You’ve arrived in Belfort, probably by airplane and then train and then bus. Maybe not, but it matters little. Let me also assume that you’ve found the UTBM Belfort campus and met with Haylee for the first time. You’ve made it this far, but you’re going to be short on resources for a while. My best tip: have patience.
Here’s the biggest key to the first weeks: If you’re going to a meeting with Haylee or somewhere where you’ll likely fill out paperwork, take ALL OF YOUR IMPORTANT PAPERS with you.
The following topics are:
Rent and Check-In | Getting a Bank Account | Traveling by Bus | Food | Internet
1. Rent and Check-In
Haylee will help you take care of most of this at first. She’ll either have a key for you or help you check in. Just follow along and pay attention. If you’re at the Maison des Elèves, it’s a lot like checking into a dorm room in the USA. Look for stains, broken items, etc., that you want to be sure you’re not charged for. You don’t have tons of time, so look quickly.
As for paying rent, don’t get too excited. It took me two weeks to get my rent paid. Everything is based on the bank in France. You must get a bank account first – and after that, [[here’s my guide]] to paying rent.
2. Getting a Bank Account
This is VITAL. You need a bank account for almost EVERYTHING in France.
The UTBM has a partnership with Société Générale, and the Welcome Club should help you get all of your bank information figured out. Unless they figure out something more efficient, you’ll probably spend a whole morning or more at the bank.
Remember to take all of your important documents with you. You will not be able to get a bank account without them.
3. Traveling by Bus
You probably purchased a “Carte de 10 Voyages” already if you had to take the bus into Belfort on your first day. However, now you’ll get your Optymo Bus Pass, which is directly linked to your bank account. At the end of each month, Optymo will automatially withdraw the necessary balance. Again, the Welcome Club should help with this.
It’s likely that you won’t be eligible for a reduced fare, so each ride will be 1€. However, Optymo will charge you a maximum fee of 34€/month (as of Jan 2015).
I highly suggest that you add a Bike Pass to your card account. The fare is about 2 centimes/km, and the city bike system is nice. They’re a bit hard to figure out at first and a little finicky, but even so it’s cheaper than the bus. Plus, if you like biking, the weather gets nice here pretty quickly in the Spring.
There are plenty of places to get food in Belfort. However, you’ll need to figure out what works best for you and your situation. Let me list some options:
- E.Leclerc: The name of the store sounds like “LuhClaire”, so don’t expect to hear “Le Clerke”. It’s a supermarket (think smaller Wal-Mart combined with a good quality Piggly Wiggly), and for the most part it’s the cheapest place to buy food. I have been able to buy a week’s worth of groceries for about 25-32€.
- Cora: I actually haven’t been to Cora yet, and if I go I’ll update this. I do know that it’s a supermarket, but it’s closer to Sevenans.
- Local Patisseries and Boulangeries: Go to them. Seriously, you will be blown away by the quality of the food there. I spent a day wandering and found a patisserie where a loaf of the most amazing bread was 1,45€. However – take note on bread: No matter where you buy it, it needs to be eaten quickly. A loaf won’t last a week and a half. Baguettes go stale in a day. Miche gets floppy. Pain de campagne goes moldy in 6ish days.
- Local Restaurants and Cafés: Go. Go to them. Seriously. Ask some of the French students which are their favorites and go with them. It’s the best place to find culture. (Another good place to learn culture: take a good look at the money)
- Monoprix: The Monoprix is sort of a mix, as it’s multiple store types rolled into a small space. In the downstairs section there is a little grocery store that feels like a mix of Piggly Wiggly and a convenience store.
- Carrefour: This is a convenience store – think of Kwik Trip – that’s not far from the Belfort Gare. They have pre-made sandwiches, fresh fruit, bottled water, etc. Don’t expect the cheapest prices. It’s a convenience store, after all!
Ahh, the internet. What would we do without it? In this day and age, not much.
For on-campus internet, UTBM uses “eduroam” exclusively. If you’re from UW-Platteville, you already have access to “eduroam” wifi just like “UWPlatt” wifi. If you’re not from UW-P, check the eduroam website to see if your university is part of the international network. However, PLEASE double-check before you leave the USA to see if “eduroam” works on your laptop. I haven’t been able to get mine to connect no matter which school account I use.
If you want internet in your room (which you will), you’ll have a few options. First, if you’re living in Duvillard, it’s simple. You pay about 11€/month and have a connection with an ethernet cable just like in the USA. If you’re in the Maison des Elèves, though, you don’t have that choice. In this case, you have a few options:
- Share internet with your neighbor. This is, in my opinion, the best option. Send notes around or knock on your neighbors’ doors and ask if anyone is willing to share their internet with you. Chances are that one of your neighbors will have bought an internet box and be paying 20€/month. They’ll likely ask you to pay half of that. It’s a secure line and easy to use. Sometimes it’s a bit slow or finicky, but that’s like any internet.
- Buy an internet box package from one of a few phone companies in town. This will be about 20€ per month, with a 30€ charge for the materials and a 50€ charge for “breaking the contract” even though there isn’t a contract. For five months, it’s about 200€.
- Use your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot. If you can buy a SIM Card plan that gives you good enough internet access, this may be worthwhile. As a US citizen, though, you probably don’t have an unlocked phone and will need to buy a new one to accommodate your French SIM Card. This becomes pricey quickly.
- Buy internet from “David” (whose contact information I don’t have). This internet, according to a friend who has it, is not worth your money. It’s a bit cheaper, but it’s very restricted and the guy running it can see what you’re doing.