Paul, Master in Management student on expatriation in Boston
My name is Paul, I am a Master in Management student at EM Normandie. I'm spending this year in Boston at a partner university.
Was this expatriation your first choice?
Paul: Yes, totally. When I was in my third year, I wanted to go abroad. At first, I only thought I would go for one semester but a few weeks before making our choices, EM Normandie unveiled the new Global Track programme which gives 25 people the opportunity to go abroad for a year. Many destinations are available around the world: USA, Europe, Asia, ... I quickly chose the United States and I was lucky enough to be able to go.
What university are you at?
Paul: I'm at UMASS Boston, which is the public university of Boston. The city has about 40 universities. I love Boston because it's a real student city and you meet a lot of people, especially from other universities, at parties, in parks and at events.
What courses are you taking this year?
Paul: It is the same as in French universities, you get to choose your subjects and also the category from 1 to 4 which defines your training level. The higher the level you choose, the more difficult the course. For my part, I chose the highest category and opted for management practices, entrepreneurship, management in sustainable development, and project management, which allows you to set up a project and implement it during a semester.
For the second semester, I'm going to focus on subjects related to finance.
Why did you choose the maximum level?
Paul: I'm taking classes with people who are going to graduate at the end of the year or next year. With the courses I took during 3 years at EM Normandie, it seemed to me that I had a sufficient background.
A huge difference with the French learning system is the amount of reading and personal work. For each subject, there are 1 or 2 books to buy, which makes about 250 pages to read per week. I have 15 hours of classes per week. I have organised myself to spread my lessons over three days, which gives me time to revise but also to enjoy long weekends.
What do you do in your spare time?
Paul: I joined the UMASS all-boys fraternity. We organise parties and other events. I get on well with everyone and have met a lot of international students. It's a great way to communicate and make contacts, because with all the extra activities, you don't necessarily have time to get to know the locals.
I think I'm in the final stages of integrating into the fraternity.
Can you tell us a little more about these fraternity rites of passage?
Paul: I can't tell you everything because there are students from EM Normandie who may be coming to Boston. They don't need to know about these rites of passage. I can tell you that it is very cool and that it has nothing to do with the hazing that you see in the movies. These practices are monitored by the institutions, the State and the fraternity organisations. It's very good-natured, it's a bit like the integration I experienced at EM Normandie the first year.
What does being part of a fraternity change in your daily life?
Paul: We organise events for the students like theme park trips, parties, discovery events, beach activities... I'm also friends with the treasurer of the fraternity who needs help managing the finances. So I'm going to help him since I'm interested and it gives me a side business.
How is it going in the US with Covid?
Paul: It's a bit complicated, the hospitals are full to bursting. However, there are quite many people who are vaccinated and at the university, people are very careful to respect the barrier measures.
How did your integration into the country go?
Paul: The first week was a bit complicated because I arrived alone and I didn't know anyone. I had to get used to the American system. Many other international students experienced the same situation. I tried to make contacts when I arrived but it wasn't easy.
Today I am perfectly integrated and very happy to be in Boston. I joined the fraternity and a football team. There are many sports activities on campus. It allows us to organise tournaments between the university's teams and it's also a great way to make contacts.
Sports are very important in the US. I met a friend from Oregon who was not a particularly good student but was excellent at basketball. He was able to get a scholarship to come to UMASS. These students have incredible conditions: a personal trainer, a doctor, and a dedicated gym. Unlike in France, sports in the United States is really a way of thinking and living.
Have you managed to adapt to American food?
Paul: People like me who like cold cuts and cheese are disappointed because cheese is very expensive and you can hardly find any cold cuts.
The university offers self-catering for the whole semester but it costs $2,500, which is very expensive. So I chose to do my own shopping and make my own food. Food shopping is a bit more expensive than in France, I have a budget of €60 per week for 3 meals per day. So it's quite acceptable.
Is student life different from France?
