Preface: Please note that although this blog has (hopefully) been extremely helpful to many students by this point, I did study in France in 2010. Therefore, please take what is written below with a grain of salt, understanding that some of this information may be out of date. Do your homework, and do your best: the rest will just fall into place.



Bonjour tout le monde! This is a guide, written, prepared and edited by University of North Dakota student and post study abroader Kelli Bren. It has special emphasis for UND students interested in attending the Universite de Caen Basse-Normandie’s Immersion Program, also known as the CEFE. This guidebook gives a step-by-step process for a successful first taste of studying in Caen. We’ll talk about everything from not panicing mid-advisement appointment to how to successfully deal with culture shock (and that doesn’t mean eating as much chocolate as your tummy can handle!) to where to get the best baguettes when you make it to France. It’ll give you the insider’s tips on getting tram passes, pinching pennies and securing that ever-important cell phone issue. Ready? Allons-y!


Chapter I

Where in the world do I start?

So you’ve decided to study abroad! Congratulations! Studying abroad will change the way you look at people, cultures, languages and culture shock. You’ll realize that the world is only as big as you make it. You’ll make life-long friends, eat fantastic food, see priceless landmarks and jaw-dropping sunsets. You’ll be stressed out, blissful and blitzed, and it’s all part of the great experience.

If you think you’re ready for a once-in-a-lifetime educational experience, then the first step is to talk to your French professor and academic advisor(s). If you’ve never taken a language course, talk to your academic advisor and see if he or she can help you get in contact with a languages professor who has knowledge of the UCBN (Universite de Caen Basse-Normandie) program. You don’t need to speak French to participate in the UCBN CEFE (Exchange) program! If you have taken French classes, it’s still very important to talk to your professor to see if study abroad is right for you. Ask them if you’d be a good candidate for study abroad and your academic career goals and dreams accommodate time abroad. If there was any time to ask questions about the UCBN program, this is it. Ask away! Your advisor and/or professor is there to answer any concerns or questions you have regarding your education.

The next step is to make an appointment with a study abroad advisor. You can find out who your study abroad advisor is through the Office of International Programs or your language professor. The Office of International Programs is there, just like your professor and advisor, to answer any and all questions you may have about studying abroad. It’s their job to make you feel at-ease about going overseas! Be ready to talk to them about your study abroad process by thinking of questions before your appointment and writing your questions down.  It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of information presented to you at the initial appointment with the OIP. There are many proverbial hoops to jump through to study abroad and it is the OIP’s responsibility to tell you all the ins and outs of your program. But don’t panic! You’ll see it’s not impossible to do everything on time! This guide will help you, and remember, your advisor, professor and the OIP are there for you too!

The first thing to do in your extensive paper-trail is to apply to study abroad at UND. The paperwork for this step is very minimal and very easy to complete. The OIP will give you a checklist of all you need to do with the beginning paperwork. Follow the checklist and even more importantly, start early. The sooner you complete the checklist, the more at-ease you’ll feel with the process. Procrastination will only lead to frustration! Among the paperwork needed for acceptance by the university, you’ll need to pre-register to study at the University de Caen Basse-Normandie. Pre-registering is very simple, although you may find that the English translation lacking.

The next step is to apply to Campus France. Campus France is an enigma in the fact that you cannot very easily contact the organization and they do not very quickly return emails (if they return them at all!). Campus France’s website is rather confusing. Follow the directions given to you by the OIP on how to navigate Campus France and their website. There is a lot of information that Campus France will ask you to fill in on the website regarding your education and specific courses you have taken in the past (high school and college). Don’t feel obligated to be completely thorough (i.e. listing every course you took in high school) with your educational background. Also be prepared for a shaky English translation from the French version of Campus France. Write down any passwords and usernames you use for Campus France, because you will need your username and password for logging in sometime in the near future.

(Note: Because you’ll be working with a great many websites that ask for usernames and passwords, it’s a really good idea to write down every single password and username for each domain in a SECURE LOCATION. Don’t use Post-its or a scrap of paper or a gum wrapper! Start organized and stay sane!)

