|Accueil Relations Internationales|
Dear International student,
Welcome to the University of the French West Indies and Guiana ( U.A.G.)!
As you may already know, UAG , one of the 102 French universities , is not located on the European continent but 7000 kilometres from France.
However, UAG is particularly privileged as far as the original geographical context in which it evolves is concerned: it has his campuses on three different territories, namely Guadeloupe, French Guiana and Martinique which are known as DFA's (Départements Français d'Amérique) or DOM’s ( Départements Français d'Outre-Mer).
UAG is at the crossroads of the South American continent and the Eastern Archipelago of the Lesser Antilles. You may have to travel by plane or by boat from one campus to the other.
It takes three hours by plane to travel from French Guiana to Martinique, and four hours by boat from Martinique to Guadeloupe ( although only forty-five minutes by plane!).
As you arrive on one of UAG’s five campuses you will probably be charmed by the temperature and the vegetation around but, without a good preparation ahead, you might very soon be disappointed because life on the islands or on the South American continent is very different from what you have been used to so far.
Most of the following information has been written by Dr Ben Fisher for the students from his university, the university of Bangor in Wales. Dr Ben Fisher has become a specialist in students’ advising and it works!
I have adapted his to document and added a few more details for you. So, please, read this information very carefully and your stay at UAG will be an unforgettable one.
Maryvonne Charlery, Programme Coordinator
Testimony from students over many years suggests that a lot of what you need to know is in here. Inevitably there are things that aren't covered, and conditions change. Comments from your own experiences are welcome at any time .
The year abroad is a big step, and it's perfectly normal to feel a little apprehensive about it. It's also entirely normal to feel homesick, or even a little tearful, when you first arrive, and the first few days or weeks are bound to be the hardest of the year. However, DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES WHATSOEVER, TURN ROUND AND RETURN TO your university. You can make it - thousands of language students have done it before you, and Bangor students have an excellent record of making a go of the year abroad. Much of this information is to do with the dreaded French administration. So, two basic principles about paperwork:
Those of you coming from SOCRATES partner universities are known of. Anyone who’s applied from another university and hasn’t had a response by July should contact the Bureau des Relations Internationales (check our website ) ) to introduce yourself; as you aren’t going under an exchange programme, we may well be unaware that you exist.
The same information applies most of the time to the university “lecteurs” (language assistants). The official notification of your appointment is a document called the arrêté de nomination - this is important, keep it carefully and make copies too. You will get from the “Service du personnel” at the university.
You will also need to make contact independently with the local CROUS (explained later) to find out about your accommodation .
Apart from building up your finances, there are a number of items of paperwork you will need to sort out. Reasons are explained in more detail later on.
"The carte de séjour is a bit like the Holy Grail; it's something that must be obtained, but cannot be obtained." (quote from a Bangor student)
Normally the card is obtained from the local Préfecture (in the town which is the chef-lieu of the département, it may also be possible (this varies) to get the card through a Sous-Préfecture or Mairie, or you may have to travel to the chef-lieu. It will be much simpler if you have all the necessary bits and pieces with you the first time you go, which should be within a week of your arrival, but after you have registered at the university .The Préfectures have websites which may have useful (and perhaps accurate) information about the paperwork they require, and where and when to go. A central list can be found at :
The following list of items needed should cover most :
The start of your time abroad is likely to be the most expensive period of your university career.. Take a fair amount of money with you, though, as invitations are likeliest to appear during your early weeks, and you don't want to give the impression you are unfriendly, by refusing due to lack of money. You may need some funds too for odds and ends for your room. - you should certainly estimate several hundred euros.
Many credit and debit cards are valid in France (Visa universally, Mastercard American Express etc. scarcely at all in the sorts of places you're likeliest to be spending) - but shop staff may take some persuading. This is because of the prevalence of smart cards (cartes à puce) in France; these are validated by entering a PIN number (code secret) at the point of sale. If you do not open a French bank account, be prepared to explain, very regularly, along the lines of "c'est une carte Visa, à piste magnétique, qui est tout à fait valable". It is common for shops to accept only cash for sales up to 10 euros, cheques from 10 euros upwards, and cards from 15 euros upwards. So the old student dodge of using a credit card to buy a bag of crisps won’t work.
