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(Not) Away: A Mauritian in Réunion

(Not) Away: A Mauritian in Réunion

When most of us think about going abroad for further studies, the first things to come to mind are the big, developed countries like the United Kingdom, the media-glamourised USA, and some even opt for France, believe it or not. The majority of us believe that big countries equal big opportunities, higher quality and better life. To a certain extent, it is true but what we forget is that quality can be found anywhere if only one would care to look for it. I looked and I found it right next door, on Réunion Island. 


While many acknowledge the higher standard of living of our fellow Réunion neighbours (mostly due to the fact that they are still a French Territory and, as such, benefiting from social and financial support from the Hexagon) we still see the island as an extension of Mauritius, and that is actually a good thing. Mauritius experiences globalisation like the rest of the world but we have to admit that we are still relatively isolated from their culture and way of life. Many students dream of going to First World countries to live life free, hard and fast. The “Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll” of the commoners! 

What is less known, however, is how this sudden transition can be hard for a large proportion of Mauritian students who have literally just finished HSC or 19 years of their life under parental supervision and safety. They would be moving to a big, unknown, hostile country where they know nothing and no one and they will have to survive there for the next few years. For some, it is an amazing opportunity to grow and become independent, to earn their freedom and the respect of their peers. For others, it is hell. That’s where Réunion Island comes into play. As an “extension” of Mauritius, the Island has a balanced amalgamation of the Islanders’ way of life and easy-going attitude, and of the more modern aspect of a European country. 

Imagine waking up at 7 a.m. to attend your morning lecture and on your way, you can stop at the University cafeteria and enjoy a crispy and soft croissant (infinitely better than what you will get anywhere in Mauritius), freshly out of the oven and a nice cup of tea or coffee while in your usual Billabong shorts and “debardeur”. After a few hours, lunch will be an “Americain” with ham or chicken with the local lemonade “Cot” with the faint smell of “zamal” in the air that completes the picture. Dinner is either you or your friends cooking in the shared kitchen or going to the campus canteen at 6:30 p.m which offers a fairly generous spectrum of dishes. On Saturday and Sunday, trust me, take the Citalis bus and head up to the Barachois. There is this nice little restaurant “L’Arbradelis” which offers a generous portion of rice, pulse and curry for 6 euros (Trust me, it’s a great deal). Try the “rougaille saucisse”, you won’t regret it. 

Nestled in the heart of Moufia, the University of Réunion has some of the best international teachers of their respective fields; especially when it comes to Law Studies and Languages. Long story short, they get paid well, so they come. But that is unimportant to you. What is important is that you will be able to benefit from a world class education with teachers who are cool, relaxed, and competent. Hard to say if it is the warm weather or something else, but the teachers, most of them at least, are very friendly and will do their best to entertain a pleasant relationship with their students as long as you show them respect and attention. 

When it comes to making friends, Réunion Island is perhaps one of the friendliest places that I have been to. You will not have to be afraid of any sort of racism towards you since their society is basically the same as ours. They really do not care of what colour your skin is as long as you are friendly. Even if you are an introvert, they will come to you and talk to you and without your realising it, you will have your own group of friends to hang out with, in class and during lunch. If you are living on the university campus, which is the most affordable sort of lodging available, there will be relative peace. Once in a while you will hear the exchange students shout and scream when they are drunk, once in a while a fool will pull the fire alarm, some of the campus residents will make a mess in the kitchen and steal your food from the fridge (So don’t make the mistake I did. Buy a mini-fridge from Year 1 itself.). The sanitaries are clean, the cleaning ladies are nice, you will do just fine. Where you might be tempted to take your heels is when you will have to wait for hours at the Prefecture to get your student visa; that will take a whole day (if you are lucky) but despair not. Right behind it, there is a great patisserie, “Paul”. Reward yourself with a nice cake and beverage and all the stress will drain from your body.

This is not at all an article against going to the big countries. This is just to let you know that Réunion Island is a good alternative for those who want to leave home and still be close to their loved ones, for those who do not think they will be able to deal with a lot of changes all at once. If nothing else, consider Réunion Island your stepping stone to bigger opportunities in the future. It is better to start small and shine long than start with a bang and burn out within seconds. But then again, it is all up to you.  There will be days when you will feel the world crushing down on you but just look out the window and you will be seeing the same ocean, the same clouds and the same sun as you would back home. 

Log Pillay

3rd Year, english student, University of Réunion

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