Róisín Cullen, DCU (BAJH)
Where did you study abroad?
Université Rennes 2, Rennes
What did you study abroad?
I studied English literature when abroad. We studied works like Romeo and Juliet, Pride and Prejudice, A Streetcar named desire etc. It was strange because a lot of the lectures were in French! This was a great opportunity though to be immersed and to see the things you have already read/studied in a different light. University was a lot like secondary school, with small groups. I was so shocked when someone asked the professor if they could go to the toilet.
Did you join an ESN Section abroad? Favourite Event?
I joined ESN during my very first week and it made all the difference. The former chairperson of ESN Rennes is now one of my closest friends. We met because she was wondering if I had bought a ticket for their Disneyland trip yet. Chat and beer Mondays were where we all met our friends, and walking into the pub was the equivalent of walking into your local at home. We met people from all the different countries, danced on the tables and then usually went on to Penny Lane (the late bar). "Are you coming Penny Lane?" was the most important question of all, because no was never usually an answer. Every Monday night finished with The Beatles immortal line- "Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes".
This line was never as important than when we all gathered in the pub for the last time before lockdown forced us all to separate. I remember looking around and thinking about how important the people around me at that time were to me and how lucky I was to have met them. I know for the fact that these friends that were once strangers will be by my side during all the highs and lows of life (even during world pandemics). Erasmus and ESN gave me that opportunity. Every time that song is played, I remember countless ""I'm getting an early night, I have a 9am"" nights that became late nights, conversations using various hand signals (language barriers can always be overcome) and doing the conga in the street with Celtic football fans.
During some of the most challenging lockdown days I play that song and I am back on that stage surrounded by people that I love, people that are now scattered all over the world. I imagine myself sitting on a bench in Parc du Thabor or sitting in a kitchen as someone makes fancy coffee. I look forward to the day when quarantines are a thing of the past and when friends are once again only a train ride or a cheap flight away. But for now I take great comfort in the fact that out of all the places I could have ended up in the world, I had the pleasure of travelling to Rennes.
I'm not going to be cliché and say that I found myself on a year abroad. What I found was far more important- remarkable friends I can always count on and people I will be telling my grandchildren about.
The ESN weekend trips never disappointed. The long bus journeys and multiple garage stops were always worth it! Not ashamed to say that many of us got emotional during a Disneyland Christmas parade or that one of the English girls got her hair entangled with an umbrella (in a fight to the death) on the sand dunes in Bordeaux (Dune de Pilat). We all climbed up the dunes in our bare feet, but it was freezing cold and raining. The whole event a bit like a pilgrimage.
Karaoke nights took place in a bar that was so packed you would have trouble getting in the door (just pre-coronavirus things). It all became quite competitive the minute "The Cranberries" were mentioned. It was great to see people sing songs that were popular in their native languages. Even if you didn't know the words, you would get the gist and end up dancing on the stage with them.
I think I would class introducing an Australian to the Late Late Toy Show as a spiritual experience.
What is your favourite memory from your Erasmus experience?
I have so many amazing memories from Rennes, it's so difficult to narrow it down. What I wouldn't give to be walking around sunny Parc Du Thabor or strolling down Rue de La Soif.
I remember swimming in Saint-Malo ( a nearby seaside town) as the sun was setting on the makeshift pool in the seal. The water was warm and I could see my friends in the background. I remember wondering if any of it was real, it was so surreal and to an extent still is. I remember trying and failing to ice skate and repetitive fire drills that always seemed to happen when I was having a shower. I remember finding a mattress on a walk home and jumping up and down on it for probably half an hour. Transmusicales was a festival that took place in airport sheds. It was definitely a change to be drinking mulled wine at a festival wearing a coat and scarf instead of sitting in a field on a sunny day.
When travelling from the Netherlands back to Paris on my own, my FlixBus broke down around 4 am. Waiting on the side of the road because all the mechanics in Belgium were asleep, should probably be a memory you would like to forget but it always makes me laugh.
As does Bordeaux Superior wine, trips to Carrefour, a particular slide in McDonald's and three euro Metronome meals.
Strikes and protests were commonplace, so our lectures were usually replaced with trips to local pubs, picnics in the park and pretending to know things about art.
Did you also travel to any new countries while studying abroad?