Students at university should ensure that they know the fire exits from all lecture rooms and any safety requirements of the UAG.
It is in your interest to avoid making yourself noticeable as foreigners, by using guide books in French rather than English, studying maps before you go out rather than in the street, and using French when talking to other British visitors in public places, or, if you must use English, speaking quietly
Check with the local Syndicat d'Initiative/Office de Tourisme on areas best avoided at night, and get your bearings in your new town before sampling any night life. Other French students of your own sex should be in a position to advise. It is quite common for night clubs to be at out-of-town - indeed rural - locations, so be sure you have safe and reliable transport; don't be afraid to use taxis, they're economical for a small group sharing the cost.
Should political/social demonstrations occur in your area , please remember that you are foreigners, and thus have no inherent right to participate, even if you sympathize. It has been known for foreigners to be deported for taking an active part in such demonstrations; it has also been known for students who have found themselves caught up in unrest to find it a more traumatic experience than they expected; what starts off as a peaceful, good-natured manif can turn nasty in a matter of seconds, and restraint is an alien concept to the French riot police (CRS). Above all, be normally sensible, just as one could expect you to be in your country. Every now and again one meets students abroad who seem to have forgotten the everyday commonsense care of self and property which is expected at home.
Travelling alone at night is not recommended. Women are likely to encounter more unwanted approaches from men than they are used to , and this includes flashers (exhibitionnistes)
You are certain to encounter aggressive begging . It will vary in character from the traditional beggar in the church porch to the apparently disabled individual who will distribute badges (pin’s) in a café and invite you to buy them, to the apparent ex-convict (ex-soldier, ex-mental patient, recovering alcoholic, etc) on a train delivering a script in each carriage about trying to rebuild a life with some dignity. Some may be genuine; many are fraudulent However socially concerned you may be, there are always grounds for cynicism, and you are not exactly rich yourself. A straightforward stony-faced non will almost always stop you being bothered; do not engage in conversation.
In Martinique and Guadeloupe, you run a high general risk of being robbed in the street. Students have sometimes found that they can defuse a situation by speaking French, or even Créole if they’ve picked it up. But do not put yourself at risk, do not «have a go»; belongings can be replaced, you cannot.
You will have plenty of luggage. Never leave it unattended, as apart from the authorities being tempted to treat it as a dangerous package and blow it up (!), theft is fairly common. Beware of the person who tries to distract your attention in a ticket queue while an accomplice walks off with your bag. The greatest problem is the opportunist who sees luggage unwatched, a wallet sticking up from a pocket, or a radio on the back seat of a car. Put a name label on your luggage and another one inside it so that in any claim that it is yours you have a starting point to prove your ownership. Theft is less likely if the luggage looks distinctive, and always make sure it is locked; if not fitted with locks, use padlocks. Keep money and passport, credit cards, travel documents and the like inside your outer layer of clothing, and don't put valuables in the back zip pocket of a rucksack. Some have found it useful to stitch an extra pocket inside jackets or anoraks so that pickpockets would not have an obvious target. Money belts can be uncomfortable, but are worthwhile.
Town bus systems vary, but most have an abonnement or season ticket, sometimes with student rates. Tickets are often cheaper if bought in a carnet (set of ten), sometimes from an office, sometimes from a local newsagent. Some are obliterated by the driver, but most you have to push into a machine inside the bus. Some are valid for one journey, some for any journeys except a return, within an hour. Be sure to enquire at the local gare routière, at the same time enquiring whether they have a bus map and a timetable . Buses DO NOT RUN in the evenings nor on holidays and weekends. Think about transport availability before renting accommodation.
