Igor Eydya, a second-year student of the GSOM SPbU Master in Management (MiM) CEMS program, spent six months in France. From the HEC Paris (Higher Commercial School of Paris), Igor brought knowledge and a lot of impressions about active student life. What you need to be prepared for when going to HEC Paris, Igor tells in detail.
What would be useful to know before the trip?
I think it is important to know that in France you can get compensation for renting an apartment, and for this, you need to bother with documents a lot, there is a terrible bureaucracy. Many of my friends and I did not have time to arrange this compensation. You just need to think about it in advance and while still in Russia you have to translate your birth certificate into French: it is tough, expensive, and long to do this in Paris. Compensation can be quite large, up to 40% of the cost of accommodation, depending on the area. You also need to know in advance about a 10-day quarantine for those who do not have an EU-approved vaccine when entering the country. By the way, that's how my welcome week went. You can leave the house for no more than an hour and no further than a kilometer. The local police controlled this; my friends and I were not checked, but I heard someone was checked. A fine of 1,500 euros if you are not found on the spot.
Were there any additional costs due to the pandemic?
PCR tests cost 45 euros; they are free only for those with French state insurance, and to get it, you need to study in Paris for more than a year. PCR tests are expensive, and it is better and easier to get vaccinated. I made Pfizer. The vaccination is free. The QR code is activated a week after complete immunization. They are checked in restaurants, clubs, and museums.
What do you understand about Paris and its citizens? Was there a culture shock?
Paris is not a very hospitable city. It seems that Parisians do not like English, which creates a significant barrier to communication. I was shocked by their transport system. After our subway, which works almost perfectly, I was surprised that to have problems with it is an ordinary thing there, and this is what you must think of to be on time for class. Metro and commuter train workers strike twice a week, and it's always sudden, and it happens that the train just doesn't arrive, and the next one is an hour later. The most interesting thing is that it does not bother the locals, we as foreigners were most surprised, especially my friend from Japan, where the best transport system in the world. The French believe that a strike is an obligatory element of freedom. All these rights are respected and treated with understanding. The mixed studying format helped out in this case — if you didn't have time for a lesson, you could always join online.
Do you need to know French to study at HEC Paris?
All teaching and communication on campus are in English. There was no point in speaking French inside our CEMS hangout. Unfortunately, our schedule with local students did not match. Our lessons were only for CEMS students, and at general events, everyone spoke English. There were 80-90 of us in total: students from all over Europe, Singapore, Brazil, a girl from Chile, and the French themselves were no more than ten people.
But when you go outside the university: almost no one speaks English. Without knowledge of French, it would be difficult to get a haircut, open a bank account or buy a SIM card.
So you can go to CEMS without French quite easily, but it's better to read at least a little French because there are a lot of bureaucratic documents there, and you need to understand what is written in them. Or what is written on the signs: the French do not duplicate information in English at all, deal with it whatever you like.
Tell us about studying at HEC Paris. Are there any differences with GSOM SPbU?
I was surprised that at HEC Paris, almost all lessons are based on case-study (training on specific situations). Only hard skills were in a different format. The study looked like this: there is some rather long case of medium complexity, and you need to read it to a lesson, answer questions, send answers to the teacher, and then in a class, all this is discussed using theory. There are lectures, but they are few. However, there are a lot of discussions, debates, and so on.
Was it difficult to study?
The complexity of studying at HEC Paris strongly depends on how much you create it for yourself. I was amazed by the average level of students — they are super bright guys. I have rarely met such. It was pretty difficult to meet the general level, but at the same time, there is nothing wrong with relaxing a little and concentrating more on communication. In CEMS, this is not punished at all, and you can even get more or less normal grades without spending all the time studying. Although some people studied tirelessly every day, but it was their choice.
So there was a lot of communication. Tell us about the local CEMS community. What activities were organized?
I couldn't even imagine so much activity. These were interesting meetings with business representatives from different fields, networking with alumni, informal evenings: time in restaurants and clubs, wine and cheese tasting, and even the Versailles Opera! This is something that is organized only by CEMS. And there were millions of other events.
What kind of events are these?
In HEC Paris, there are associations or even fraternities of interests - such as we have seen in American films. There were "Investors", "Alternative Investors", "Business Consultants", "Boardgame Lovers", "Spaniards", "Italians" — groups on any unifying grounds. They are constantly organizing something for themselves, and admission to such events is usually free. There was also an association that organized parties. There is a big party on campus every Thursday at a local club or bar. Any dances or sports are all planned by associations. There are flags of associations hanging in the main hall, and there are a lot of these flags; there is even horse riding and golf, but it was impossible to get to the course without a car, and therefore it was not possible to play golf for me.
What is the campus infrastructure of the HEC Paris?
It is worth going to HEC Paris, at least for the sake of the campus: there is nothing like it in Russia. This is a huge fenced area where there is a forest, a lake, fields for various sports, many buildings for study, dormitories, as well as a small castle for official events.
The infrastructure is huge, I saw only one bar, but I was told that there are three of them and several more clubs. I didn't have time to go around the entire campus in one semester — it's so huge. And at the same time, HEC Paris is very cozy because it is an enclosed space with no random people.
What is the situation with accommodation for exchange students?
CEMS-Students are not provided with a dormitory on campus, and you need to look for other accommodation options. HEC Paris is located 40 minutes from Paris by train, and there is also a village near where you can accommodate. The main advantage of such a solution is that you can spend a lot of time at HEC, and there are no problems with attending evening events, in any other case it is difficult — trains stop running early.
You can live in Paris or even in the center of Paris and enjoy Parisian life: the cost will be comparable to renting accommodation near the university.
The third option is just my option: live in a nearby suburb in a special dormitory for students from different universities. It is recommended in HEC Paris. There are free shuttles in the morning and evening to the campus. The space created there is very conducive to communication: the entire ground floor is shared so that students get to know each other. Among the guests are guys from Europe, Asia, Africa. If you want to meet many people from everywhere, this is the best option.
Where else did you visit during the exchange?
Всем советую связаться с CEMS-клубом в другой стране и приехать к ним потусить. Я не знаю, где еще так можно сделать! Мы ездили в Лиссабон и Барселону. В Барселоне даже посетили учебную пару, посвященную истории города, которая по сути была экскурсией.
I advise everyone to contact the CEMS club in another country and come to hang out with them. I do not know where else you can do this! We went to Lisbon and Barcelona. In Barcelona, we even visited a study lecture dedicated to the history of the city, which in fact, was an excursion.
For those going to visit France for an exchange, tell us about the financial side of life in Paris.
In Paris, to get at least some pleasure from life, leave home and do something, you need at least 1000-1100 euros per month.
The flight cost 300 euros there and 200 back. The first thing that surprised me when I arrived in Charles de Gaulle was the lack of signs, even in French: you arrived and immediately got lost. Secondly, a taxi from the airport to a student hotel in the suburbs costs 75 euros.
Housing 600-700 euros per month, although I have friends who managed to rent an apartment of 9 square meters in the center of Paris for 450 euros per month, this is rather an exception.
Transportation: 80 euro travel pass. It is very important to buy an unlimited subway pass in Paris. It is psychologically liberating to move around the city.
As for food, everything is quite expensive there, especially meat, but cheeses and wine are quite affordable. The campus has both a student canteen and a restaurant. In the dining room, a lunch costs about 5 euros. To eat in Paris in some inexpensive place — about 15 euros. And there is no upper ceiling because this is Paris.
Travel: 300 euros for each trip to Lisbon and Barcelona.
In total, the trip took 400-450 thousand rubles.