Wanja Dorothy , Kenya

First Name: Wanja Dorothy NYINGI

Occupation: Research Scientist - Ichthyology

Dates of Stay in France: 2002 to 2007

French Host University: Université de Montpellier 2, Montpellier

Lifestyle in France: Montpellier is a very cosmopolitan city with students from all over the world. ThereforeI felt right a home, almost like having several tribes around me. Life in France is less hectic than Nairobi in regards to transport and since i used the tram, walked distances in no fear of insecurity, and a bike during summer being on time depended entirely on me.

French cuisine for me was especially the pastries. Am accustomed to spicy food so i found most meals needing some spice but the pastries are to die for! More than anything, my experience of French cuisine was the manner of eating - its never rushed and formal dinners can last hours at the table. The courses can range from three (salad starter, main meal, dessert) or four with addition of a cheese plate at the end of dessert. The trick is to discover whether the family changes plates between these meals. If they do not, then one must learn how to take just the right amount of bread, which you do not need a side plate for as it’s very French to put it on the table. With the bread, one wipes the plate after each course (very similar as you would with "ugly"). The French love coffee so i was generally a preferred guest since i always had a pack of good Kenyan Coffee as gifts to my host. Having meals in the school cafeteria is also a good experience, however in many cases, i cooked my own evening meals and i loved to visit the open-air markets in the weekend to buy fresh vegetables.

It's very easy to make friends in the university, so long as you remain social and do not fear to interact and learn peoples’ way of life. One very unique thing to get used to is in spring when a lot of syndicates and unions call for strikes. I loved the peaceful street marches of various professions carrying out "la greve," it may inconvenience your travel if its the train or plane but generally its always peaceful and fun.

What i missed the most: Initially i missed Kenyan tea, spices and Ugali. However i discovered the African shops and even though most are West African mostly you will discover floor and cassava and other interesting things you can relate to. Its also difficult to have your hair done - Salon's are more expensive but you learn a lot of do it yourself techniques and you can make a friend who knows how to make your hair at home and perhaps charge you.

Quality of education: The French system unlike the Anglo-Saxon has an emphasis on analysis of information. Students debate more and provide alternative scenarios to what is taught rather than just read and understand. I benefited much from this, which has had a great impact in my work as a scientist.

Learning French: French is easy to learn although the beginning is rather difficult. What is heard is the diversity of accents. I was in the south and the Parisian French i had learnt was hardly adequate to allow me be understood or understand what others were saying. However in less than 3 months of my arrival, i was relatively comfortable expressing myself. 

Impacts on my personal and professional life: I made several friends who we remain in touch; we have visited each other through the years as well. In addition, due to my links with IRD i have continued to work on projects and sit in committees that have furthered my professional life.

Visits to France: Since the end of my thesis i have been to France three times, each for professional work to meet with collaborators. I have taken time also for some leisure while in France to meet old friends

Why go to France: Besides the educational benefits. The social life in France is very favorable. It's a great experience with a rich history through its architecture, museums, old church buildings and monuments. It's got beautiful landscapes where you can have long leisurely walks and enjoy the scenery. Enjoy the cheese and pastries and walk it off later in the weekend.

How to prepare: Ensure you have your paperwork in order (passport, visa etc), ensure you have a reliable source of finances (grant or personal), learn French and take a small pocket dictionary and allow yourself to live as the French live during your duration there.