If you plan to rent a car you should check with the AA, RAC (etc), or get the brochure 'Motoring in France' from a French Tourist Office. Whatever you do, you must be familiar with the French highway code. Remember that speed limits vary according to conditions and are lower than the advertised speeds in poor weather. Always lock the car when you leave it, as a foreign registration makes thieves expect tourist luggage, cameras, etc. and you may wish to consider having an alarm fitted. You will have to have the lights and mirrors adjusted. . Some students buy a French car during their stay. Do think, though, about how you will sell it when you leave. Again you must be sure you understand the French code. One of the biggest problems for GB drivers is priorité à droite, which gives cars coming from your right priority over you unless a sign indicates to the contrary. Watch out at roundabouts too, where GB instincts sometimes take over.
The only ways to reach Guadeloupe, French Guiana or Martinique , is by plane or boat. Most planes arrive late in the afternoon or in the evening. So, don’t expect anyone from the university to meet you at the airport. It is very easy to hire a taxi from the airport and indicate your address to the driver.It will cost you about thirty euros from the airports in Guadeloupe or Martinique to their main campuses .Taxes are safe on the islands and taxi drivers generally are very helpful.
One rule: DON'T! It's not just that you don't know the drivers, but you don't know how they drive either, or how much they may have been drinking (don't get into any car with a driver who has been drinking, even if you know him/her. If you still insist on hitching, don't get stuck in the back of a two-door car, don't let the driver drive off with your luggage, leaving you standing in the road, make sure your insurance is up to date, and don't do it alone. Men, please remember that it is not just girls who have to be careful about hitching.. Alternatives are shared expense trips.
On the islands you may find that hitching is more common practice because of poor public transport, and at times may be the only alternative; be cautious about your safety nevertheless, and consider whether organizing your journey using a communal taxi may be better.
Don’t expect to find a room at the CROUS for the duration of your stay, the number of rooms being very limited and the priority being given to those students coming from the neighboring islands. It would save misunderstandings if you could explain this to your parents/boyfriend/girlfriend, so that they know that it is legally impossible for us to find rooms for you.
However, international students can be accommodated at the CROUS during the last two weeks in September, before the arrival of the local students. They charge about fifteen euros per night. You can take advantage of the time you spend there to find suitable accommodation with the help of the CROUS or of local papers. Is is very easy to find decent accommodation near the campuses.
Advice is difficult here as you all have different habits and priorities - distance from town matters more to some than others, as do independence, cooking facilities, etc. Don't be put off by no carpets - bare floors go quite a long way up the social hierarchy in France and have the tremendous advantage of being easily kept clean. However they do require slippers! Do you need to do your own cooking? - be sure that it is allowed. Some people let rooms on the assumption that lodgers will be able to pay for meals out! On the other hand cooking facilities needn't be as elaborate as are found nowadays in some hostels - you can do wonders with a single ring if you have a steamer or double saucepan. Is there anywhere to store food? If not you will need to buy in small quantities, although in warm weather evaporation from a damp cloth is quite good at keeping things cool
Many students have been perfectly happy with a room in a FdJT (Foyer de Jeunes Travailleurs/Travailleuses) - others find it restricting. Foyers run by religious groups suit others, but a late return after an evening out may not be allowed. If you hope to share a flat and meet someone or see an advert, either at CROUS or in the local paper, make quite sure who pays for what, who is responsible for what, and find out enough about your potential flatmate's tastes to be sure you don't find yourself with some one who eats nothing but raw fish, never washes up, makes free with all your possessions and plays the alpenhorn all night! Many of the best rooms are heard of by chance. Possible sources of adverts in addition to CROUS are the local paper,. Some Offices de Tourisme have an up-to-date list of flats, while others apparently couldn't care less. Try, anyway. for you. Quite the most expensive way of finding rooms is to use an agency, since fees are hefty and they may ask for two months' rent in advance.
You can also have some help from CIJ 's (Centre d’Information la Jeunesse). They are very good at advising and helping young people and can help foreign students to find accommodation.
