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A journey to France


In April 2012 I found out about the Campus France grant for study in France. By then I was an LL.M student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.

I didn’t speak a word of French but the opportunity to explore a new world and a new culture was irresistible. I applied and was admitted to an English (master of international business law) programme at the Université Catholique de Lyon.

Everyone I had spoken to in South Africa seemed to harbour some stereotype about the French. ‘They are rude,’ ‘they are impatient,’ ‘they are too conceited,’ I was told. So in August 2012 I packed my bags and ventured into the unknown. I expected my time here to be very uncomfortable.

After three planes I was in Lyon. Lyon is a mid-sized city in east-central France in the Rhône-Alpes region. It is situated between Paris and Marseille. The city is breathtaking. Most of the city is a Unesco World Heritage Site; a chest of Franco-Roman (Gallo-Roman) history. Besides its own beauty, the city is a knowledge treasure with dozens of museums (big and large), magnificent churches, opera houses, galleries etc. The banks of the Rhone River were recently transformed into a park; so you can imagine.

Unsurprisingly, Lyon is also a cultural melting pot. The ESDES école de management (situated in the same university I am attending) registers thousands of international and exchange students per year. This has transformed the city and its nightlife. Each night you can rest assured that some club in Lyon is throwing culturally themed party, showcasing cultures from around the world.

The master of international business law, to which I am enrolled, (although a very specialised programme with a class of about 30 people) had up to 15 nationalities.

Then there is the Fêtes des Lumières (the Festival of Lights). The festival transforms Lyon into heaven’s stairway. Beautiful (this is an understatement) displays of lights are installed all over the city and people from around the world travel here to watch and take pictures of the astonishing light projections.

French people have turned out very different from the stereotypes. English is not popular here, but if you’re struggling people will go out of their way to help you. One thing did prove true: French people are beautiful.

If the city and the people weren’t enough, there’s also French culture. French cuisine is world-famous for a reason. For many centuries Lyon has been known as the capital of French gastronomy. Famous French wine regions are also close to Lyon; so quality wine comes cheaply. There is also the cheese, the bread and the world-famous “Sausage Lyonnaise”.

I have also had the opportunity to spend a week in Paris, to stand face to face with the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, and to travel to various small French villages. I travelled to and met people at the international organisations in Geneva, Switzerland. One weekend I went with friends on a ski trip in Grenoble. I also had the pleasure of representing my university at the 8th ICC International Commercial Mediation Competition in Paris with teams from over 60 universities from around the world.

Although the French language is proving very difficult to learn – more so when most of what I do is in English- I am certain that I will be fluent in French soon.

I can’t tell you everything about my experience here. I could write a book (and maybe I will). What I can tell you is that I have learnt a lot, and grown a lot. People say that I should be travelling right now and exploring as much as I can before I return to South Africa. I just laugh at them. I know I will be back.

My message to everyone reading thing: take chances!



  1. possum possum 1 June 2013

    Good for you Brad for rising to the challenge. Yes, the French language is just diabolical, it’s almost as though they don’t want us to even try. Some of is really cute though, “travailler” for work, directly translated means a travail, shows you the attitude the French have to work. Also “je suis desole”, ie. sorry. Not just sorry, but I am absolutely and utterly inconsolably desolate. “de vous deranger”. Sorry I deranged you. They say 30% of French words are actually English, and then there are those Afrikaans words “Mur”, “pantoufle”, “comptant”, so it’s really only 55% of the words you have to worry about.

  2. Thobela Sindile Nontando Thobela Sindile Nontando 1 June 2013

    Wow that is very awesome Brad, you are such a motivator.
    On behalf of your tutlings here at UKZN (Howard), we are truly motivated and encouraged. May the good Lord of miracles grant you the blessings of love, peace and happiness ahead of you. We are looking up to you Brad, hopefully in fews years time we will make you proud as much as we are proud of you now.

  3. Bongani (@zikhali110) Bongani (@zikhali110) 2 June 2013

    I was in the same position when I first went to Algeria from Zimbabwe four years ago, had images of bombs going off in every street corner then when I moved to France thought I would be met with the famous Parisian rudeness. Glad to know we were both so wrong!

  4. siphosakhe phakathi siphosakhe phakathi 2 June 2013

    Brad you such an inspiration we were so lucky to have a tutor like you, you always make things easier! good luck with your everything you wish and all the best… may you have all you wish out of your life.

  5. Camus Camus 2 June 2013

    Bonne chance, M Cibane! It sounds like France has also gained from having your wisdom, experience and insight. All the very best with your valuable experience.

  6. Joe Citizen Joe Citizen 3 June 2013

    There is the French and the Parissiene. I had the most horrid time im Paris with that lot and they are actually quite proud of their ‘aloofness” and ‘rudeness’ much alike a New York cabbie, it’s a sign and trademark of the place that must be maintained in a ‘nice ‘way. Drive out of the city into any other destination within France and you are in another world. A most friendly and hospitable one full of really nice and accomodating people.

  7. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 3 June 2013

    I wasn’t that impressed with Paris but the other areas of France were lovely.
    Bit of a culture shock :-! It seemed, at the time, that I had been on a Dr Who adventure to a different part of time and space. From the scenery (looking like a TV with the green turned up too high) to the sense of humour (which went totally over my head) – it was all so very different to my very little world.

    This is an opportunity of a lifetime for you and it will change you. There is nothing on TV that can substitute for experience. Have a blast!

  8. Phily Phily 4 June 2013

    Wow i am inspired Brad…

  9. Conrad Conrad 4 June 2013

    We Africans will appreciate anything but Africa. its a disease no doubt. Ever head of an African being ecstatic about going to any other African country and learning any other African language or culture? Almost impossible. We shun our languages and cultures. We aspire the more to be European in sentiment, tastes and perspective. where are the Africans who can be proud to be African? No wonder everything valuable has been taken away from us while we are busy gazing far yonder and surprised about lights.

  10. Thandinkosi Sibisi Thandinkosi Sibisi 4 June 2013

    @ Conrad.What you say is partly true.I have seen no other African country other than Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland.Given that Tswana, Sotho and Swazi(as well as English) are also spoken in South Africa. that is like I have not been in any “other” African country . On the other hand I have been to the UK several times (one of my degrees is British) as well as to India ( made sure I got a photo of myself next to theTaj Mahal and other interesting places)

    From another perspective though, it also depends on what you want to see.How do African countries square up against western , eastern and South American Countries in terms of “tourist attractions”?Do African countries feature strongly in for example the “1000 places to see before you die”?. Of course , the so called “1000 places to see before you die ” represent a certain set of (definitely un African ) values, but I suppose you get my drift?

    By the way I shall be going on a tour of Italy (15 days) and then spending 4 days in Paris withis the next 2 weeks.Needless to say , I am looking forward to seeing the Sistene Chapel, The Colosseum,the Canals of Venice, The Cathedral of assisi and of course the Eiffel tower and other places of interest in Paris.(I am told the French do not want to speak English, will I survive in Paris?Anyway , that should be part of the “fun”)

  11. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 5 June 2013


    aah Conrad! You are so very wrong. If you really want to see appreciation, watch a person from Africa coming home from a longish overseas stay. There is nothing in the world to compare the joy of touching African soil again. You never truly appreciate just how much you can’t live without Africa until you have been away from it.

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