The day after I arrived in Haubourdin, I met with my Prof Référent (the teacher responsible for me at the school) just to discuss what needed to be done, and to do paperwork. My prof is very friendly, engaged, and helpful. He helped me look through the phone plans, discuss which banks are available, so on and so forth. After we discussed these things, we went to do paperwork with the school, I was able to ask for a Justificatif de Domicile (proof of address), and I got my ID card for the cafeteria. Post to come on the French cafeteria food – it blows even college cafeterias out of the water (looking at you, Aramark!). I ate lunch with a bunch of the teachers, and everyone is welcoming and nice here.
After all of that, I was able to go to a Bouygues Telecom store just on the edge of Haubourdin (shoutout to the immaculate wifi hotspot from the night before – would of never been able to find it otherwise). This was simple: my phone was unlocked, and I just bought a prepaid SIM card. If any future TAPIFers are reading this: get your temporary SIM ASAP on arriving to France. I didn’t get mine for a day, and I already had to go around to where places I had been that morning telling people my phone number. It was 30 euros in all, 10 for the SIM and 20 for 1 month of unlimited calls/texts in France and 500MB (called Mo in France) of data.
I returned to my barren, white apartment (in the POURING rain – bienvenue au Nord) to find my Chinese roommate getting ready to leave. One of her teachers was driving her to the center of town so she could visit banks. Getting a bank account set up is infamously difficult in France, so I went along to get the process started. Centre Ville in Haubourdin is… uh…. Tiny. I actually think Haubourdin is very similar to Forest Grove. There are several farms on the edge of town, there are a lot of people without a lot of commerce, it’s towards the edge of the public transit line, everything is closed by 8:30 (even on Friday!), big ‘small-town’ vibe. Does this mean that I am a Grover? 😉
Back to the bank, I have heard that it is necessary to make an appointment at a bank to be able to open your account. I have heard the French banking system is horrible. True, and true. I am lucky, because I am housed at the school. This means that I have an address already – people who need to find their own housing here can’t even start the bank process until they have secured an address and are able to get proof it is theirs. I was able to start the day after I got here, and since having a phone, wifi, and getting paid are all dependent on having a bank account, getting one ASAP is important.
What I find hilarious is that even in a small town like Haubourdin, there are about 7-8 different banks – I think they make up about 40% of the businesses in Haubourdin. What I now know is that this is needed because each bank has such a slow rate of service. Despite the fact that you want to be a customer, they have zero interest in making the process faster. There is no way if a town the size of Haubourdin only had 3-4 banks people would literally EVER be able to get there banking done. The first bank I went to was Crédit Agricole, because the English assistant from the year before had used them. I went on a Tuesday, the earliest appointment was NEXT Thursday – more than a week away! So I tried several other banks in town, and was eventually able to make a rendezvous for that Thursday – 2 days later. This worked perfect for me, because I still needed my proof of housing from the school.
After we both had scheduled bank appointments, Josephine (roommate) and I returned to our apartment and finally went to the grocery store. There is, happily, a grocery store about a 10 minute walk from the dorm. Unhappily, it is similar to if you live next to a Thriftway. Yes, in a pinch for time-saving it works great. Otherwise, it is just expensive with a small selection. Nonetheless, was able to buy some food, and most importantly, toiletries etc. I did not bring very much with me, just barely enough for my time in Belgium before arriving in Lille so I was really excited to have toothpaste.
The next few days consisted of figuring out the bus line, getting a monthly buss pass, buying my Carte Jeune (train discount card), going to IKEA, going to McDo’s a 1000 times for wifi and McFlurrys, getting actual groceries, and trying to get my bank account set up (which has slowly but surely become the bane of my existence).