It’s the JPO season at French universities. JPO is the abbreviation for journée portes ouvertes, which means ‘day of open doors’ i.e. open day. Yesterday we took Ruadhri down to visit the science faculty at Limoges University (Unilim), since that’s where he hopes to start his studies in September.

The JPOs are mainly between mid-January and mid-March, with a concentration in February which is not only when the kids are having their ‘Bac blanc’ – mock Bac exams – and so are up to their eyes in revising, but it’s also the worst time of year for travelling. Years ago, I think it must have been 2011, Caiti had wanted to go to the JPO at Grenoble University, but temperatures plummeted to -18 degrees C that weekend and so we decided against such a long trip in such crazily cold weather. Yesterday’s trip to Limoges was much warmer at a toasty 1 degree C but we drove through thick fog to get there, and through heavy sleet and snow to get home. A further annoyance is that with a relatively few weekends to be held on, JPOs clash quite heavily. Yesterday, as well as at Limoges there were JPOs at Lille, Lorraine, Rennes, Hauts-de-France and Paris Descartes to give but a few examples, so a student who might have wanted to visit several of those venues in order to make an informed choice about which to go to can only get to see one. There is a tendency for kids to go to their nearest university in France, but there are a good number of youngsters who want to go further afield for a variety of reasons and who are thus adversely affected by the clashing.

Photo: Limoges1

We met up with our eldest son, Benj, who’s a Masters student in the Arts and Humanities Fac at Limoges, at a convenient shopping centre for coffee and croissants before entering the fray of the JPO itself. Since Benj lived in the university residences close to the Science Fac for three years, he knew the area well, and we’d strolled through the grounds with him a number of times, admiring the huge chunks of rock that constitute the Fac’s outdoor geological museum. This is set in the attractive grounds of the Fac with a wide variety of trees. This time we got to go into the buildings. There was a bit of obligatory milling around first, trying to sort out what’s where and so on. Then we spotted some cold students with orange umbrellas who were doling out information sheets and telling people where to find what, and we quickly got a plan together.

We started off at a talk about the Science course Rors is interested in. This was in one the amphiteathres (lecture halls), which was a pleasant, modern building. The talk went on, as these things do, just a bit too long but I’m sure was very informative for the students. We then walked over to the main student building where the labs and tutorial rooms are. This is very impressive and practically brand new. We met several enthusiastic staff members, and had an interesting perusal of a lab and then the university’s famous collection of more than 5,000 pickled and otherwise preserved creatures.

Photo: Limoges2

I would have taken loads of photos but yesterday was one of those occasions where you do your best not to be an embarrassing parent.

We got chatting with the person who was in charge of the Fac’s fossil collection, which has around 3,300 specimens. He bemoaned that the fact that he has so few when some of the older French universities have collections numbering millions of exhibits. Limoges is only 59 years old, so give it time. Judging by this man’s enthusiasm, it may yet grow to be the biggest ever.

We’d intended to have lunch at the student cafeteria but we were running late and there was a massive queue by the time we got there. Whilst that may be a part of student life and thus something Rors should experience, it wasn’t one his parents needed to relive. We went off in search of burgers. We finished our day with a short visit to Benj’s flat, to return him home and bewail the latest Brexit insanities, and then hit the road back to the furthest corner of Creuse before the forecast snow arrived.

It was a tiring but inspiring day, and today we’ll get Rors’ application to Unilim going. I’m sure he’ll be very happy there for the next three years.

Photo: Limoges3