What's it like doing Erasmus?
In this blog Q&A, Anastasia Donnir - fifth year medic shares her experience of Erasmus in Paris!
What is ERASMUS and why did you choose to do it?
Erasmus is a European student exchange programme that gives medical students the opportunity to undertake their Year 4 Obstetrics and Gynaecology placement block in Europe.
The Erasmus placement will either be in Block 1 or Block 3 in 4th year. In 2019, the destinations were France (Paris or Nantes), Spain, Germany and Sardinia. Students must apply for the programme in 3rd year as the placements need to be organised in advance. My Erasmus placement was in Paris, from 18th February to 19th April 2019. I was there with 2 other Cardiff students. Both were male so I was the only female.
Describe your typical week on Erasmus!
Monday-Friday I had placement from 8am-12/1pm. In Paris, the students are only expected at placement in the mornings as they have teaching every afternoon from 1-6pm. I was able to pick up many useful things in the lectures I attended. Occasionally, I’d stay at placement after all the French students had left until 5pm. As there were no other students around I was free to join any team I wanted to shadow. On other days I left placement with the French students, had lunch with them and joined their lectures from 1-5pm (the lectures actually finished at 6pm but I never stayed that late!). However, on MOST days, after leaving placement in the afternoon, I’d have the rest of the day to myself to do what I decided to do.
I particularly enjoyed the diversity of patients I saw in the Parisian hospitals. I had the opportunity to learn more about diseases like sickle cell anaemia, tuberculosis, as well as the management of patients with antenatal parvovirus B19 and Rubella infections.
In Paris, the students are expected to clerk patients as part of placement- it is the actual job of the final year French students (Externes). Even with my broken french I had the opportunity to clerk many patients without having to search for them. If you do not feel comfortable clerking patients you can simply shadow an Externe. There is also formal teaching every afternoon in the form of lectures.
- Go to a cafe for food
- General exploration of Paris
- Meet up with friends I made at church
Meet up with the other Cardiff students I was there with
- Attend a dance class ( around €20 per class )
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday evening, myself and the other 2 Cardiff students would get together to debrief what we’d learned on placement and to practice for ISCEs. We went through different specialities each week to prepare for the ISCEs. This was extremely useful and i’d recommend anyone doing Erasmus in Block 3 to practice frequently with the other students
On Saturdays, if I didn’t have any plans with anyone I’d just relax at home and take it easy. To be honest I was mostly absolutely shattered from the week. On Sundays I attended church in the mornings (Hillsong, because they had an English translator with the pastor on stage). In the afternoons I’d either relax at home with a book or netflix and cook/ meal plan for the week.
What was it like finding accommodation?
Thankfully in Paris, the University offered us accommodation through their central student accommodation service called ‘CROUS’. We just had to sign up for it and pay a deposit in advance of our arrival. HOWEVER, please note that if you arrive in Paris on the weekend nobody will be there to give you keys. It will be best to speak to the reception at accommodation you have been allocated in advance of your arrival and arrange a time to meet them for your key. This will have to be on a weekday so it’s advisable that you arrive on the Friday before your placement starts. We also had to open a French bank account. This can only be done in person, not on the phone so try to make an appointment with the bank near your accommodation before you arrive in Paris. In Pari,s every house (even rented student accommodation) must have individual home insurance. Thankfully the bank automatically provides home insurance to your registered address. We had to provide this home insurance certificate to our accommodation.
The 3 of us that went together were in the same accommodation. We each had our own large studio flats (private ensuite bathroom and kitchen). They cost around €590 a month but was worth it as we had our own space to unwind at the end of the day.
Is there anything you wish you knew before doing Erasmus?
* Go out of your way to make friends with the French students otherwise it’ll be very hard to get to know them, particularly with the language barrier!
* Wellbeing! Studying medicine in english is hard enough, now try to do it in a language that you are not fluent in. The days felt more tiring because a lot of my energy was spent trying to understand what was actually happening on placement and to keep up with the French students as much as possible. The additional pressure from the looming ISCEs also made it harder to prioritise my study schedule- do I spend my time learning Obs and Gynae the French way or do I speak to my colleagues in Cardiff about what they are learning about as that’s more likely to be tested?
*Finance! I also ran out of money towards the end of my placement so had to live off a very tight budget for the last 2 weeks.
Can you provide 5 top tips for making the most out of Erasmus?
SAVE UP in advance as everything is more expensive than you think
Start practicing the language every day via a language app a year before you go. Just 5-10 minutes a day is plenty! You’ll see the huge difference it makes once you get there.
Make sure you still do the normal activities that you would normally do at home e.g. cycling, running, dancing, attending church etc. Remember you’re ‘living’ there for 2 months so actually get settled in like a temporary home
Get your friends/family to book tickets to come and visit you well in advance so they get the cheapest prices (and so that you can get a little slice of home whilst out there)
Don’t let the fact that you have been placed in Block 3 stop you from undertaking the Erasmus programme. It is an amazing opportunity to live and study in a different country, experience how a completely different healthcare system works and learn about conditions you don’t regularly see in Wales.#
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Paris and would recommend it to all!