Now you will wait for the acceptance letter from your university. It ought to be rather rapid in its arrival, but if it’s not, don’t hesitate to ask someone about it. As soon as you get your acceptance letter from the university (which may be electronic), send a copy of your acceptance letter and a MONEY ORDER of $60 to Campus France. Do it RIGHT AWAY. The sooner your letter gets shipped off the better! Campus France does not accept checks, credit cards or cash. They only accept money orders! You can get a money order from your grocery store’s customer service counter or at the bank. It costs about a dollar to make a money order.

Campus France is based out of Washington DC’s French Embassy. After two weeks, if you do not hear from Campus France after all of your information has been submitted and your payment has been sent, CONTACT CAMPUS FRANCE via the French Embassy in Washington, DC. If your application is wrong in some way, they won’t process your application and decline to tell you. (Isn’t that nice of them?) However, if your application IS accepted, you’ll get a notification on your CAMPUS FRANCE EMAIL. Remember those usernames and passwords you’ve started to write down? Find your Campus France username and password, and find your acceptance letter in your e-mail on the website. They WILL NOT send you a paper copy of acceptance or send an email elsewhere. It will be in your Campus France email or not at all!!!

Campus France will give you a lot of information both after you’ve submitted your application and after they accept you. Write down everything that Campus France gives you number-wise. That way, if anything out of the ordinary happens and you need a number regarding your application, you’ll have it. In the meantime, while you wait for that acceptance email, let’s see what’s next.

By this time in the application game, you ought to have a healthy stack of papers, codes, appointment times, email addresses and many other pieces of paper you’ve had to accumulate for your various applications. At this time, it is a good idea to make several photo copies of each important document (Immunization record(s), birth certificate(s), Passport, proof of insurance, Study Abroad Acceptance Letter(s) from both UCBN and your university and so on). Photo copy absolutely anything you think may be important to a foreign government, even if you think it’s ridiculous. You never know when you might need an extra copy of your birth certificate!


Chapter II

“Are We There Yet?”

Getting your Visa and Going to Chicago (or your nearest French Consulate)

While you wait for your Campus France acceptance letter, go to the French Consulate website and apply to visit the consulate to get your visa. The consulate workers will be ready for you when you arrive, so just like visiting the dentist, you must make an appointment! Look ahead at least 2 weeks but no more than 1 month from when you applied to Campus France and make your appointment to get your visa in Chicago (or nearest consulate).

Like Campus France, when you make your appointment to visit the consulte, the website for the consulate will give you important numbers, codes and information. Be sure to save ALL of it in your secure document or folder in case you need the information in the future. It is obligatory that you go to Chicago (or nearest consulate), so factor the cost of this trip into your final expenses for studying abroad!

Here is a quick look at what kind of costs you might encounter as you plan your trip to the consulate.

Cost of getting to Chicago (or nearest Consulate)

Cost of hotel

Cost of food

Cost of taxi/metro system

Cost of sightseeing or any entertainment you’d like to take in while you’re in the city

In addition to the costs to GET to the consulate, be sure to factor in the cost to ship your visa BACK to you. The consulate requires a self-addressed first class priority shipping envelope to ship your passport and visa back to you. First class priority mail at USPS costs about $20.00. Get this envelope as soon as you can, and BRING IT WITH YOU TO CHICAGO along with all the right documentation! To make sure you have everything that the consulate requires, check, double-check and TRIPLE check the requirements listed on the website. If you show up at your appointment without the right documents, they’ll tell you to come again when you have the right papers! The consulate’s website regarding what paperwork to bring is conclusive, well-written and easy to understand. However, if you have any questions, you can contact the French Consulate directly or the OIP.

The French Consulate is very easy to find and the people are very accommodating. It’s located at in downtown Chicago. Take a taxi, the metro system, the bus or walk to the Consulate building, which is found one of many office suites in Michigan Plaza. Upon arrival, you must check in at the large front desk. Have your picture ID ready as they require an ID for your ticket for the elevators. Use your ticket to unlock the turn stall and look at your ticket pass for the floor number of the Consulate. Your parents are welcome to come with you as long as they have picture ID too. You can even show up early for your appointment! If you get confused, just ask one of the many guards stationed at Michigan Plaza. It’s a very official building with many embassies and offices, so there is a lot of security!

You’ll have to take a picture at the Consulate, have your fingerprints taken, give them all the documents listed on the website and pay about $70.00 for your visa. The appointment in its entirety takes about 10 or 15 minutes. The website says that it may take up to 21 days to get your visa back, but visas being back after only 8 days have been reported. Regardless, assume that yours will take 21 days to be shipped back to you.

