Island sun, sea, sand and . . . studying

June 9, 1995

Erasmus students on their year abroad on the island of Reunion are tanned and happy. This French Overseas Department in the Indian Ocean is what one student describes as an "unknown tropical paradise".

With its still-active volcano, secluded mountain waterfalls and golden beaches, it certainly holds an appeal for most visitors. Indeed, British and Irish students who have been studying at the University of la Reunion this year seem delighted with their time there. As the academic year draws to a close, a few of the 62 "foreign students" described their impressions.

"It's not that France was unappealing, but this was even more appealing," says Anna-Marie Kyriacou, a student from the University of Sussex who chose Reunion rather than a university in mainland France.

Reunion is not as she had thought it would be. "I was expecting a Third World country . . . It has tot-ally blown my mind away to see how developed it is here." Indeed, although the Erasmus office is currently only a hut with a corrugated roof, the university has 8,000 students, 600 staff, extensive computer facilities and research departments.

Ms Kyriacou has attended the French language and grammar courses specifically designed for Erasmus students. She says that although she has "personally had to struggle to keep up" the courses have been "pretty good overall".

However, in other classes she has attended, she has found the French style of teaching difficult to adapt to. "You're taught parrot fashion. . . You're not encouraged to ask questions and when you do, it throws the teachers and the other students." But overall, Ms Kyriacou is delighted with her year in Reunion which she describes as "absolutely beautiful".

She has already taken advantage of its geographical position to visit Mauritius and Madagascar and her only problem now is to decide which part of the region to visit next.

Mike Tose, a student of French and Spanish at the University of Bristol, explained his decision to come to Reunion. "The people here have all sorts of racial origins, and so culturally, I thought it would be really interesting. Of course, the climate also agrees with me and there are brilliant opportunities for scuba diving". He has also been impressed by the facilities offered at the university. "The new library is amazing and there is so much equipment in the computer centre. The French government is putting massive amounts of money into this thing. You just don't see that in England."

Robert Bashford, a student from the University of Limerick, says the island has a "totally different culture" from anywhere. He explains that in the university restaurant, he hears conversations in French, Reunionais and Mauritian Creoles, Malagasy, English "and sometimes even the odd bit of Gaelic!".

Mr Bashford is so seduced by the Indian Ocean, that he has begun to look into the possibility of studying French in a Malagasy university next year. "I'm certainly not missing home. The French are very lucky to have this place," he says.

Claude Feral, vice president of the university and in charge of its international relations, is at the forefront of plans to expand the Erasmus programme in Reunion. She hopes that the number of Erasmus students taking advantage of this unique travel opportunity will double in the next two years.

Dr Feral emphasises that the Erasmus year abroad experience depends on the individual student and the kind of support received from the home university. For some, Reunion is a great place to explore the local beaches and mountains, and to take advantage of the tropical climate. But for others, the year takes on a more academic meaning with many Erasmus students taking a variety of third-year courses and some studying for a Licence, the French BA equivalent.

The university is only 12 years old, but the Erasmus programme has been running since 1988 and is already well established. Links between Reunion and other European universities are growing and it seems likely that as this year's "foreign students" go home, they will encourage other students studying French to spend their Erasmus year abroad in the Indian Ocean.

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