If you take a fully-equipped flat, inquire if there is an inventory (état des lieux) - if there is, check the contents of the flat against it before you move in or you may be held responsible for missing objects. This checking can be educational - you can learn a lot of culinary vocabulary! If you have a contract (bail), always be honest about how long you are staying, even if it is less than a year. In fact, always be honest about everything - ignorance of the law is no excuse in France - "Personne n'est censé ignorer la loi" - and at all times you should avoid getting on the wrong side of it. Make sure you are confident that the person you are dealing with is entitled to rent the property to you; if there is any hint that (unless a share) it may be a sub-let (sous-location), walk away. Long-term renting of a flat may involve other responsibilities, and you need to be clear if these are yours or your landlord's. You may have to contribute to the copropriétaires' fund to pay the lady who cleaned the stairs . Lighting on stairways is often on the minuterie system - i.e. it goes out after a fixed interval. Unless you like dashing upstairs to beat the lights, a small torch can be a useful alternative to heart failure! Don't be put off by unattractive hall ways or stairs - it's what is inside the flat door that matters, and some of the nicest rooms have off-putting stairs and halls.
What is inside includes some things requiring inspection.
If you live independently in the DFA's for long enough (e.g. in an HLM) you will also encounter a tax (taxe d'habitation) for living there. If they catch up with you - pay it. You are liable. If they don't - you are lucky. But don't ignore the demand if it arrives. If you don't pay, the bill will reappear demanding an increased sum (majoration).
You may also eventually get a card asking you to visit the local Commissariat de Police at a specific time. Don't panic - but don't leave it until after the date mentioned. It is only a routine check on foreigners. They may check whether you are still at the same address and how you get your income.
If you are a European student and pay more than a quarter of your income in rent you may be eligible for reimbursement of part of the cost from the local authorities. This can only be done, however, if you have kept all receipts (quittances) and if you have either your carte de séjour or proof that you have applied for one. You also need proof from your propriétaire of the sum per month you are paying, so be sure that your landlord isn't tax dodging over your rent. Get the proof at the beginning of your stay, before everything is signed and settled. Just explain that you will be applying for Assistance Personnelle Logement. To apply you will also need your carte de séjour, so you can't hope to actually get a rebate paid until you have this; the récépissé may be enough, but don't bet on it, as it states that you have applied, not that you have definitely got the carte de séjour successfully. There are two forms of benefit, APL (allocation personalisée au logement) and ALS (allocation de logement à caractère social). Apply for the latter, as it is less complicated, at the local Caisse d'Allocations Familiales (CAF). As well as your carte de séjour and your receipts (quittances) you should take your student card if you are a student. You may not get a rebate on the first month, and you can only be paid after the end of the month to which the rebate relates, so budget for full payments and enjoy the rebate if and when it comes. Also, payments are likely to take some time - perhaps two months - to arrive. It is also quite common for payment to be withheld until you finally get your carte de séjour, so whether or not you ever get any APL can depend on the efficiency of your Préfecture.
Avoid leaving any debts behind you when you leave. The notion of «doing a runner» is in no way a guarantee that you won’t be subject to legal action . Also, leaving a bad impression behind you can have serious negative effects for internal students in later years. Leaving your accommodation in a clean and tidy state can also be more of a help to your successors than you might imagine, as well as being an act of general courtesy.
Since the point of the year abroad ( or semester ) is immersion in the language(s) you are studying, it is obviously undesirable to return to your country frequently. Naturally you can expect to return home for Christmas. You may also if you wish to come home for either the winter (February ) holiday or the so-called Easter holiday. In any case, you must inform the Bureau des Relations Internationales about the length of time you will be away . At the end of their stay, students at UAG should obtain a certificat d'assiduité/de présence from the staff who taught their courses, and send it to their university when they leave.
We hope you will take every opportunity to enjoy the region. The Michelin Green Guide to the area will give you lots of ideas, as will a visit to the tourist office. It is preferable to buy a French edition of your Michelin guide as you will be less conspicuous using it, quite apart from the benefit to your French. The best maps for your purpose, since they show more places to visit are not Michelin ones but the IGN (Institut Géographique National) maps, available in many French bookshops. The Série Verte will probably suit your purpose. Remember that museums and the like tend to be shut on Mondays or Tuesdays, depending on who runs them.
