraged us to fill it with more items. There was a decent sized fridge and I happened to also have a freezer, which I later discovered was not the case for everyone sadly. I initially did not want to stay at the CROUS residence, however the difficulties in finding suitable accommodation elsewhere led to me choosing the safer option. The fact that the residence was close to the university may have made up for the fact that there was only one kitchen per floor that 30 people would use. It was cleaned on a weekly basis which was good, however there were times where it would become untidy. The canteen known as the Metronome was also very close to the residence which was good. They served hot and cold lunches.
Upon arrival, you are required to visit the reception and submit the forms requested so that you can get the keys to your room. There are several buildings, each with different names. There are also room and inventory checks at the beginning of the semester where you choose a time slot for the check. You receive instructions on how to clean the room and the necessary things that need to be done throughout your stay at the accommodation.
Tip: Try and look for accommodation as early as possible, especially if you're going to be living in a popular city. Don't be afraid to enquire, you never know what you may find! If, on the other hand CROUS accommodation is available, it is worth considering due to its affordability.
Becoming accustomed to the city of Rennes wasn’t that difficult as the transport was convenient and the system was not that difficult to use. You can easily get the metro to the city centre from the university and arrive within less than 10 minutes. It was very affordable, and with the Korrigo card, it was easier to travel around. It is a transport card that offers monthly and yearly subscriptions, as well as slight discounts if travelling by train around the region.
Tip: Check to see if there are any transport cards and always look out for student discounts.
When I went on the city tour in early September, I was honestly enamoured with the city centre. It all felt very fresh and new. The cobblestone paths and buildings brought so much character to the place and though it may have been a common site for the people of the city, it did not really resemble anything that I had seen before in person, thus the reason I was excited. I was already eyeing the restaurant menus, making a mental note of them for later. Rue Saint-Malo particularly caught my eye as it was lined with a plethora of restaurants, all serving different cuisines. One of my favourite restaurants was Le Byblos. It serves Lebanese cuisine and my friend and I were excited to finally eat affordable hummus. The experience was nothing short of amazing. It was probably one of the best meals I had tried during my time in Rennes. There were also many crêperies to choose from, each with their own unique vibe. Galettes in general are also a must try!
Another part of the city that I fell in love with immediately was the Parc du Thabor. We only caught a glimpse of it on the town tour and I had dreamt of visiting it and seeing it in its entirety. My friends and I did eventually visit again for a picnic and the warmth of the September sun highlighted the beauty of the scenery, making it an enjoyable experience.
Rennes has an abundance of friperies, which was a bonus as I enjoy thrifting. One that I particularly liked was called 'Vacarme’ as it had a light, airy atmosphere. It also had a joint cafe, which was nice.
During November and December, the city transforms into a wonderful winter wonderland. The streets are filled with beautiful light decorations and there is a grand Christmas tree located in front of the Parlement de Bretagne which is a sight to behold. Though cold, the city really comes to life, especially with the theme park located at Charles de Gaulle and the splendid Marché de Noël.
Tip: Don't be afraid to ask people to hang out and explore the city. Also, If you feel safe and comfortable in your city, you should try take yourself out and discover new sights, it is a great way to also improve your French and immerse yourself in the culture.
In general, my first impression of the university was quite positive. There were many activities at the beginning of the year and the campus was bustling which was nice to see. The first 2 weeks helped ease us in as we were allowed to try out different classes and build our own time table. The university system was different to what I was used to and being an exchange student, I felt as if everything felt a little more relaxed. That did not mean that I did not work hard! I tried out an Arabic, Japanese, Spanish, and translation class and decided to drop Arabic as my schedule was looking packed. I was happy that I got to try it and met some great people while I was in the class. I tried eating at the Metronome for the first time as I was curious to see what the magical €3 lunch was about. My first warm meal wasn’t bad and I was surprised at how much I was getting for a small price. It reassured me quite a bit. It was a nice place to gather and eat with friends though the starters would sometimes be questionable and the infamous bitter salad was avoided by me for weeks to come. There were many sports opportunities and in my second week I joined women’s football which was intense. I soon realised that it wasn’t for me and I wished that I had tried out another sport as there were many available to try.
I do feel that French people do speak quite fast which at times made me question my French abilities, however I would reassure myself constantly as I did know more than I thought. At times I just needed some time to think about what I was going to say. I learned some new vocabulary and attended CIREFE classes, which were intensive evening French classes that were held at the university. These helped me improve my speaking and writing skills though I would say they were probably the most demanding classes as the speaking and writing classes were each two hours long respectively and the fact that they were held in the evening made it difficult to focus at times, however I do feel as if I have become more confident in my speaking abilities.
I spent some of my weekends visiting different places near Rennes such as Mont Saint-Michel, St.Malo, Brest and Dinan to name a few. Being in the capital of Brittany, you’ll never run out of things to do and most of the places that I had visited were an affordable train or bus ride away, making Rennes an ideal location. My first official trip outside of Rennes was to Mont-Saint Michel, which was a free trip offered to exchange students in early September. It was a warm yet very windy day. I was in awe at the views from the castle. The amount of steps that I managed to take that day really surprised me and it is a trip that I’ll remember well whenever I think about my first days in France. I was quite excited for all the other trips to come and I knew that my time in Brittany would be quite positive, despite the occasional homesickness that overcame me now and then.
I am thankful for my time in Rennes and I have met many amazing new people who have really helped make my experience here a great one!
I appreciate you taking the time to read my article. There is a lot more that I would love to share about Rennes and my semester here as it was an eventful one. I hope that this gave you an idea about what Rennes is like and hopefully, you can one day visit!
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I have a travel page on Instagram which I desperately need to update. If you’re interested in seeing what’s to come, consider following @gonawalgo!
I have a lot more to say about the Metronome canteen food and food in general on my food page @nawalnoms!
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