Augustin Clément, third year student at UTC, chose to go to Sofia in Bulgaria for his Erasmus exchange semester. Between apprehensions about the possible cancellation of his stay, travel and courses in very small groups, he tells Interactions about his experience.
Where did you go to study this semester?
I went to Sofia, Bulgaria to study at the UCTM, the Bulgarian University of Chemical Technology and Metallurgy.
Why did you choose this destination?
I am a student in my final semester of the common core (Editor’s note: the first two years of study at the UTC) and I didn’t have many courses to do here. So I told myself that the best thing to do was to validate these last courses abroad, in a context that I didn’t know. I was very keen to discover Eastern Europe, but the situation in Poland worried me and only Bulgaria offered biology courses adapted to the branch I wanted to follow. So my choice was quite easy and natural.
Were you afraid that your semester would be cancelled?
It’s true that with the health situation, the closer I got to the departure date, the more I stressed. I had nevertheless had prepared a plan B if I stayed in C o m p i è g n e with certain courses I had chosen. But all the same, I was hoping to be able to leave. In the end everything went well, my flight was not cancelled and I was able to fly to Bulgaria last September.
How was your arrival there?
The first thing that struck me was the fact that the Covid-19 is not very present among the population. Social distancing was clearly not a priority and, unlike France, restaurants, nightclubs and bars remained open. It must be said that to pass the COVID tests here you have to spend more than 60€. It’s a high price for people and that surely explains the low number of cases recorded. But since December 8, 2020, the country has taken measures to close some establishments.
And what about your integration in the university, how did it go?
On site, there is an association that takes care of welcoming all Erasmus students. There were a lot of activities and meetings at the beginning of the semester and there is a real follow-up throughout the year. It’s really ideal. But meeting Bulgarians proved a bit more complicated.
Well, because I didn’t have a lot of classes with them. I’m in a French-speaking biology course, and there are only three or four of us in my classes. In other words, it’s not the best way to meet new people…
And what does the pedagogy in your Bulgarian school look like?
I must admit that the mentality there is quite different from the French one. I have the feeling that people are less stressed and this can be felt in the organisation of the courses. The start of the school year was postponed for a few weeks but that didn’t worry anyone at school. I have both face-to-face and some distance learning courses. But unlike the distance learning courses I followed at UTC, where there was a lot of videoconferencing, here the distance learning is more like a few PDF files sent by email and reminders from the teachers to find out where we are in our course primer reading. It’s a shade quieter. And then we can be absent from certain classes and arrange personally for our exams. Our teachers have understood that as Erasmus students we are above all there to gain in interculturality and local discovery.
So, you were able to make some trips?
Yes, of course! I visited Bulgaria a lot. It was a country I didn’t know at all and I fell in love with it. Between the mountains, the hot springs, the small villages. There is something very wild in the places I visited. I also went to Istanbul and Macedonia. I also wanted to venture into Rumania but I was turned back at the border because of the COVID measures.
And how do you envisage the end of your stay?
I will try to stay as long as possible in the country. Why go back to France for the holidays, for example, when there is a lockdown and I am not sure I will be able to return here? I have so many other things to explore in Bulgaria that I won’t be bored!
Are you fluent in Bulgarian?
Far from it! I learnt the Cyrillic alphabet so that I could get by a little but I have a lot of progress to make yet.