(Note: Remember to save absolutely everything in paper form that comes with your visa from the Consulate! Bring it with you overseas because you’ll need it for later on in the visa process!)

When you get to France, you must validate your visa. It costs 55 € to validate your visa, and if you plan on leaving the European Union and returning to France, your visa must be validated or you will not be able to re-enter France. A letter will be sent to you at your French address stating the time and place of your appointment. You’ll find the office of visa validation, OFII, in downtown Caen, near the port. The 55 € is in stamp-form, the kind of stamp you would use for a very expensive letter, and you can buy it at a bank which is also downtown Caen. OFII, on the day of your appointment, will take your stamp, glue it to the back of papers that come back with your initial visa from Chicago, stamp it and declare you “valid.” The reason that you must buy the stamp is for taxation reasons.


Chapter III

Hoppin’ on a Jet Plane!

Getting to France

Wow! Good work! You’re almost ready to depart! Now it’s time to book your flight to France.

You may find that travling with someone is safer, more relaxing and comforting. Many people like to travel with someone they know because of the emotional security that a friend lends. They can help you with giant bags, emotional break-downs, maps, finances and anything else you may have troubles with (including language!)

Look for really good deals on flights and don’t assume that the prices you see one day are going to be the same the next. Good websites to visit are and Usually the prices you see on websites like Expedia and Hotwire are ironically not as well-priced as the student minded StudentUniverse.

(Note: If you choose, you may have to prove your student status. Just follow the directions they will send you in your preferred email to prove your student status. It’s very easy and the price difference is worth the extra work!)

Check the dates on the information sheets that the University de Caen Basse-Normandie will have by this time sent you. Don’t arrive too early and definitely don’t arrive too late. If you need help deciphering your information packets, go to your professor. It’s very important to arrive on the right day or you might not have a place to sleep that night! If you’re staying with a family, ask them when they’d like for you to arrive if you haven’t discussed it yet.


Ready, get set, and book your flight!!!!!!!


Chapter IV




Now that you know when you’re leaving the country, you can tend to a few more little details regarding your education. Call Financial Aid. Make sure that everything is in order as far as your finances. There is nothing worse than surprises regarding money when it comes to bills! Sometimes organizations in the university system don’t charge you until the very last minute. Look out for mischarges, overcharges and multiple charges. Financial aid is not perfect, and as hard as they try, neither are other university offices.


Keep a running total of any charges you’ve accumulated throughout the study abroad process for your own records. A spreadsheet is a good idea. You’ll know exactly how much everything has cost you thus far.


Order Euros from your home bank and work up a budget for while you’re overseas.


Make an appointment to see your physician, your dentist, your optometrist and any other important medical professionals in your life. Let them know where you’ll be and what you’ll be doing so they can serve you better. You may need to get permission from professionals concerning any prescription medication you take on a daily basis. Talk to your physician about this as soon as you can so they can make the necessary arrangements for you.


Give your employer your two weeks’ notice and talk to them, if you choose, about your return and securing your job for when you arrive home.


Start a packing list. It’s a good idea to go through your day and write down the little things that you may need or want. You can always throw them out of your suitcase later if you decide against bringing them with you or leave them in France for the next wave of students!


Put together a list of information for your family or trusted friend. Even if you’re an adult and you think you’re completely independent, it’s important that someone knows where you are and how to contact you if you need help. It’s up to you how much information you’d like to share, but DO remember to give copies of your passport and visa to your family or trusted friend!


Arrange for a ride to the airport on the day of your departure to France.


Attend study abroad meetings and take notes! It’s really important to go to all the meetings that the OIP requires you attend and your professor/advisor may arrange. The information you’ll garner from past study abroad students and study abroad ambassadors is priceless. They’ll let you in on all the little secrets you’ll find precious when you get overseas. Bring a big notebook and TAKE NOTES! You won’t regret it!


Chapter V


Over-packing, Under-packing and Non-packing Issues


Go to weather websites and almanac websites for weather trends in the area of the country you’ll be spending the most time. Does it rain? Bring an umbrella. Is the country known for arctic blasts of air? It’s probably a good idea to bring a few scarves and mittens as well as a winter coat. Arriving in summer but leaving in winter? Plan for a change of seasons! Ask the students who arrived from your destination last semester or year what the locals wear. You can always purchase clothing overseas of course, but if you’re on a budget and money is a little tight, you may not want to drop your life savings on a new wardrobe. Black is always a good wardrobe staple along with simple scarves. Layers are a good idea because you can always remove them as you warm up and add them as you find yourself getting too cool.


