Johan Bergljung: ENSAP Bordeaux - France

Last changed: 24 November 2023
Johan with a surf board on a beach

I spent two semesters studying in Bordeaux. It was a great experience where I at school especially improved my artistic skill and got to work in a different environment compared to the one, I am used to. Other than that, I met some great people, ate good food and visited some amazing places.

Why did you want to do an exchange?

I wanted to do an exchange to have a change of scenery, meet new people,
explore new places and learn more about landscape architecture in a different context. Ever since I started my studies, I’ve always known that I wanted to spend a year studying abroad. I think it’s a great way to learn more about how the education and the profession works in other countries. It’s also a great way to meet people from all over the world with whom share experiences and thoughts about all kinds of stuff. 

It might also be the perfect way to escape the harsh Swedish winter unless you’re into that kind of stuff. When it came to the choice of location, I had had my mind set on the city of Bordeaux, in the south-east of France for a while. I had actually lived in the city before, and at the time I had met students from SLU doing their exchange at ENSAP. So, going into my studies at SLU I already knew there was a possibility of doing my exchange in Bordeaux, a city that I love and possibly see myself living in sometime in the future. Therefore, this was equally an opportunity for me to meet old friends, improve my French and explore the possibility of a professional career in the country.

Which courses did you take?

Choosing courses was a little bit tricky for several reasons. Firstly, the university’s website is not the most user friendly and not very well organized (even less so on the phone). I was struggling finding the course catalog and if you’re not used to the ECTS-system (European equivalent of HP) there isn’t much information available on the site to help you. Luckily, the mobility team was helpful and fast at responding to questions via e-mail and videoconference. Don’t stress about choosing courses at this point, the official application is done at the university, at the start of the semester, where you are assisted by the administration. Finally, the choice of courses is quite limited. As a student at ENSAP you follow an already set course program, much like in Sweden during the bachelor. There is however a possibility to take courses from the architecture program, but you need to make sure they don’t coincide with your other courses. The architecture program has a much bigger catalogue of courses to choose from and overall seems to be prioritized at the school. Personally, I ended up taking all the courses part of the landscape architecture master 1 program for the first semester and a some fewer courses for the second one, since the French students started writing on their thesis during that semester.

The first semester I took:

E7-1-1, Les cultures du paysage en Europe.

This was a course which I decided not to pursue after a couple of lectures. It was a course on landscape history, from an archeological perspective focusing on rural areas. Unfortunately, I felt the lectures were to0 long and repetitive.

E7-1-2, Paysage, milieux et ecosystems 7

An interesting course in which we worked in groups to redesign a park located next to the Garonne River in Bordeaux. Basically, a design course resulting in a new planting proposal. I really enjoyed this one, as it allowed me to explore the local species and use plants that I normally wouldn’t be able to plant in Sweden.

E7-1-3, regarder , representer et créer 7: Art et paysage

This was an art course taking place at three different occasions and where we
traveled to different locations to sketch or experimented with different techniques of depicting places and objects. I found this course extremely enjoyable. The teachers were competent and encouraged you to experiment with different techniques and materials. We traveled to some beautiful places outside of Bordeaux which you probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise and the atmosphere being pretty layed back, it was a great time to hang out with
classmates over an “apéro”. At the end of the course, you gathered all the
artwork you had assembled to make a portfolio.

E7-1-4, Regarder, representer, créer 7

Course on urban fabric, subdivision of plots/property and related regulation. The teacher was passionate and funny which made the course more interesting. The final examination was a group project where you chose a portion of a city and examined its urban form and history.

E7-2-1/2/3/4, Plateau environnements

The plateau was composed of four different courses taking place throughout the entire semester. Every course occupied an entire week of work where you only focused on the subject at issue. The idea was for the student to develop his/hers critical thinking on different environmental issues. By reading a lot of scientifical texts, visiting sites, discussing with different parties concerned as well as other students, exploring means of communication you improve essential skills for doing for example academic research etc. I thought parts of this course was interesting and others less. It’s mainly a theory course and I appreciated learning more about environmental theories and issues. Furthermore, the teacher and the invited lecturers were all great. However, there were some problems in terms of planning which sometimes ended up being very time consuming.

E7-3-1 Paysage/mutations/ecologie 1: projet sur un territoire fragile, le littoral Aquitain.

This was the project course for this term. It was centered on a coastal town
threatened the erosion of the coastline. It was a group project, that went on the whole semester, with weekly presentations of the groups progress. I thought the project was interesting as it concerned an environment that I personally knew very little about. Unfortunately, the main teacher wasn’t very pedagogic/nice, even less towards exchange students, which in general resulted in projects lacking in creativity in my opinion.

