A Student’s Experience Of Studying Law Abroad

A look back at a Cambridge Law student's experience of the Erasmus programme and the challenges that it came with.

Author: Tom Blomqvist

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Studying Law with a year abroad might be the happy compromise you’re looking for…

One of the most challenging things about applying to university is choosing what to study – I was undecided between Law and Modern Languages.

However, many applicants are unaware that the Law Faculty at Cambridge offers students the opportunity to spend a year abroad at universities all over Europe as part of the Erasmus scheme.

I saw the chance to spend a year abroad studying French Law as an opportunity to improve my language skills, learn about a new legal system and recharge before going into my final year.

After a short interview and some, not so short, paperwork, I was accepted to study at Poitiers, a small and charming city in west-central France.

What Is The Erasmus Programme?

The European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students, better known as the Erasmus Programme, is a European Union student exchange programme established in 1987.

The programme offers students the ability to study or carry out an internship in another country for at least two months to a maximum of 12 months. 

Launched in 2014, the Erasmus+ Programme means students can venture outside Europe’s borders. 

Erasmus+ offers mobility and cooperation opportunities in: 

It is important to note having left the EU, the UK will no longer be taking part in the Erasmus+ Programme. In its place is the newly launched Turing Scheme.    

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Adjusting To French Life

Maddening French bureaucracy took up the majority of my first few weeks.

Equally, many things I took for granted in Cambridge became more difficult. The relatively scenic walk from Downing to the Law Faculty had been replaced by infrequent buses with frequently on strike drivers.

Whilst Sainsbury’s, Nando’s and Downing’s Hall were all within a minute’s walk from my first-year accommodation, in Poitiers, my nearest supermarket was a bus ride away.

Worst of all, there are no bedders in Poitiers, who are around almost every day in Cambridge, so my flatmates and I can’t rely on anyone else to keep our kitchens and bathrooms sanitary!

An overwhelmingly positive experience

The relaxed Poitevin lifestyle was a welcome change from the fast-paced nature of London and Cambridge.

Whilst local students were very welcoming, it was challenging to integrate with them as many came from nearby schools with their friends.

However, Poitiers has a large and social international community. As the common language of most international students is English, I was not able to speak as much French as I would have liked.

Nevertheless, I have learnt so much about so many different cultures and now have places to stay all over the world.

The academic side varied considerably from Cambridge

Studying Law at Cambridge is heavily centred around independent work (most courses seem to be!) complemented by lectures and supervisions. Whilst in Poitiers, the focus is on what the lecturers say, and it is not uncommon for first and second-year Law lectures to consist of a three-hour dictation!

However, Erasmus students have almost free reign regarding module choice. I opted to mainly study masters courses, which resemble the Cambridge Law course more closely.

I also opted to take modules outside of Law, including the history of the French Revolution, Political Thought and Introductory Economics. With all these classes being taught in French allowed me to improve my listening skills vastly.

The workload…

My workload in Poitiers was much lighter than in Cambridge, and I planned my timetable so that I had three day weeks.

This relaxed timetable allowed me to travel both within France and across Europe. My highlights included watching Nadal at the Rolex Paris Masters, indulging in Breton crêpes and a leisurely weekend break in Bordeaux.

All in all

Before starting my year abroad, I, quite naively, thought that moving to Poitiers would be an easy transition, and I would come back speaking fluent French. This was far from the case, and I am still often the culprit of linguistic and social faux pas – pardon the pun.

Nevertheless, the feeling of being a foreigner gradually faded away and I no longer felt the embarrassment I initially felt at every grammatical error.

I learnt a lot about so many different cultures, explored subjects that interest me and feel much more like an adult outside the comparatively sheltered experience that Cambridge offers.

Whilst the year definitely had its ups and downs, I returned to the UK with more confidence, independence and motivation. I would encourage any potential applicants to consider taking a year abroad seriously.

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