A foreign internship not only makes you industry ready but also gives you the requisite experience to thrive in your career. I had an opportunity to undergo a research internship at Biomechanics and Bioengineering Lab, CNRS at Compiegne, France at the end of my junior undergraduate.
The French education system, unlike the British or US education system, is a bit complicated. Language may be a barrier when it comes to finding a lab. I have already discussed in my previous article to find a host lab for research in France. Getting funds is a major concern when it comes to international research internships. Fortunately, there is Charpak Research Internship program that supports your summer internship at France. However, not everyone is lucky to get through this process. But that doesn’t mean it is the end of your dream. The labor law in France guarantees you a monthly salary up to 550 Euros if your period of research exceeds 2 months. I am one of those who didn’t get through Charpak but still decided to travel to France for the foreign internship and the three months were some amazing period of my life. Trust me 546 Euros/month stipend for a period of 86 days of research internship covered thoroughly my airfare, VISA and stay. If you are lucky enough to get a cheap furnished housing, then it may cover your expenses on food as well. However, one must start the entire process very early. These are the essential documents and services one is likely to obtain during the entire process of visa and internship.
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1. Letter of Acceptance
This is very important and it should clearly mention the names of your supervisor and co-supervisor (if any), duration of the internship, the stipend and the topic of research (optional).
2. Convention de Stage
This is the detailed contract which clarifies the minimum number of hours of work, the agreement between the host laboratory, the student and the home institute of the student. This is a must required document for students who are recipients of ‘Charpak Scholarship’ to get the VISA. However, ‘Letter of Acceptance’ is enough to get a VISA if you are not lucky enough with the Charpak Research Internship Program. Moreover, some labs require you to send the documents by post as hard copy, while some labs are fine with sending them scanned copies by e-mail. One must ask them at least 2 months before the start of the internship. The entire process takes at least one month or maybe longer. This is also essential to get the badge to access facilities of the lab after you reach in France.
One can find the accommodation in CROUS. However, it calls for a security. One can apply to Cle asking the state to be a guarantee. Sometimes, the professors are kind enough to act as a guarantee. As I browsed the accommodation options, I found that the CROUS student residence was priced at 249.00 Euros/month for a single bedroom (chambre) of 9 square meter and attached toilet facilities. However, the kitchen was shared and had no culinary sets. One can also find cheaper accommodations at CROUS. Usually, the accommodation close to Paris is expensive. My friend found an accommodation in CROUS at Montpellier for 177 Euros/month. You see that’s a huge gap.
So, I decided to go with the privately shared flats in apartments. The rent was 205.00 Euros and the maximum amount of the services was 62.00 Euros/month. However, it was fully furnished with facilities for washing machine, utensils, coffee machine, induction cooker, and microwave. Cooking can save some cents and this widens your budget to explore France and neighboring countries. One can look for Lokaviz website, or websites of the host university. They have international student counselor to help with housing. Proof of accommodation is essential to obtain VISA.
4. Bank Account
Some labs require opening a French bank account to transfer the stipend while some labs are comfortable transferring amounts directly to your Indian Bank account through SWIFT code. Look out for collaborations between the banks and universities. I got 50 Euros as starting balance and a monthly deduction of 0.20 Euros on opening a bank account with ‘Societe Generale’. They issued me a ‘Carte Blueue’. It was a VISA JAZZ card, which can act as both credit and debit card and also it has additional functionalities like automatic toll fee payments, although it is not a concern to you. Here are the documents you would need for opening a French bank account:
- Proof of Accommodation
- Letter of Acceptance or Convention de Stage
- Health Insurance
- A French mobile number for mobile banking
5. Mobile Number
It will be my humble request not to take Matrix Sim Cards. It didn’t work for me and had connectivity issues. However, the most important reason is the plans are expensive and you can always find much cheaper plans. I got ‘Orange’ SIM card. However, it was expensive at the sim cost 10.00 Euros/month and the call rates were unlimited local calls at 10.00 Euros/month and 3 GB data plans for 10 Euros/month. However, I realized later that one can get cheaper plans with SFR or Bouygues Telecom or some local telecom companies. As far as my knowledge goes, Bouygues Telecom can cost half as much as Orange and it provides international unlimited calls to some countries, although I am not sure about India.
South France is warmer throughout the year, but North France can be cold even in May. June and July. In fact, these three months are considered hotter months with mercury touching over 25°C on some days. The days are longer than in most parts of India with daylight ranging from 15 to 17 hours during summer. However, the nights are colder with the temperature dropping down to below 10°C. I have traveled in regions around Paris and Lille and the temperature can reach below 5°C during the night in summer. So, if your host lab is in Northern France, do carry one light blanket, one jacket and rest clothes of your choice. Please don’t stuff with too many winter garments like me because most part of the day has sunshine.
Stuff yourself with Indian snacks and food. You will find mostly packaged food here. Having a good culinary skill can be a delightful experience for you. However, France is famous for its cuisines. One can find meals (repas) in the university canteens which range from 2.60 Euros to 3.25 Euros. Do look out for free coupons against your BUTC and CROUS number (You can find them on your ID card). One can find these numbers on one’s badge given by the lab.
8. FOREX Card and International Debit Cards
I would suggest going with Forex Cards as you don’t have to bother about the continuously varying exchange rates. Further, you can reload them at any time you want. I carried a Forex Card by Thomas Cook and I got a really decent exchange rate of 70.8 rupees=1 Euro. This was just 0.70 rupees more than the market value.
9. Money Transfer to India
Transferwise is the best option for money transfer to India from your French Bank Account. You can use my referral link to get a free transfer up to £500 to your Indian bank account once. This will save your service charge which otherwise you are likely to incur. You will receive the deposit in your Indian bank account in a matter of 5 minutes or less. The exchange rates are very competitive and they provide transfer at the current exchange rates. Further you can lock the rate of transfer for 24 hours.
Let’s say, you want to send 520 Euros from your European bank account to your own Indian bank account. Then you realize that at a certain time of the month, the exchange rate is high. For example, 1 Euro =82 INR. In that case, you can lock the amount for 24 hours and then transfer it your account. Don’t forget to sign up using my referral!
10. Money Transfer from India
If you have a Forex Card or International Debit Card, then you don’t have to worry much. International Debit Card is an hassle-free option. However, transfer to Forex Card Account may need a person in India to visit the nearest Forex Card issuing agency. I didn’t go with PayPal as it had higher transaction costs. If you are carrying cash and none of the above two cards, do carry extra cash as the transfer from Indian Bank Account to Foreign Bank Account may take some time. Transactions using cards are usually faster.
I have shared about the effective way to travel in France and neighboring countries during the weekends in some of my travel stories. I hope this article is useful to you.