Paul: If you are over 21, your student life will be similar to France. You can go to nightclubs, bars, etc. However, if you are underage, you will have a totally different experience as you will not have access to these establishments.
To enter places where alcohol is consumed, you must show your valid passport proving your age, even if you do not drink alcohol.
Are there any nice places to visit around Boston?
Paul: I haven't been out of Boston much so far. I've had the opportunity to visit Cape Cod, an iconic and beautiful island to see. If you like history, the city of Boston is good enough. It is rich in historic buildings, parks. There is a library, Harvard University, the downtown district, the business district... there is a lot to do in this city. You can do free or paid excursions. You have for example the Freedom Trail Tour, which in two or three hours makes you pass by all the monuments of the city via a red line.
The Harvard campus is incredible. We met with students who were able to show us around this campus full of history.
There are plans to explore other cities in the near future. It is quite easy to rent a car to go to Niagara Falls, Montreal, Toronto, New York.
What do you think is the coolest thing about expatriation?
Paul: For me, it's simply the fact of meeting new people, discovering new cultures, new points of view, being in total immersion in the country. During my two expatriations, I went alone. This encourages you to make new contacts and the advantage is that you don't speak French at all. Having such a transition of culture and life is something I love.
Have you met any French people since you've been in Boston?
Paul: No, I haven't run into any French people even on campus. I think it's related to the fact that the EM Normandie international programme was canceled. It's probably the same for other schools. I think that's why I haven't come across any French people yet. Only the long-term programmes have been maintained.
What made you choose Boston?
Paul: During my first expatriation, I chose to stay in Europe out of simplicity and because I was not mature enough to go far away. Two years later, I wanted to move to the United States, either to Los Angeles or to Boston.
How did you find your accommodation?
Paul: It was a bit complicated at first. I found my accommodation on Airbnb which is about 10 minutes from the Metro and allows me to get to the campus quickly.
UMASS has an online platform to find accommodation but it is still complicated. I recommend using the Facebook pages that specialise in renting real estate in Boston. You will find a lot of offers but it is still extremely expensive. I pay $950 a month for a single room of 12 m² in a house that has two bathrooms for four people, which is comfortable.
Other people are close to the campus in 60 m² flats for four people with two shared rooms. The price is roughly the same but it is a choice to share a room with two people. There are also other types of private housing managed by a company, large flats with a private room, but this costs about $2,000 per month.
I would advise you to look for accommodation about 3 months in advance.
Do you have any tips for transportation?
Paul: Try to stay near the Red Line because that's the Metro line that takes you directly to campus. If you're on the other side of Boston, in the Cambridge or Harvard area, it's also best to be on the Red Line so you don't spend too much time in transit. It takes me about 25 minutes to get to campus.
You always have the option of Blue Bikes, which are bicycles that can be rented for 30-minute trips. It seems to me that the annual subscription costs about $100, which is cheaper than the Metro which costs €45 per month with a discount or €90 with the full rate. In order to benefit from the discount, you have to book at least one month in advance and do it online.
What are your monthly expenses?
Paul: All my expenses together cost me $1800 per month, including accommodation, food, entertainment... In addition, there are fees charged by UMASS to international students which amount to $800 per semester. My expatriation costs about €20,000 for the whole year.
Any good advice for those who want to go abroad?
Paul: Allow time to get your visa done, about 2 months if you want to be on time. For the phone, it is better to have a French international package because the packages are more expensive in the United States.
Do you recommend this expatriation?
Paul : Totally. For this fourth year, I had three choices: go on expatriation for a year, for six months or do a work-study programme. I didn't want to do a work-study because I didn't want to go into the business world yet. I wanted to make the most of my student years.
To join the EM Normandie Global Track, you need to have a good level of English. The goal of expatriation is not necessarily to improve your English level but above all to have an international experience. I have 900 points in the TOEIC and I also had to pass the IELTS. These tests are required for many destinations. You have to study hard beforehand to pass these tests.