Article written by Zlatan Bisercic
When going to study in a new country, there is a lot of administration work to be taken care of. This is particularly a concern for students who are beneficiaries of French government scholarship, and for the ones who are coming to study in Polytech Tours, but it does not exclude any other international students in France. Administrative tasks students generally have to handle might seem even more difficult if you lack French skills.
- Language barrier
First of all, you must be aware that French people (aside from faculty stuff) will have hard time speaking English as they are not fond of speaking it, and/or they do not know the language. There are few solutions for this kind of problem. The easiest one is to find someone who speaks at least a bit of French and ask them to help you out. It would also be an interesting way to acquire a new friendship.
The other solution would be to ask someone from faculty stuff (notably someone from administration) to help you out with administration procedures and paper work. If both solutions are not an option, or you run out of options, you can always go to the place where you need to finish your paper work and just speak English. Keep in mind a small, at first glance, a naive thing: do not start official conversation on French if you are not 100% confident in your language skills. There is a high chance of probability that person speaking with you will just assume that you know French, and will not try to bother with speaking other language, therefore you will find yourself in a status-quo situation. So, in general, be kind with a big smile, start with and speak English, and they will respond the same or will try to do their best to help you out.
- Campus France and OFII
Campus France is the French national agency for the promotion of higher education, international student services, and international mobility. In general, if you want to study in France you heard about Campus France, if not, here is the link: Campus France.
This agency is in charge of French government scholarship holders, and will help you on the way to France and during your stay there. It will (by request) arrange a student room for you and will handle your monthly scholarship payment. It is also a great searching engine for studying programs, additional scholarships, language courses, renting places, etc. Even if you are not a scholarship holder, this agency is a perfect starting point for finding useful information about studying in France.
Regarding administration, OFII is a French Office of Immigration and Integration, and you are entitled to send them necessary papers for obtaining and OFII stamp on your long stay visa for France. This should be done at the earliest convenience, upon arrival in France. It should be noted that this procedure takes a long time to be completed (up to 4 month upon the receiving of documents), and if you haven’t received a response after 3 month, you should contact them either by e-mail or directly by phone. Another important thing is that you can’t leave the country (or for this matter, EU) without this OFII stamp. If you are still without the stamp, and you need to leave the EU, contact the OFII office and ask them for a certificate of the receiving of documents. With that certificate, you can leave the country, even without the OFII stamp.
When you finally received a positive response (usually by post-mail), you will be called in to the OFII office for a routine medical examination, and you will receive the stamp. Also, be noted that OFII offices are not situated in every city in France, so keep in mind a possible travel to another city for the medical examination. For instance, OFII that is in charge of Tours is situated in nearby Orleans.
All document requirements and detailed explanation of procedure is on their website: OFII.
- Bank account, medical and house insurance
When you have arrived in France, open a bank account. This is very important for students who are scholarship holders but also for the ones who are going to have an internship in the second semester, and therefore will be paid for that according to the French law on Higher Education and Research.
Societe Generale Bank is just across this beautiful fountain in the center of Tours
Since you are going to spend a lot of time going from office to office completing paperwork, take this time as an opportunity to explore the city rather than a boring work which will take time. Combine this with nearby shopping places, coffee shops for a coffee break or just roaming through narrow streets admiring old buildings and their history.
My advice for the bank choice would be Societe Generale Bank. Not that I have any particular reason aside from the fact that I never had any problems with them or heard that someone else had, and they do speak English there.
Regarding house insurance, which you need to take, you have a choice of taking that in the bank or in office for student’s insurance. For Tours, I took one in SMECO which is an office for student’s insurance, where I also took a medical insurance. It did not cost much, but that depends on the surface of your apartment/room. For example, the insurance I took in Strasbourg costs 130 euros, but it’s for 40m2 apartment.
As for medical insurance, I will recommend SMECO (yes, they speak English there). When you obtain this insurance, be sure to take the full one, or at least the one that covers dentist work. It paid off for me, because I had a problem with my tooth and had to take a dentist to fix it. It was not that expensive (40 EUR) but it will be covered by SMECO insurance.
From my experience, going to the dentist was not a big problem, even without French language. A friend of mine from Tours directed me to an office where dentist was speaking English, and everything else went fine. For others, I will recommend connecting to the people who are living in the city, and acquire important information about medical procedures and places from them.
This is their website: SMECO.
- Public transportation and SNCF
Since you are going to study in Tours (or other city in France), it is important to take a monthly pass for public transport, except if your faculty is not really close to your place and you have no desire to roam around the city.
It costs around 30 euros for students, and you will need your student ID and a picture (which you can take there). The office of Fil Bleu company is in Charles Gille Street, very near the main train station, in the center of the city. Once you have your Fil Bleu pass, you can take next monthly pass directly on the machine that is installed on every station in the city.
Their website: Tours public transportation.
TGV is a great way to travel long distances in France by a relative short time. For example, a trip by TGV from Tours to Paris takes only 1,5 or 2 hours depending on the train. It is also a wonderful experience to travel with an average speed of 280 km/h. To fully enjoy this experience, I will recommend you to take Carte Jeune. It can be taken on every train station, it lasts for a year and it serves as all-time discount pass. Usually, French trains are more expensive then busses for example, but with this card, you can find trips for around 20, 30 euros in one direction, sometimes even less. So, when you compare time travelling by bus, this is a really good deal.
Their website: SNCF.
As for Polytech in Tours, the administration is one of the best that I had being dealing with. Still, you need to take into account that in general, French administration is a bit of slow process and so is the one in Polytech. Do not be alarmed if you are getting an important e-mail from them few days before the completion of the task. If there is any kind of problem, it is easily sorting out with patience and conversation. So, my advice would be to have a lot of patience.
Grade system in France is a bit different, at least for me, since in Serbia is a different story. Depending from where you are coming from, you might find it strange or a very similar to your experience. The grades are ranging from 0-20, and passing grades are from 10-20. It is very hard to get above 18, so the best students are usually ones with 16 and 17. But still, this is from my experience. Also, Polytech in Tours is requiring of international students to pass A2 level on TCF test, which is national test for French language.
Here is the link: TCF.
You will need to work hard and practice your language skills in any way possible in order to pass this test. You will get classes in Polytech, but they only cover A1 level, so be prepared to study more. This is mostly for students who are coming with zero knowledge of French, while for the others this test might not be too hard.
As international student in Polytech, you will have a great experience working with students from all around the world. The system of teaching and working is focused mostly on students and their personal work. Therefore, there are almost no exams, and teaching units are graded on your practical work and presentations. As Campus France is requiring from students the list of grades until the end of February, be noted that grades from Polytech are arriving around February/March. This is what I meant by “slow administration process”.
Information about renting the place, mobile operators and CAF you can find in my previous article: What foreign students should know when they arrive in Tours, France.
In general, studying in France is one big experience that you can upgrade further in your life. Be patient, open minded and surround yourself with people from all around the world. It will richen your stay in France and you will make great new contacts and friends. As for administration procedures, do not be afraid, you are not alone. Bon courage!