My first experience of the ENS Lyon was as an Erasmus student. I’d opted for Lyon over Paris in a bid to sidestep some of the inevitable year-abroad clichés. Neither the city nor the university disappointed; I left to finish my degree wishing that I could stay.
Priced out of postgraduate study in the UK, the decision to return to the ENS was a simple one, particularly given the university’s pedigree and its focus on research-based learning. The fact that it’s a relatively small institution also played a part in its appeal, since in terms of both academia and social life there is a level of familiarity which appears to facilitate expression and creativity.
Although any student abroad takes time to find their feet, I had found integration into the ENS community to be fairly straightforward - as straightforward, at least, as integration into any francophone community can be. Perhaps the best indication of the nature of the relationship I was able to establish came in my final year when, with dissertation deadlines and finals looming, I managed to visit friends on several occasions.
Students here are used to spending significant periods of time in cities around the world. The consolidation of their experiences and the university’s desire to foster links on an international scale means that many resources are at the disposal of foreign students looking to study at the ENS Lyon, as well as its own students looking to depart.
For the average British student, the sight of the same faces in class, at social events and in various societies might be an unfamiliar one. Indeed, the experience of a small university, particularly abroad, can be somewhat claustrophobic in the initial stages. In time, though, it becomes clear that it is this closeness which gives the ENS Lyon its unique charm. What is more, its placement in Lyon, a city humming with life, helps to put feelings of claustrophobia into perspective.
The size of the institution foregrounds community spirit and tight-knit societies, both of which seem vital to sustaining the variety of activities on offer. Moreover, it appears to create an atmosphere of trust between the administration and the students which I have rarely observed in British universities, and which allows the latter to obtain actual life-skills through their experiences of running associations such as the Students’ Union.
Staff at the ENS Lyon are also a key factor in its appeal to students at home and abroad. Professors and researchers tend to encourage participation in class, and are generally willing to provide advice or assistance when approached in this capacity.
Administrative staff, too, is very approachable. Even when it comes to circumnavigating the pitfalls of bureaucracy, which are numerous, they work hard to help students in any way they can.