Find the first part of the mini-series Culture Shock: How I Broke It Down in My First Month here.
Wednesday and Sunday mornings belong to the market. The place full of stalls with fruits, vegetables, clothes, jewellery and many more products appear on these days as if from nowhere in the parking lot near the university campus.
During my first visit, I was amazed by types of food I’ve never seen before and the way how all the vegetables and fruits were mostly bigger and looked less standard-shaped than those I normally see at the grocer’s. Though the hustle of the event made me uncomfortable. I was shy to go to a stall and buy something. Various sellers were intimidating me by shouting very loudly, especially the man selling the Réunion Journal.
With every visit I became more relaxed also because I realised that I’m not the only ‘tourist’ in La Réunion shopping there. I love going to the market because it has a magnificent atmosphere and is full of colours and scents.
The administrative part never fails to remind me that however far I find myself from Europe, I’m still in France and therefore, in the EU. I had spent a lot of time working on the Erasmus and university paperwork before coming to the island, and am spending a lot of time filling in or obtaining forms here, too. Accommodation forms, curriculum forms (three of them), pre-inscription forms…
My first month has been a month of bureaucracy. I felt annoyed at first, then I simply resigned. To make myself less anxious, I thought about Kafka. My situation is much better. He was trapped in a bureaucratic system with no bright prospects whereas I’m stuck in a bureaucractic system in a tropical paradise.
The French preserve a custom: when you meet someone, you give each other a kiss on cheeks. It doesn’t express anything romantic, it’s a demonstration of friendship.
The kissing process is different in every part of the country. Some French start kissing from the left or from the right, some give three kisses, some just two or one. In La Réunion, they begin in the left and kiss twice.
The practice of this custom often surprises me. It does seem quite natural when you meet a bunch of your friends and the kissing starts.
However, I saw people getting off the bus and seeing their friends getting on the bus through the same door. So, while the door’s open, they do their bisou ritual, and after that go on with getting on or off the bus. Of course the bus driver waits. It’s a custom!
The University System
The French university system consists in a considerable amount of time spent in lectures and tutorials. Even though I take here the equivalent number of credits as I’d have taken at Aberdeen University, the course matter is divided into smaller segments and thus, instead of two courses which I’d have taken in Aberdeen, I’m taking eight courses at Université de La Réunion. Also, the breadth of things taught is much bigger, we read more books, more articles, learn more contextual information.
I like the breadth of things that we learn about and the books we read are very interesting. Though, I got used to the Scottish educational system which relies on preparation at home and independent research. I felt that sitting for some 25 hours at classes each week wouldn’t suit my way of learning.
But I’ve partially solved my problem: I’m taking two postgraduate courses instead of three undergraduate courses. They seem to be very interesting, have less hours of teaching, and offer more space for independent work.