You’re going to be living in Europe, so plan on walking everywhere! Chances are the tram won’t stop at your front door, so you’ll be walking in the sunshine/rain/hail/fog/snow to get to where you need to go. Look for comfortable, durable shoes that can handle a lot of abuse and yet are versatile. If you’re not used to walking a lot or doing physical activity, think about hitting the gym diligently before departure so that the physical exertion doesn’t stop you from seeing everything you want to experience!


Remember that laundry facilities will either be hard to come by or non-existent in your living quarters, so plan on either doing your laundry in the sink or utilizing the university laundry facilities often. Bringing laundry detergent, a rope-clothesline and clothespins are handy when you need to hang up those dripping (but CLEAN!) socks! You don’t have to bring your own laundry detergent, but you can. Some parts of the university with laundry facilities will sell you a wash, dry and detergent for about 4 €. If you prefer to wash out socks, underwear, etc. on your own, it’s a good idea to have your own cache of soap.


Don’t pack the kind of clothing that needs an iron (as you may or may not have one!), the thickest warmest sweater you own (too bulky!) or the most giant pair of combat boots you can find. If you’re shopping for a study abroad wardrobe, the mantra to repeat is “washable, line-dryable and durable.”


Next we’ll talk about…


“The Things to Bring They Never Tell You About!” (The secret is out!)


  1. A First-Aid Kit. Pretend you’re going camping. Band-aids, an ace bandage, thermometer, ibuprofen, gauze, scissors and tape are good starters for a first-aid kit. You can find a lot of products similar to ones you’ll have at home overseas, but if you’re the kind of person who wants their own brand of, say, band-aids, go nuts. You can never have enough band-aids.


  1. A voltage converter and plug adapter. European and Asian appliances use a different plug than North American appliances. So, if you want to use your shaver, your laptop, a blow-dryer or straightener, you’ll need a voltage converter and a plug adapter. Voltage converters change our wattage in the United States (which is 110 volts) to European or Asian wattage (which is 220 volts). If you don’t use a voltage converter, you can fry technology faster than you can say “watts!” and replacing that sort of stuff can get pricy really fast! Laptops need about 90 volts of power for conversion purposes. Consult a technology specialist to see if your computer needs a voltage converter or just a plug adapter.


  1. Notebooks and writing utensils. You can bring these along and use the space that they took up in your suitcase to bring things home or you can purchase them overseas. Like many things, notebooks and pens/pencils are not exactly difficult to find but nice to have on hand if you don’t make it to Carrefour (Wal-Mart) right away.


  1. Bedding. Interrogate past study abroad-ers and UCBN veterans to see if the university gives you bedding or you must bring your own. It may happen that the bedding provided is outside your comfort zone or you simply cannot compromise bringing your pet pillow. You can also buy your bedding overseas. A pillow at Carrefour is about 5 € and a cheap comforter is about 10 €.


  1. Your American cell phone. If you want to call people when you return after your amazing Study Abroad experience and tell them you’ve arrived state-side without incident, it’s probably a good idea to bring your cell phone. Just remember the charger cord! Before you leave, investigate if your cell phone company can give you a plan for overseas communication. If so, this might be more economical than what the next section discusses!


  1. If you’re a “germaphobe,” you’ll have to adapt to the idea of soap and water not being available everywhere you go like in the United States. Stay healthy and bring hand sanitizer and/or soap. Hand sanitizer in France is about three times as expensive as the United States, so you may find it more economical to bring your Purell from home!


Chapter VI

“Hey, speaking of cell phones…”

Finding and buying a French cell phone

It’s a really, really, really, REALLY good idea to get a cell phone. For those of us in a day-in-age where we rely so heavily on the ability to communicate, being in a foreign country with no form of communication with your peers can feel debilitating. If you are planning on buying a telephone in France, be prepared to drop about 50 € initially and then about 30 € per month for service.

