School in Lille: A Filipina in Spring

Shen shares the story of going on an exchange program in Lille, France.

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The idea of going on a student exchange program is both exhilarating and terrifying. There’s nothing like escaping the mundane activities of school and the familiar places of home to go to someplace totally foreign. By going a thousand miles away, the possibilities for discovery become almost endless.

There’s that new language I’ll try to be fluent in, that different cuisine I’ll consider as home cooking, as well as streets and roads I’ll be memorizing. Of course, I was also thrilled about the new faces I’d be meeting. These were the thoughts that floated in my head while contemplating on actually going for the exchange program.

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I knew that I had to experience this kind of freedom before graduating and joining the workforce. Two years after the exchange and already employed, I’m so glad I banked on the exhilaration more than the fear and actually went on that exchange.

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There are many cities both in Asia and Europe that offer student exchange programs. Simply ask your University for their partner schools, and take your pick from there. Another option is to check out AISEC , an organization that has partnerships with many universities from an extensive list of countries.

For those who are fascinated with French culture and are interested in traveling all over Europe, seriously consider Lille. It’s a small city in the very north of France that’s only a short train ride away from Belgium and Paris.

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You can enroll in Universite Catholique de Lille, or “the Catho” as what the locals would call it. It’s conveniently English-speaking and offers a wide array of courses from marketing to engineering. Check out their website or better yet, show your parents for convincing. I took mainly communication subjects here for five months, and it really helped as I finished my Organizational Communication program in De La Salle University after.

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The campus is absolutely picturesque. Catho’s buildings seem like they belong in Hogwarts on the outside, yet are actually modern on the inside. Most campuses have lawns where students can sunbathe in while eating lunch during spring and summer. This is where I de-stressed in between classes over food and conversations.

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Classes are extremely interesting because you get such a different perspective of a subject or concept you study at home. Take marketing for example. In the Catho, this will be taught through the economic lens of France or the EU. I also found discussions and debates in class very fascinating with so many nationalities from various kinds of cultures in one classroom.

While walking from one building to another, I would pass by several boulangeries. These stalls and small shops look humble and not at all fancy, but they all serve excellent pastries, bread and sandwiches. I truly didn’t mind the walk because of the smell of freshly baked baguettes and croissants with what feels like the Baguio breeze in the air.

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Consider living in a dorm during your stay in Lille. It’s one of the cheapest accommodations in the city, and it’s the perfect opportunity to meet locals as well as other exchange students from all over the globe. You won’t get the fanciest home, but you can run to your dorm mates when you’ve had a bad day or when you need help making sense of mails in French. I stayed in Teilhard de Chardin, a dorm right across the Catho, and it was a very pleasant stay. (Check out AEU  for details and more options for accommodations.)

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One of the greatest, if not the best, benefits of a student exchange program in Lille or in any European city is the ease of travel it brings. Some classes in Catho are usually extensive, which means you’ll have classes running for two weeks straight followed by a week-long break. Take advantage of breaks like that to go to nearby destinations like Amsterdam, Paris, or Brussels. On longer breaks, don’t miss out on exploring Spain, Italy, Greece, and all other countries from your bucket list. I knew that my exchange may be my greatest opportunity for  travel, so I really tried to go around as much as I could.

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For a millennial yearning for adventure, independence and self-discovery, a student exchange program is the greatest investment. The six to 12 months I spent alone in a foreign country satisfied those yearnings not only for the duration of the exchange, but also for a very long period after that. Its beauty is briefly captured above, but no kind of photo or essay can compare to experiencing it yourself.

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About the Author

Shen Mascariñas

Shen Mascariñas

Shen Mascariñas travels mainly for the unique food each destination offers and for the "I'm on vacation" free pass to pig out.