UAG doesn't have a students' union as you know it, although some it has excellent sports facilities, so if you are keen on sport you should find it catered for. Most towns have clubs of some sort which are more active at weekends when people have leisure.
If you have any religious affiliation, ask your minister/priest/rabbi at home where to write to in order to find out about similar churches in your area. However be cautious if approached by apparently religious groups you are unfamiliar with. It is not unknown for dubious sects and other pseudo-religious groups to prey upon foreigners they perceive as vulnerable. If you don't feel comfortable, make your excuses and leave.
Don't hesitate to sample new activities if it means sharing them with someone. You're never too old to try out a new hobby, but it may also enable you to meet others who happen to share your existing interests as well. Some students have made contacts through the local Chambre de Commerce or via regional clubs concentrating on local music, folklore, history, traditions. Get others to explore with you if you can, but if not, explore anyway.
If you eat student restaurant meals this is a chance to get talking to people . You need to make the approach - no one will realize you want to talk unless you do!
Naturally you won't be with people all the time - being alone doesn't necessarily mean being lonely - but if you are, make the effort to get out, even if only for a brief walk. It is a very good tactic to arrange that you always have something to look forward to
It is not unusual to earn a little argent de poche by offering private English lessons on a one-to-one basis. However, everyone (women especially) should be highly cautious about advertising, and the general advice is not to do it, let possible pupils approach you instead.
It’s often quite common from local families to invite someone into their home. If you are invited for a meal in someone’s home, a small gift or contribution to the feast will be very much appreciated as an act of courtesy and friendship.
The pack of documentation you will receive from your university during the summer will include an address form, to be returned to your university as soon as you can.
If you have a change of address or other contact details while abroad, it is important that you let the Bureau des Relations Internationales know promptly about it and also inform your university.
Computing facilities are much sparser at UAG than they are at your university, but this is improving slowly. UAG is online, and there are also possibilities for access in cybercafés and in the campus libraries. If you do not have a personal email account on the campus, there are numerous WWW services which offer free email accounts (as long as you don't mind a screen dotted with adverts), and a number of students abroad have found this a convenient option - Hotmail (http://www.hotmail.com) is one example, and there are plenty of others around too.
Anyone taking out a computer with a modem will find that the DFA's ( French) phone plugs and sockets are different from yours; you can expect to need to buy an adapter or more likely a different lead once in France.
You will have written to ask when and where to present yourself on arrival. Usually, your initial correspondence will be with the Directeur de département and it must be in very polite, formal and correct French style; see section 12 of Le français en faculté, or the guide to formal correspondence in your dictionary. Your first letter should include an enquiry about accommodation, so you should have been given a clear idea of what to expect before you arrive. Don't worry if correspondence from the UAG is slow coming back, as the university closes down for August. Try to arrive looking neat, in case you are offered hospitality. In any case, first impressions matter.
How soon you get this varies, depending on how many teachers are involved, and how many students you are working with. Be aware that you may have to work on Saturday mornings . You are supposed to work up to 14 hours per week in any combination. It is not unusual for the timetable to at the end of the semester, and your groups may also change at the same time.
In theory, you should have one teacher to act as your main liaison (responsable). The work you are expected to do with students should be mainly oral in character and you will spend most of your time in the language lab.
If you are unable to take your classes owing to illness, contact the secrétaire de département as early as possible on the day, and certainly well before your first timetabled class. Nothing makes a worse impression than unexplained absences.
It helps to be aware that the teachers you deal with will not all be of the same professional status, though you can expect to find that all will be dedicated and hard working. Teachers who have the higher qualification are paid more, and do less classroom work; there is sometimes a certain deference towards these more senior staff. However with all your colleagues, you should be aware of the French conventions regarding greetings, particularly in the workplace. You will quickly pick up what is normal about things like handshakes, kisses on the cheek and their number. With your colleagues, start off with vous when you first meet them; with many, they and you will quickly switch to tu, others won't.