French cell phones are not like American cell phones because you do not buy a plan but instead a “pay as you go” card (like a TracPhone). If you’re looking for a way to pinch pennies, go for the cheapest phone you can find (somewhere between 30 € and 40 €) or find someone who came back from Europe who no longer wants or needs their cell phone. When you get to the store, indicate that you want to buy a cell phone to the store worker. They will be able to help you pick the right phone, the right plan and activate your phone. Most telephones come with a 4 € credit, but after that 4 € is gone, you must purchase a card that gives your phone more communication “juice.” You can ask the worker to set the phone up in English.

If you sign on with the Bouygues Telecom company (Pronounced “Boy-guh”), your friends and family can call your cell phone free of charge to you (much like the old “Land-Line” idea). Just make sure they’re using an international phone card to call you! Texts with Bouygues are free on Wednesday and after 5 PM. French cell phone numbers are 10 digits long and are usually preceded by a + sign. (Example: +06 77 84 00 27)

When you nearly run out of credit on your cell phone, you will receive a text, free of charge, to your cell phone, informing you that the phone will no longer be able to make calls or texts after a certain date. You can still receive texts and calls on your cell phone when you have no credit, however. To recharge your cell phone, you can either bring it back to the Bouygues store and purchase credit or buy what looks like a phone card from the Tobac (a drugstore) or supermarket. The phones are relatively easy to recharge and last anywhere from 3 months to 1 week depending on the amount of credit you purchase.


Chapter VII

Bienvenue a UCBN!

Specific Information on Getting to the Universite de Caen Basse-Normandie.

Preface: It is absolutely imperative to read signs. Have your dictionary handy if you’re a little shaky on airport terminology in French and get ready to navigate!!

Bienvenue a France! After you land, you must go through customs. Follow the signs that say Customs or Entry. When you get to customs, there will be several kiosks for different kinds of passports and people. You must go to the right kiosk for your passport. For example: if you are not a French citizen, do not go to the French Citizen kiosk! Be ready for rapid-fire French! Listen closely, and if the security agents ask you a question you do not understand, indicate so. They are there to help you and you need not be afraid of asking any questions either in French or in English.

Collect your luggage. You can find the baggage claims by following the signs marked as “Les bagages” and finding the correct carousel by looking for computer screens with specific flight numbers near the baggage claim area.

Your next destination is Gare Saint-Lazare, a train from which will take you directly to Caen! After you have your bags, either move toward where taxis are waiting or opt for the subway system. If you are traveling with a friend, the cost for a taxi is about 25 € and the ease is splendid. You will arrive at the right train station in about 35 minutes by taxi, assuming traffic is not terrible.

The RER and metro combined costs less than 10 €, but many times it’s crowded and if you’re not familiar with the metro, it can be scary to navigate with big bags. However, if you choose to take the subway system, it’s NOT IMPOSSIBLE!! Consult a map and find Gare Saint-Lazare before your departure into MetroLand and be prepared to guard your belongings closely. The metro and RER systems are extensive, well-timed and the maps are easy to read, but pickpockets run rampant and you will have a lot of things to watch! Be careful!

When you get to Gare Saint-Lazare, purchase your “billet” (ticket) to travel to Caen at the “guiche”(ticket counter). Indicate that you want a one-way ticket unless you plan on returning to Paris very soon (i.e. the next couple days). Some workers at the guiche speak English, so if your brain won’t operate in French yet, it’s OK. A ticket to Caen costs about 32 €, and the train takes about 2 hours to get to Caen. If you are less than 25 years old, indicate so to the worker and get a discount!

(Note: There are two cities in France, Caen and Cannes, that to the English-speaker look like they’d be identical pronunciations. However, if you ask for a ticket to Cannes, you won’t get to Caen! Caen is pronounced [ka], the “a” being something like the “aw” in “awesome,” but farther back in your throat and slightly nasalized. The ‘n’ in the word is completely silent to the English ear. Cannes is pronounced [kan], like the English “can” but with a very soft ‘n’ sound.)

Punch the ticket at the small machines near the trains in the yellow ticket composters. You absolutely must punch your ticket prior to boarding the train. If you’re confused, just watch people around you. They will inevitably be using the same machines. If you have a hard time finding your train, just ask one of the very helpful workers mingling around the station. They will be happy to show you where to go.

