The View from Lyon: French and Art History student Marianne Thomas on French culture and local schools…with a large helping of Chantilly

As a Joint Honours student, I’ve always considered myself very lucky to be able to profit from the variety of opportunities offered by both of my very different subjects: French and History of Art. However, this September, I felt even more fortunate (if also very nervous) because I was getting ready to begin my opportunity of a lifetime: living and working in la belle France!

After some thorough researching of French towns and cities through the ever-reliable medium of Wikipedia, I decided upon Lyon as my city of choice. The photos certainly seemed to hold the promise of a place that had everything: from the cobbled streets of Vieux Lyon, lined with speciality Lyonnais restaurants and crèperies, to the beautiful Romanesque architecture of the Basilique de Fourvière, Lyon appeared to be packed with interesting things to see, do and, of course, eat. Besides which, surely the fact that it’s twinned with Birmingham had to be a good omen?

The Roof Tops of Lyon

The Roof Tops of Lyon

It didn’t disappoint. My first few weeks were busy to say the least, filled up with being a tourist in my new home. After meeting lots of other people who were in the same situation as me, most of my time was spent exploring Lyon, test-driving my French and attempting to maintain the Art History side of my brain with a few trips to the sprawling Musée des Beaux Arts in the city centre. Only time will tell (or, fourth year, to be more precise) as to whether I’ve succeeded with the latter. However, I also faced the fun of tackling the notoriously difficult French administration process; setting up an electricity account in French via a phone call to a mumbling and irritable EDF man who kept putting me on hold had to be the highlight. I also had to brace myself for starting my new job.

Under the archways of ornate Fourvière

Under the archways of ornate Fourvière

Rather than be an Erasmus student in Lyon, I’ve opted to work as an English language assistant, helping students between the ages of 11 and 15 to improve their language and communication skills. I chose this option because I thought it would give me the chance to experience something that I would otherwise never see and, with no prior teacher training whatsoever, it’s fair to say that an ‘experience’ is certainly what I’ve had so far! I work in two middle schools in a suburb of Lyon, where many children face numerous social difficulties at home which, in turn, frequently have an impact on their schoolwork and, perhaps more importantly, on their behaviour. Consequently, there have been many situations where I’ve been standing in front of a class of fifteen Year 10s whose French grammar is worse than mine (and that really is saying something) and the pupils have no interest in learning anything related to English besides whether I’ve met One Direction. When all is said and done, however, I really am enjoying it. I’ve also been very fortunate to have supportive and welcoming colleagues, and in fact, I’ve found that most people I’ve met in France so far have taken the same approach. Even though Lyon is a big city – the 2nd largest in France – it’s often surprising how small and cosy it feels, and that’s largely due to its generally welcoming attitude and multicultural society.

Marianne has also mastered the art of ordering chocolat chaud avec Chantilly!

Marianne has also mastered the art of ordering chocolat chaud avec Chantilly!

All in all, to use the clichéd-but-incredibly-true viewpoint adopted by so many Year Abroad returners: this really is proving to be a wonderful experience. So far, I’ve had the chance to not only become fairly knowledgeable about Lyon itself, but also explore the nearby cities and towns of Geneva, Annecy and Avignon, all of which offered me their own unique insights into aspects of European culture, architecture and history, and I’m looking forward to visiting more Francophone culture hotspots this semester.


Le Palais des Papes, Avignon



Even though it will undoubtedly be very strange to return to Birmingham in September – especially considering that all of my previous History of Art classmates will have already left, dissertations complete and graduate caps in hand – I really would recommend combining History of Art with a language if the option presents itself, however terrifying the thought of a Year Abroad might be. You’ll get an amazing insight into an entirely different culture and even better, you’ll finally be able to pronounce all of those foreign-language Art History terms that no-one can ever say!

You can find out more about combining Art History with a language here. And Single Honours students of Art History are also eligible to study abroad for a semester in their second year!

Another Birmingham student, Clara Mciver, listed her top five reasons for studying abroad in this article for the Huffington Post.


One thought on “The View from Lyon: French and Art History student Marianne Thomas on French culture and local schools…with a large helping of Chantilly

  1. […] Marianne is studying a History of Art and French. To find out more about this degree programme see here. Read Marianne’s other report on living and working in Lyon here. […]

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