The relationship with students needs a little care : the "us/them" divide can be tricky to establish; the ideal is a friendly relationship where it remains clear that you are a teacher and should be respected as such, so it can be best to err on the side of formality. If you find that you see any of your students socially, it is vital that you avoid any situation that could compromise student/teacher relations (yours or those of your colleagues); intimacy is to be avoided at all costs.
You may find that during your time, one or more trade unions will take some form of action, typically a one-day arrêt de travail. Should this happen, our advice is that the lecteurs should not take part, and even if no classes are happening, make it clear to the school that you are available for work (e.g. make sure a senior member of staff or a secretary sees you come in at the usual time).
Socrates students will find that some coordinators ease the process for them; others will have to go through the full process, which may be divided between inscription administrative and inscription pédagogique. The Bureau des Relations Internationales will do their best in order to facilitate your registration procedures. They will have your dossier d’inscription ready for your before your arrival and a student ( tuteur) will help you in filling in the different forms.
You will need the originals and translations of the university's records, and evidence of your insurance (see notes above under C. Health & Insurance, including warnings about securité sociale étudiante).
Students outside the Socrates scheme will need to pay Fees, at least in the first instance, and recently this has been in the region of 150 euros. UAG doesn’t take cash. They expect you to pay by Mandat, obtainable from the Post Office, or by credit card .You may get a refund from their university .All exchange students will be registered under the “régime spécial” scheme.
International students have a fairly broad choice of courses, to be chosen in consultation with the coordinator or other members of relations internationales staff. You have to take 30 credits per semestre and the number of courses varies according to the credits allotted to each course. All international students have to take the course entitled “perfectionnement linguistique”, offered by ISEF and are allowed to take courses in different departments.
Ask at the very beginning of your course how you can obtain at the end a certificate proving you have followed the courses it is called “ une attestation d'assiduité “. You should send it to your university to show that you have satisfied the year abroad requirement. If you have to take exams, let the staff at the Bureau des Relations Internationales know about it when you arrive, so that your result can be sent to your university on time.
Exams on your courses will almost certainly involve “ contrôle continu” at intervals during the year, and a bigger exam at the end, by which time many of you have gone. International students being under the “ régime spécial” scheme should only have to take final exams, but many of you have to leave before the dates of the exams. Please , let your teachers know about your situation so that special exams can be organized for you.
You may well have signed up to an ECTS learning contract (ECTS = European Credit Transfer System). They should count towards your university degree.
You may well experience a certain amount of culture shock when you start studying at UAG. Individual contact with staff is much more limited than in your university, and may be all but non-existent. Similarly, teaching methods and expectations are often considerably more formal than what you are used to. Don’t hesitate to look for a tuteur’s assistance
A very early step indeed should be to locate and visit your CROUS (Centre Régional d'Œuvres Universitaires et Scolaires) and find out about its services. In some ways your CROUS is very loosely equivalent to Student Services at your university, but it is not formally part of any given university, being the regional arm of the CNOUS (in Martinique and French Guiana you encounter a local version, the CLOUS),. If you have not already done so, it is strongly recommended that you look at the relevant sections of the CNOUS website (http://www.cnous.fr).
Socrates students should check for days/times when the local coordinator is available to see you; it is common for academics to have set permanences rather than being prepared to see students at any time. Our relations with our partner universities depend very much on you as ambassadors, so developing a good working relationship with the coordinators helps not only you, but the students who will follow you.
Bear in mind that future international students will be following you not only into the university, but also in many cases into the same accommodation. Make a good impression on the people you deal with you there, and do all you can to "leave a sweet smell behind you" at the end of your stay; even little things like making friends with concierges and cleaners can have real benefits for those who will follow in your footsteps.
- Ben Fisher, May 2001
Legal bit: No liability is accepted on behalf of UWB, any of its staff or students, or any partner or host institutions or their staff, for any consequences whatsoever arising from the advice in this information is included in good faith.
- Maryvonne Charlery, May 2002
N’hésitez pas à contacter le Bureau des Relations Internationales (BRI) pour toute information complémentaire.