When you get on the train, if there are no slips attached to the seat numbers overhead on the train seats, they are free-game. You may sit anywhere there is no reservation slip attached to the seat number (unless it is otherwise indicated on your ticket).

Hang on to your ticket and KEEP ALERT!!! By this point, you will be VERY tired and want to sleep. Try your hardest to keep awake because missing your stop would cause a big mess. Be prepared for an official to walk through the train and ask for proof of your ticket. At the correct stop (Caen), exit the train quickly and leave the train station.

For timetables regarding when trains leave from Saint-Lazare, go to


Chapter VIII

Home sweet home!

Getting Around Caen, France for the First Time


CONGRATULATIONS! You made it to the beautiful, historic city of Caen, France!

After your long flight, you might be hungry or thirsty. In the train station there is a wonderful little cafe and albeit a little spendy, the sandwiches and pastries are very good. If you prefer to get right to your destination, exit the train station, and just in front of the train station you’ll find several taxis waiting for customers. Give the address to the driver, or tell him where you’d like to go. It costs about 10 € to take a taxi from the Gare de Caen (Caen train station) to the University.


You may also take a tram to the University. The trams are very easy to understand and usually very punctual. To purchase a ticket for the tram, walk up to the tram platform where people may be waiting for the next tram and look for the vending machine that declares in big letters, “TICKETS Bus et Tram.” To operate the machine, push the one and only button located on the machine and turn the dial to select whatever pass you’d like to purchase by pushing the center button again. It costs 1.20 € to buy a one-way tram pass called “Voyage Unite.” Feed the machine money, and it will spit out a pass (and whatever change you may have) near your knees, just like a candy machine. When you board the tram, put your pass in the small yellow boxes (a bit like the ones you saw at the train station). The yellow box will eat your ticket and then spit it back at you. Keep your ticket in case the controllers (the Tram Gestapo!) board and ask for it.

To Campus 1 and University residences “Tilleuls” and “Peupliers,” take Line A (direction Campus 2) OR Line B (direction Herouville St Clair) and get off at CROUS-SUAPS.

To the residence “Lebisey,” take Line B (direction Herouville St. Clair) and get off at CITE U LEBISEY.

You can find the direction and tram line indicated at the front of the tram. There are maps of the tram system posted inside the shelters on the tram platforms.


Chapter IX


Whew! You made it! Now to find your room…

If you’re assigned to Peupliers or Tilleuls, take the tram to the stop CROUS-SUAPS, go through the heart of campus to a teal green and white building with a revolving door and the word “Accueil” above the door. Introduce yourself to the worker at the front desk. From now on, nobody speaks English!!! Paperwork will need to be done, and if you listen closely, you will understand what you must do. The desk worker will give you the keys to your building, and from now on until classes begin, you are free to do as you wish. Happy unpacking!

If you’re hungry, there is a great restaurant on campus called “Resto U” as well as many wonderful kebab places near campus. If you wander around, you’ll find a plethora of boulangeries and patisseries full of nice things to eat! The easiest place to eat on campus is a sandwich and pizza place right next to the Accueil (where you got your keys!). It opens at 6 PM for supper and they serve many savory things. You can get supper there for a mere 2.90 €. Bon Appetit!

After you get over your jet lag and catch some zzz’s in your new house, go on an adventure! Figure out the tram system. It’s not too difficult if you study the map posted on the tram station walls. Purchase a tram ticket by going to the machine located in the waiting area of each tram stop. Push the center button and turn the dial to pick what kind of pass you’d like to purchase. A 24-hour ticket costs 3.55 € and you can use it as many times during that 24 hours as you’d like.

Go to Carrefour. Carrefour is the French version of Wal-Mart. You can purchase anything you’ll ever need while in France at Carrefour. There a Carrefour in Cote de Nacre and one at Herrouville St. Clair. They are in the malls at the end of either tram line (A will bring you to Cote de Nacre, B will bring you to Heroville Saint-Clair).

