As a country with a wealth of culture, not to mention a well-revered education system, France is a popular study abroad destination with students who enjoy the finer things in life. “Studying in France will give students an opportunity to enjoy the French culture, including its history, architecture, gastronomy, exceptional landscapes and art – which is very diverse even between different regions,” affirms Isabelle Chevillard from Ceran Provence Sarl Linguanima, a language school with French centres in Paris and Avignon and with specialisations including French for business executives. “If you stay in France, you can easily reach the main European cities and extend your cultural experiences,” she adds.
The city of Avignon is an animated student city that is well-known for its fabled bridge the Pont St-Bénézet, or Pont d’Avignon as it is more commonly known as. “I love Avignon, especially during the theatre festival [Festival d’Avignon] that takes place every year in July,” Chevillard enthuses. “With all the various performances such as plays, music, dance, mime and street theatre, and the pleasure of summer, one can experience a fabulous time in the Medieval papal city.” And, as Chevillard explains, within the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur students can visit the second largest French city of Marseille – the European Union’s European Capital of Culture this year – as well as the coastal village of Camargue and the valley region of Gordes.
Two hours away from Avignon by train is the honeymoon hotspot of Paris, the capital of France, which holds many famous landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral and La Seine River. While Gaultier d’Andlau, Director of Institute de Langue et de Culture Français – ILCF Paris, recommends the quarter of Saint-Germain des Prés – an area surrounding the school campus that hosts a number of famous cafés and was the centre of the existentialist movement – Justin Pace from the Paris campus at the International School of Management recommends a number of other Parisian experiences. “Finish an assignment on a bench in Les Invalides [a famous complex of museum buildings] before a tour inside Napoleon’s tomb; be inspired by the interior of the Paris Opera Garnier or Musée d’Orsay (art students are often seen in front of statues there as part of their studies) or… attend an auction at Christie’s auction house,” he says.
To the northeast of the capital is the Champagne region, famous for its production of the sparkling white wine that bears the area’s name. “Students can visit the most famous Champagne wine cellars and discover the vineyards and the winemaking process,” enthuses Céline Puech at Excellencia school in Troissy. Main areas within the region where the prestigious wine is made is the city of Reims, also famed for its cathedral, and Épernay, a town which is said to be ideal for exploring the Champagne Route. “One thing I really enjoyed after arriving in France was touring one of the many vineyards,” concurs Mona Azzam from École Privée Erasme in Montpellier. “It was incredible to see the vines that have been here for hundreds of years, and these winemakers who have passed down their knowledge from generation to generation. It’s such an important part of the French culture and lifestyle.”
Puech highlights some of the many extracurricular activities available to international students at Excellencia, including “theme-based workshops during which students practice and improve their French while enjoying their hobbies. Theatre, gastronomy, journalism and many other workshops are available.” At Alliance Français in Strasbourg, meanwhile, Nathalie Chevalier lists organised activities at the school including a boat ride around the Grande Île, an island in the III River that has been named a Unesco World Heritage Site; a trip to the Alsatian Museum, a museum of local art and folk tradition and excursions to Plaine d’Alcase which involves tasting local cuisine such as baeckeoffe [a type of casserole] and fleischnacka [minced meat rolled in noodle dough].
A city with a strong Germanic influence, Strasbourg “forms an intersection at the very heart of Europe neighbouring Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and is also very close to Italy”, as Chevalier explains. The European Parliament has presence within the city, giving it prominence within Europe, and it also hosts a multitude of lively restaurants and pubs – which might be part of the reason why it has a rather large international student population comprising around a fifth of total student numbers.
In the south, Montpellier is a dynamic city that also has a big overseas student population. “Paris, of course, is inescapable for a first trip,” says Stéphanie Ang from Accent Français in the city, “but our region is my favourite place in France! It is so rich with no less than six Unesco sites and it is beautiful with so many different landscapes. We have the beach, the mountains, the land… what more would you expect?” Azzam is similarly enthusiastic about the city, and says, “Montpellier is the quintessential student town with three major universities and countless private schools. It is unique, diverse and full of life. The city is really geared towards young people and there are so many opportunities for students, especially foreign ones. Not to mention the weather! It is also a city where the sun never sets, plus we are only a few kilometres away from the beach.”
According to Ben Rethmel from Audencia Nantes School of Management in Nantes, a city close to the north-western border, is similarly spirited and innovative. “The historic city centre is eclectic and lively,” he says, “and the nightlife is great because going from place to place, you may pass by the castle and cathedral or find yourself in a restaurant in a building dating from the 18th Century.” The Nantes Island, the old manufacturing centre, surrounded by the Loire River, is also a favourite of his, as are the old factory buildings that have been transformed into an artistic hub of art galleries and music venues. “They even transformed one old factory building into a sort of amusement park where engineers build giant machines instead of ships,” he says. “On any given day when around the island, you can see a 10-metre mechanical elephant strolling around.”
In the south is the city of Lille. “Named Capital of Culture in 2004, Lille is a major tourist destination and is renowned for its heritage, culture and dynamism,” affirms Angélique Micconnet from EDHEC Business School with campuses in Lille and Nice. Indeed, with a strong Flemish influence and a range of art museums and stylish shopping venues, the people are also known to be friendly. “Students can also benefit from this ideal location to visit other European countries,” she notes, with the city’s easy access to London, Brussels and Amsterdam. Also in the south, Nice is the famous cosmopolitan capital of Côte d’Azur with an idyllic beach backdrop. “[Nice] is at the heart of the world-renowned French Riviera with the nearby cities of Cannes and Monaco. The region offers more than 500 cultural events and endless sporting opportunities such as diving, sailing, winter sports in the nearby ski resorts and hiking in the hinterland with breath-taking scenery,” Micconnet says.
Commenting on the overall beauty of France, Puech says, “France has an extremely rich heritage and a wide range of regions and landscapes: seaside along the North Sea, Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean, the Alps and the Pyrenees mountain ranges, Massif Central and its volcanoes and the Normandy countryside. In order to truly appreciate France’s regional diversity, students should take time to travel around.”
“France has always been an attractive tourist destination and a fashion capital of the world. Apart from the high quality of education, the easy access to several other European destinations makes it a very attractive destination for students. Students have said that the people are very down to earth – most students have the impression that French people are a bit snooty but that’s not the reality. France is a party place and our students do enjoy that quite a bit. Apart from this, the opportunity to experience several cultures in one place is also attractive for them. I have been to Paris and a few things that I liked were the openness of the culture and acceptance of everyone with warmth, and above everything else the cuisine!”
Gaurav Mittal, Manya Education, India
“Important aspects of going to France are the French language, the capital city of Paris and its famous sites: the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum and the Notre Dame Cathedral. Students enjoy the quality of our partner schools, the well-organised activities, the diversity of the course groups and meeting people from all over the world. My personal highlight is Nice – it is a very interesting city because of its special Occitan culture and history. I also enjoy the mild climate, the beautiful colour of the blue sea, the impressive coast landscape and the picturesque villages on the Mediterranean coast. There are always lots of international students from all over the world in Nice.”
Monika Lindauer, Sprachdirekt, Germany