I travelled to a few different countries when studying in Rennes. Amsterdam was first on the list where we somehow ended up in a far above average hostel. A lengthy bus journey took us over international borders. I had forgotten my passport and have never felt more grateful for being a part of the EU. There we went to (shock horror) .. a few coffee shops. I somehow got a ticket to Anne Frank's house which has been something I have wanted to do since I was very young. I cannot stress the fact that everyone should visit once in their lifetimes, enough. Various cups of tea later got us through pure exhaustion.
I then embarked on another FlixBus towards The Hague, to be met by a screaming friend at a tram station (a proud ESNer). This was of course the former ESN chairperson. Which just goes to show the importance of the group. Someone who was once a stranger became a person I would travel anywhere to see, even just for a quick coffee or a pint.
"Do you want to put anything in the boot", she said pointing at her bike. A friend from Belgium also stayed for a weekend of pancakes, rosé and badly made spaghetti (I'm sorry).
On our travels, we ended up buying a couch for the apartment and hitching a free Uber in the back of the delivery van. Things quickly turned downhill and became very like a particular scene in "Friends" when the sofa would not fit in the doorway. "Pivot, Pivot, Pivot", did not even work resulting in a number of neighbours coming out to watch the scene resolve.
I was always struck by how many amazing, lovely people I met during my Erasmus year and the delivery men would fit that description. When leaving The Hague, I enquired in a hotel as to the whereabouts of a bus station and the man literally went above and beyond even though I wasn't a paying customer. The resounding message from my Erasmus experience was that there is far more good in the world than bad. This is something that gives me great comfort even in the trickiest of times.
When we travelled to London on a cheap Ryanair flight, coronavirus was becoming a guest character in our lives. Gossip about the virus started to creep into conversation, a dark figure hanging in the shadows. We met a wonderful Derry Girls look alike (a former Rennes 2 student) and an overall fantastic human being in London. The hostel was cold and extremely purple, with a dodgy toilet door. It never stopped raining but we didn't care. We bought a bottle of travel hand sanitiser as a joke, shortly before it quickly stopped being a joke.
I remember arriving late to a club and being greeted by a friend from the same county as me. We had never met before we saw each other on an orientation day in France. I'm a big believer in the fact that there are people you are destined to meet in your lifetime. ESN speeds this process up a bit and I am eternally grateful.
Do you have a fun fact about studying abroad?
I went to France with very little French meaning that my first few weeks could be summarized with a lot of hand gestures and miscommunicated messages. When I first got the key to my accommodation, I was fresh from Electric Picnic. I was wandering aimlessly through the apartment blocks until I heard an Irish accent. Two Cork natives invited me to their floor and helped me with my suitcase. I knew from that moment on that I would be grand, and think a lot about that day a lot. I must admit I often did get people to relay my Subway order (because that's too important for language errors).
Top tips for the University/City you studied at? Favourite places? Shops? Restaurants?
Make sure to have milk in the fridge before Sundays when everything closes! Find O'Connells and Fox & Friends. Tiffanys does a Sunday roast (which is a well-deserved break from the lifestyle of a student. Parc Du Thabor will become your life. You'll walk/jog there/ grab coffee there, attend festivals there and quickly fall in love with its cherry blossom trees. The Christmas markets will make mulled wine and fake snow more accessible than ever. Rue De La Soif has so many quirky little bars that are well worth a visit (or a weekly visit). Bourbon d'Arsel has fantastic coffee, with a sofas upstairs that are perfect for DMCs. Columbus in Saint Anne, is Starbuck's older more sophisticated sister for a caramel cappuccino on the go. Delerium has that sports bar feel, that makes it more like the pub experience you would have at home. Great cocktails!
You will find pizza vending machines on your travels (they are closer than you think) and you''ll never look back. It's the way of the future, don't question it. 1988, L'Espace and La Place will become familiar additions to your weekly schedule (the ideal clubs to dance until the early hours).
Rennes' markets on a Saturday morning are always worth the visit. The fruit and veg is affordable and the vibes are immaculate. The sounds, smells and bustle will immediately lift your mood even if you're not buying anything. There's a daily book and record stand near the shopping centre in Saint Anne. I found so many gems here and it meant I could find the books for my course for a fraction of the price. Also browsing through 80s records makes you look cool and quirky or so I have been told....
The running track in the sports campus (really flat and do-able) is always open and local gyms have great membership deals. You could also just sit on a bench in Parc Du Thabor as the seasons pass and remark on the fact that its beauty never falters, whatever you're feeling on a given day.