Find a map at the Accuil and wander downtown through and past the castle. There are a lot of fun stores downtown, beautiful churches, lovers on the lawns, chocolate shops, patisseries and boulangeries. Anything you need can be found downtown! Cinema, Monoprix (French “Target,” one baby-step up from Carrefour in price and quality), the Twisto Office and the Bouygues Telecom store. Just a few suggestions while you explore downtown…

Monoprix (you can get everything from shoes to ice cream here)

Pull and Bear, a really cool Abercrombie-like store

FNAC, the French version of Best Buy

Twisto Office, where you can buy a tram pass (to be discussed later)

Bouygues Telecom Services

SNCF Office, where you can get train tickets

“Pean,” a delicious patisserie whose awning is lime green, has the best French Macaroons on the planet and really delightfully nice workers

Abbaye Aux Hommes, the famous church that was the model for La Notre Dame de Paris is downtown and worth a free Sunday tour! William the Conqueror is buried in the Cathedral.

“Danielle’s Pasta Box,” a fantastic nameless place that gives you pasta in a box with really wonderful pesto sauce. It’s on Rue Saint Pierre, by Sephora. The awning is black and red, and there is space to eat inside. When you show them your Student ID, you’ll get a discount!

Zara, a cramped little shoe store with rockin’ cool fashion for your feet

Abbaye Aux Dames, the counterpart to Abbaye Aux Hommes sits downtown by the port and worth a look. Both Abbeys are rich with history and stunning architecture. William the Conqueror’s wife, Matilda, is buried in the Cathedral in the Abbaye.

The Chateau Ducal, William the Conqueror’s Castle. Hard to miss, this amazing structure was the favorite spot of the famous Frenchman from 1066. You can climb the castle walls via the ancient steps and enjoy views of the city from the ramparts.

Musee de Beaux Arts, situated right inside the Chateau Ducal. It’s free to see the permanent exhibit!

Musee de Normandie, also inside the castle walls, tells many stories of the beautiful land on which you walk.

Eglise St. Pierre, the prominent church in the middle of Centre Ville is a stunning and open to enjoy to the public. Enjoy the classically gothic architecture and come back on Sunday for regular services at 11 AM! The pipe organ music is stunning and not something to miss.  

Port de Plaisance, the manmade port that runs along centre ville is relaxing. Bring a picnic or a book and enjoy the afternoon in the sunshine!

River Orne, the beautiful river that meanders through near downtown Caen also winds along the hippodrome a little walk away from downtown. The countryside is very quiet and relaxing. Bring a picnique and spend an afternoon in the sunshine, or pack your tennis shoes and go for a run around the hippodrome with many other Cannaise people!

O’Donnells Irish Pub next to the Port is a hopping Irish Pub where they serve great B-52’s and a regional cider beer called Apple Frost. It REALLY hops on Thursday nights when the Erasmus Students come out of the woodwork to party!

“Preston and Kelli’s Cookie Place” is another nameless stand where you’ll find the best chocolate chip cookies (and a taste of America!) this side of the Atlantic. It’s right next to Bouygues. It’s got yellow and red awning and is hard to miss (for more than one reason!).

Markets! Caen is home to a market every day of the week, although the markets closest to campus happen on Friday and Sunday. Friday market is near Abbaye Aux Hommes and has extensive merchandise for sale including the world’s best crunchy and floury baguettes and Bip Bip La Frite’s extraordinary steamy, crispy fries with sauces. Sunday’s market boasts the best galette you’ll ever sink your teeth into. Mmm!

Near Campus, but in the opposite direction of Centre Ville, are two wonderful boulangerie/patisseries. They are located at the Calvaire Saint-Pierre tram stop (the first one away from CROUS-SUAPS. If you walk a little farther up the street from the boulangeries and around a corner past some communal living spaces, you’ll find a little supermarket called Marche Plus, a tobac and a post office!


Chapter IX

“What About Money?”

Talking about Saving, Spending and a Few Extra Expenses That Are a Bit of a Surprise

If you are like most university students, you have limited funds. If you want to make your Euro stretch as much as it can, rest assured that there are ways to make that happen!

Instead of buying individual Twisto Passes (tram passes), walk or ride the bikes situated around downtown. Not only is it good exercise, but it’s free to walk and the first hour of riding a bike is free! When you really want the right to ride the tram, however, go downtown to the Twisto Office and buy a “Twisto Pass.” It costs 30 € for a month’s worth of travel. You can use your Twisto Pass for busses and trams and as many times as you want. Your Twisto pass does not, however, work with the company “Bus Vert.” If you know you will be commuting from a distance every day to classes or desire the mobility that the tram gives, a Twisto Pass is for you! If you enjoy walking the streets of Caen and getting exercise instead of taking the tram, buy individual passes. Discover what is best for your living and mobility situation while in Caen!

