On my floor of my residence I would hear conversations in French, Arabic, Spanish, Hausa, Russian and Pashto

Azhar, South Africa

I spent just over a year in France doing the specialised masters in Network and Information Security at ESIEA, École Supérieure d’Informatique, Électronique, Automatique. The financial and administrative support from the French Embassy in Pretoria made the year possible. In particular, Campus France handled many of my day-to-day concerns.

The first six months of the year were packed with courses in computer security, given by lecturers of diverse backgrounds. Those of our class who did not speak French also took a course in the language. After a while, I could give directions if asked in the street, and go to a cafe without too much effort. Less formulaic interactions, especially over the phone, remained tricky. All the courses were delivered in Laval, a small town in north-west France.

For the rest of my stay, I undertook a research internship in Paris while staying at a residence in the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris. Cité U is filled with impressively multi-lingual students and with plenty of bisous. On my floor of the residence alone, I could walk pass conversations in French, Arabic, Spanish, Hausa, Russian and even, for a short while, Pashto. Plenty of dinner conversations had amusing cross-language wordplay.

I visited several parts of France, including Toulouse and Mont Saint-Michel, an island commune in Normandy. I also took short trips outside the country to visit friends and attend conferences in Belgium, the United Kingdom and Germany.

All these experiences and the people whom I've met along the way have greatly affected me, not least in introducing me to some of the francophone world.