I arrived in France in September 2021 full of dreams, fears and a swirl of emotions that I still can’t describe clearly.
I am from Colombia and grew up in a number of different cities around the country. I completed my undergraduate degree in civil engineering at EAFIT University in Medellín in 2021. During my degree, I discovered a passion for research, knowledge and a specific engineering field: computational mechanics.
The next step for me was to continue my studies with a postgraduate programme, but I also wanted to study abroad to learn about different cultures. So I decided to look for master’s programmes with this in mind.
I felt I had found the perfect fit when I discovered the MS2 programme at Université Paris-Saclay. The programme offered a high level of education plus great opportunities after graduation. And as a bonus, it was in France, a country full of history and rich in culture and tradition.
In early 2021, I applied to the university and was invited to interview. In June 2021, I received the news that I had been accepted and awarded the IDEX scholarship for international students pursuing a master’s degree at Université Paris-Saclay. I felt that a door was opening before me, and on the other side was an adventure full of opportunities.
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However, the adventure was at risk. The pandemic wasn’t over, and I knew that the visa administration process wouldn’t be easy. At that time, the French authorities considered Colombia to be a “red” country, which meant that the French Embassy in Colombia was closed until July 2021 and it would be difficult for me to travel.
Luckily, I got a consular appointment on 29 July (my first master’s class was to take place on 13 September), and the minimum waiting period was about two weeks. I had to manage my anxiety and book plane tickets and arrange accommodation in less than a month.
During this period, the university staff were helpful with finding housing and dealing with various administrative procedures (which are numerous in France). However, it is helpful for students to fill out those forms so they can receive things such as accommodation allowance and public social insurance.
From the moment I arrived, it was all a huge challenge. I was facing a whole new culture while knowing very little French. When I arrived at the airport, a staff member told me, “You have to learn French if you want to survive on your own.”
At that moment, I laughed – but I quickly realised that the statement was true. All French government web pages are in French, and all administrative procedures must be in French. Thankfully, someone was always willing to help by translating or guiding me.
As soon as my classes started, I began to enjoy the university’s international environment. I got to know people from all over the world, and French students were kind towards international students. I settled fast, thanks to the feeling of community. Since then, I have learned about many different cultures, their ways of thinking, their points of view, their food and their friendship.
Among all the things I have learned, what I value the most is getting involved with the world around you and creating a circle of friends, colleagues and acquaintances. I strongly advise any other international student to do the same and interact with the people and places around them. This is the best way to understand the place where you are. I would also recommend becoming familiar with the manners and traditions of the country.
It was this that helped me to get through the first period, and it continues to help me to this day. There was always a group that made it easier for international students to learn French, a group to play football, a group to travel, a group to go out and dance, and many others. A diverse group of amazing people has made this adventure lovely, enriching and mesmerising.
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International student Juan Camilo Victoria shares his experiences of moving abroad to study a master’s degree at a French university