(Note: To make a month’s Twisto Pass worth your monetary while, you must use it at least 25 times.
30 € (approximate cost of a month’s pass) / 1.20 € (one way voyage) = 25 one-way voyages )

Show everyone your student ID or if you’re under 25 years old, advertise it! Students and young people get really good deals at many places including SNCF, the rail system. SNCF has a wonderful program for students and young people. Through SNCF, you can purchase a “Carte 12-25,” a voucher that will cause you to get wicked good deals on all rail tickets (up to 50% off regular fare!). Carte 12-25 costs 50 €, but it pays for itself by the 2nd trip you take. The same applies for Bus Vert. Advertise your age and get a good deal on your bus fare!

(Note: to get a Twisto Pass and a 12-25 card, you need your passport, ID Pictures–the little ones you might get for a passport–and your address while living in France!)

If you’re looking for good deals on clothes, shoes and almost everything in between, the soldes are for you! The soldes are the famous French sales that happen twice a year: once in January and once in June. Everything in the stores is marked down to crazy low prices for a whole month to clear out merchandise from last season.

It seems like everyone, from the Twisto office to the University, wants an ID photo of you! Don’t spend a fortune going to Kinkos or the Post office for dozens of ID photos. Wait until you get to France and find a picture booth where you can get about 6 photos for 5 €. It’s simple and much more economical. There are also websites where you can upload a picture of yourself and print it off for relatively no cost.

In your orientation process there is a bit of a nasty financial surprise. You will have to buy European health insurance for approximately 200 €. It’s obligatory, but if you have any questions about why, you can ask the people working with you that day. They are very helpful, and although they won’t get you out of the obligation of shelling over 200 €, they will listen if you care to protest!

(Note: To be accepted by the health insurance company, it is obligatory to go through a medical exam and pulmonary radiograph. The exam is relatively simple and non-extensive, but some students in the past have complained of slight discomfort at not knowing their French physician well and awkwardness due to language barriers. You may ask your physician to speak in English if you choose.)

Every month, as an exchange or direct-enroll student, you are entitled to a “bourse,” a stipend of 245 € to help with your food expenses. Not everyone eats 245 € worth of food in a month, so many people put the extra they have left from that month’s stipend toward the expense of traveling in and around Europe or other fun things in Caen (concerts, parties, fine dinners, boatloads of French Macaroons, etc). You can get your stipend with your Student ID Card (and not without it!) at the Presidence near the Sciences buildings. The office is on the 2eme Etage, and the hours of the office are a little inhospitable. Make sure you get your stipend within the first 6 days of the month or you’ll forfeit it!


Chapter X

“There’s no place like home!”

What to Do When Culture Shock Strikes

Culture shock is the anxiety that accompanies transplanting yourself to a new culture. Everyone experiences culture shock to a certain degree, and it’s nothing that should cause shame. Being in a new culture is exciting, but there are drawbacks to being far away from your home turf.

There are distinct, clinically-recognized stages of culture shock.

Stage 1: The feeling of excitement and eagerness. This stage occurs before leaving to go to the new culture.

Stage 2: The feeling that everything in the new culture is great. This stage occurs upon arrival to the new culture.

Stage 3: The feeling of everything in the new culture is terrible.

Stage 4: The feeling of adjustment. The stage where the visitor begins to feel comfortable and takes steps to become more familiar with the culture.

Stage 5: The feeling that everything is fine. The stage where the visitor has adapted to the culture and in some ways is embracing it as their own.

There are many symptoms of culture shock, but here just a few:

excessive concern over cleanliness and health, feelings of helplessness and withdrawal, irritability, desire for home and old friends, homesickness, boredom, withdrawal, excessive sleep, compulsive eating/drinking/weight gain, stereotyping host nationals, hostility towards host nationals

There are many “best cures” for culture shock, but eating yourself into a chocolate coma is not one of them. Seek out others and learn about their cultures. It’s possible that others are homesick too, and talking about their country can open doors of friendship. Go out, explore, make friends and be adventurous. Realize, above all, that the culture you are living in is not your own. It is foreign to you because you are the foreigner. To the people who live in France, however, it is normal and you are the one who is different! Difference is good because you can learn something about someone else! As Clifton Fadiman said, “When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.”