Rennes, A “College Town” in France

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If someone asked you to name some big cities to study in France, you would probably say Paris… or Bordeaux… Toulouse… or Marseille. Outside those “big names”, however, France as many other cities that are not only equally charming, they are also student-friendly. These are the places where students make up the most of their population and the city of Rennes, is one of them. As the capital city for the region of Bretagne (or, Britanny in English), Rennes stands out as the “city of students” or “college town” —  around 60,000 out of the city’s 400,000 population are students.

There are more than ten higher educational institutions in Rennes, both public and privately owned. Among these institutions, ESC Rennes is the most internationally-exposed higher institution, with one-third of its students and about eighty percent of its academic staffs come from countries outside of France. I myself am currently living in Rennes, following an exchange program at this  école supérieure …and to be honest with you, I don’t really feel that I’m in France given that the courses are taught in English and most of my classmates are not actually French! My peers come from more than 20 different countries! Over time, however, I started to gain some exposures about everything-French as my French began to improve and gradually, the integration between French and international students began to develop well.

The Exchange Program between ITB and ESC Rennes… Is Why I Ended Up in Rennes

I’m currently enrolled in a one-semester study program in Rennes, as part of an Exchange Program organized by the Institut Teknologi Bandung (Bandung Institute of Technology) or ITB and École Supérieure de Commerce de Rennes. The courses I’m currently taking will later be transferred to my continuing study in ITB. The program started three years ago and until now has sent several Indonesian students from ITB to more than five universities in Europe, including to ESC Rennes. Students who wish to follow this program should at least finish his/her 46 credits (Indonesian: s.k.s.) with minimum GPA of 3.50 by the time of application. As I chose to apply for a study in France, I had to follow the requirements set by the French Embassy, that since and as per January 2013, all Indonesians who wish to apply for a student visa will need to already have their DELF (Diplôme d’Études en Langue Française) certification of at least B1 for the study-programs that are taught in English and B2 or C1 for those in French. This requirement is rather interesting because it has made my journey to study abroad more challenging that perhaps the other applicants who have chosen different countries or, if they have had previous knowledge of French language. I started with an almost zero-to-none and indeed, the intensive course that I did helped me obtain the DELF certificate in the end.

My General Impression About Living in Rennes: How Easy It Is To Live Here …

Upon confirmation that I was selected as one of the successful participants for this program, I was then contacted by the administration staff from ESC Rennes. The office has good experience in managing exchange students coming from not only Indonesia, but also those accepted under the European Union’s Erasmus program. I was also given a Letter of Acceptance by ESC Rennes, which I could use to contact the school’s accommodation staff. Since the school itself has no on-campus housing, I was directed to a private accommodation, in which I am now renting an apartment with three other flatmates from Czech Republic.

First impression that came to my mind when I first arrived in Rennes, I noticed that people here are more laid-back and they are also respectful of…. pedestrians! As a pedestrian, when I cross the street, cars always stop and let you have your way (to be able to cross the street safely). Coming from the hustle and bustle of traffic in Indonesia, of course I really appreciate and learn a lot from this attitude, as cars in Indonesia tend to do the opposite: they will speed up when the drivers see that someone is about to cross, even when the pedestrian is already on inside the crossing zone! Another thing that I noticed is that Les Rennais (the city’s residence) really enjoy their leisure time but they are punctual when it comes to study, work and business. With five weeks standard day-off for employees, who would hurry on vacation? However, when it comes to language, you have to give it up for French. My landlord and landlady understand English very well, but they have stated it clearly to me: If you’ve decided to come to France, then we expect you to speak French. This is good, in my opinion, this is the only way one can learn the culture when one lives. As time passed by, I was able to improve my French, which started with muttering some simple words, like  Bonjour, Bonne Journée, Au Revoir, and Merci.

Money Matters

Living in Rennes can be both expensive and affordable depending on your lifestyle. Eating out will always be expensive! As a student, you’d better save money and live healthy by cooking your own food. A decent meal costs me less than 1 and a rather classy one will not go further than 5. If I choose to eat at the canteen in ESC,  that would cost me around 3,80 to 5 for a main course. Usually, I’d rather go to the nearby university restaurant and then 3,15 will get me the main course and one or two desserts, depending on the options for my main course. Overall, living in Rennes may cost you up to 750 monthly. This amount is also mentioned in the school’s Guide Book for Exchange Students. Keep in mind that the amount above is not applicable for the first month when you need to buy insurances, civil responsibility, and other expenses. This amount of money is also enough for me as I’ve paid all my transportation pass for the entire semester before I turned 20, which was least expensive, as the city uses age in determining the price for transportation.

Another advantage of studying in France really is about how the French government treats students. How? Pretty well, I must say! As students, we can apply for CAF (Caisse d’Allocations Familiales), which is an allocated government budget to help students pay their accommodation. The amount is different from one student to another, depending on the timing of your applicationt, price of the accommodation, and the duration of your stay.

For instance, I receive 165 out of 365 total monthly payment. To be eligible in applying CAF, you need to have an accommodation contract, a French bank account, proof that you are a student (Acceptance letter from school is consider as proof), your birth certificate both in original language and French, and a “huge” amount of faith. Usually, applicants will receive their  accommodation budget within three months since they first registered for CAF online, although there are some who receive their financial aid after more than a year has passed. Thus, have a faith! The amount a student will receive will be defined according to the next month that has passed since the applicant first registered. For example, if I applied in September and received my CAF in October, that would only be an allowance for October. However, if  I registered in September, but received my allowance in November, it will be the accumulation of both October and November. So it is possible that you receive CAF as much as thousands of Euros if they give you one-year worth of financial aid after your  first registration. The amount will be transfered directly to your landlord if you live in a dormitory, or to your bank account if you live in a private property.

A Great Transportation System for Students

The longer I live in Rennes, the more I notice how efficient and effective the city’s transportation system is. There are more than 30 bus lines to connect you everywhere in the city. These buses run on a specific schedule, which indicates when they arrive and depart to and from each bus station to help you plan your journey. Rennes has only one metro line and is now building another one. The single metro lines makes it easy to go anywhere without the hassle and complication of inter-metro transfers and transits. The single metro here arrives and departs every 3-5 minutes…. and yes, being a “college town,” the City Council has understood the need for students to also have fun and go to parties soirées: scheduled “night buses” run every Thursday to Saturday nights on certain lines.

Mild, Friendly Weather … and A Vibrant Culture

Weather in Rennes is considerably mild compared to other cities in northern parts of France or Europe. This is a great advantage for those who cannot stand too cold of a weather (my fellow Indonesians… :) Snow rarely falls in winter and the summer is comfortable relative to the standard temperature in Indonesia. But, autumn can be wet and rainy all the time, with the sun shines for only a few hours each day.

Rennes is also famous as a city of art and history. There are many festival all year long. The City Council of Rennes even makes the effort to organize a Welcome Reception at the city’s Parliament Building for all students coming to study in Rennes at the beginning of the study term. In need to do some shopping? Worry not — as a student, you will find plenty of bargains here and there. “Le 4 Bis” is the place to visit for students when they first arrive in Rennes. This is an information center where students can learn and find different advantages the city can offer, simply by using their student cards. The perks include, but not limited to free library memberships, entrance to various city’s festivals, movie tickets, entrance to swimming pools, museums and so forth.

Overall impression from my experience of living in Rennes is nothing but a positive one. This wonderful city has changed me for the best: I feel that I have become more responsible, independent, curious to learn more, tolerant and respectful to other culture and differences. Now, if you are thinking of a place to study in France, I truly recommend you to consider Rennes as one of your top priorities!