The Erasmus exchange program: a French Masters student in Scotland
Written by: Adeline Vogel, MSc graduate from University of Aix-Marseille, France
There’s a rather famous movie in France called “L’auberge espagnole” about a French student who’s enrolling in the Erasmus exchange program. I’ve watched it many times, even before graduating from high school, and I’ve wanted to do an exchange abroad ever since. When the chance to do such an exchange finally occurred I didn’t hesitate and ‘set sail’ for Scotland. As part of my Master’s degree in France I had to complete a research project, and I was lucky to be welcomed by Dr Taya Forde in the OHRIBD lab (One Health Research into Bacterial Infectious Diseases) for 6 months starting in January 2019.
However, my experience with the Erasmus program started earlier than that. It started precisely when I had to find out who was in charge of the program in my home university and where to find this person. I have to admit that the beginning of this adventure was very similar to the one in the movie I mentioned earlier: challenging! After a few months of running around campus and knocking on many doors I finally got all the required documents signed and approved. I was ready to go!
I packed a lot of warm clothes and left the mild weather of Marseille for the slightly more rainy city of Glasgow. I was excited about this new chapter but also a little bit anxious about the challenges I would face moving to a country different than mine. Right after I landed in Scotland I discovered what the first challenge of the exchange would be. Just out of Edinburgh airport, I got on the bus for Glasgow and had my first interaction with a local bus driver. To this day I still don’t know what he said to me, despite asking him to repeat three times. In response I did something that I didn’t realise but I would do a lot in the upcoming months: I nodded, smiled and went away hoping I wasn’t being rude. The second challenge would appear when I realised I didn’t even know how to pronounce Edinburgh properly. To be honest I still don’t, I just mumble something that seems to do the trick.
I was lucky to be welcomed in a very international institute. This makes the exchange even more interesting as you are in a different country, surrounded by people from all over the world: It feels like traveling during working hours, and doesn’t make you feel so stupid whenever you do not understand local people or have to ask for the name of very common things. An exchange like the one I did is an opportunity to discover a different way of living but also a different way of working and learning. The work environment at IBAHCM was nothing like the one back home, and I felt welcomed and comfortable in this environment.
I was also incredibly lucky to do this exchange in Scotland. I didn’t know much about the country before moving. I wasn’t expecting Scotland to be so beautiful, or such a wonderful place for hiking and outdoor enthusiasts. I discovered that it would probably never be warm enough for me to go for a swim in the crystal clear water of the western coast but the mountains and lochs were offering the most breathtaking views.
Looking back on this experience I now realise all the things that I would have missed if I had stayed in Marseille. Spending time abroad helps gaining maturity and open mindedness. It helps learning about academic life of course, but also about yourself. It might seem more comfortable to stay in your home university instead of giving the whole exchange program a try, it would definitely save you a lot of time and paperwork, but in the end the experience is so rewarding. It completely outweighs the difficulties!
I don’t know what the future holds for Scotland but I hope that the current political situation will not stop international student coming to visit, or Scottish students spending some time in a university abroad. An exchange might be challenging but it’s totally worth it, and I would encourage anyone who’s offered the chance to do it!
About the author:
My name is Adeline Vogel, I’m a MSc graduate from France. In 2019 I spent 6 months in Scotland as an exchange student through the Erasmus program. I was working with Dr. Taya Forde at the IBAHCM on the epidemiology of anthrax. I tried to live this experience to the fullest and used my spare time to discover Scottish culture and to explore the country.
All images courtesy of Adeline Vogel.
Feature image: The Quiraing on the Isle of Skye, June 2019