E7-3-2 Paysage/mutations/ecologie 2: Workshop art architecture paysage
“invitation au projet”.

Small workshop together with architecture students. We developed an art
installation inspired by the site. It was definitely loads of fun working with the
architecture students, who brought another perspective and touch to the project. The second semester the French students started writing their master thesis and since I wasn’t doing that, I ended up doing fewer courses.

E8-1-2, Paysages milieux et écosystems 8.

A course on soil science. Mainly consisted of lectures by invited speakers and
examined through a soil analysis in group. I found the level of this course fairly basic, and I have the impression that I did this more in depth during my first year at SLU.

E8-1-3, regarder, representer, créer: art et paysage.

Another course where we travelled to the countryside with students from China which sounds super random put like that, but, yeah. The goal was to create a land art installation using mainly natural materials. Again, I really enjoyed discovering a new location and meeting new people.

E8-1-4, regarder, representer et créer 8.

Sketchup course related to the project.

E8-3-1/2 Paysage/espace urbain

This was the project course for this semester. The assignment was to redraw a recently built residential area in the outskirts of the city from scratch. We had to respect the existing master plan and its requirements but were otherwise free to shape our own project. This was by far the most enjoyable course throughout the entire year. It was well well-thought-out, educative, and inspiring. The teachers were much more pedagogic than in the first project and the final product was finally much more diverse and creative.

In terms of the overall education at ENSAP I felt that the level was lower than at SLU. The requirements for passing a course were easier and the courses seemed less in depth than I am used to. The landscape architecture education falls under fine arts in France rather than technical university like in Sweden. I felt that this was very noticeable as a bigger focus was put on the artistic and creative aspect of things. In general, the students were artistically very skilled, and many had an artistic background. We were often sketching a lot by hand, and I felt it was a great opportunity to improve my drawing.

At ENSAP you usually have more time for yourself to work. Even though somedays were really long with big lectures, I felt like they weren’t that many in the end and that you often had 1 or 2 course-free days/week during which you had time to work on your assignments etc. You were mostly given group assignments which would allow you to spend time to get to know the other students and improve your French. Oh yeah, all the courses are in French and there is no option to take the courses in English, even at master level. Therefore, having a decent conversational French and being able to read academic texts in French is recommended. That being said, there were a few foreign students that got by with at a basic level. There are French courses being offered by the school adapted to your level and most teachers will be indulgent as long as you try your best. In the end of the day there is no better way to improve fast than to be fully emerged in the language.

The staff was in general nice. The teachers were passionate and competent. There was however a certain competition between them, where for example, courses would coincide and instead of trying to solve it between teachers, the students were often forced to negotiate a compromise to make things work. Apparently, there were also a rivalry between the architect and landscape staff which seemed to cause problems. Also, the administration is a little bit slower than in Sweden, but this is more a cultural difference than inherent to the school I would say.

What was the student life like outside of your courses?

Bordeaux is a lovely city with a lot of things to do. The city is listed by UNESCO as
a world cultural heritage site because of its beautiful architecture and rich history. There are lots of amazing restaurants, bars, and museums. With the other students we would often meet up at a bar after school in the city center (the school is located 2-3km from the center) or sometimes at school in the vegetable garden for a drink. The student association organized a lot of events also, everything from interesting guest lecturers to parties. Many of the students lived in the student residencies close to the school where you could get good meals for 3€. Otherwise, there were restaurants, bakeries, and supermarkets next to the

Finding an apartment in the city can be a little bit tougher. Bordeaux is a university city, and a lot of students are searching for an apartment. They recently built a high-speed train line between Bordeaux and Paris which allows you to go between the two in only 2 hours. It has resulted in increased housing prizes. Many students live in collectives and there are often people searching for new roommates.

I managed to find an apartment in the center through a friend that I knew from before. A normal day for me in Bordeaux would be waking up, going out for a walk with my dog (brought my dog and girlfriend), and then go buy a baguette and some pastries at the bakery. Then I would bike to school, you can lend bikes for free by the way if you’re a student, lectures would normally start at 9. After school, I would usually meet up with friends in the city. We would skateboard, meet up in a park, or at a bar. There are lots of nice parks in the city and the space along the river is arranged with a lot of sport equipment and places to hang out. Having a car, we would often go with our dog to bigger natural reserves outside of the city, however you get a long way just having a bike, and the public transport is also really good.

The weekends we would often go to the coast. The Atlantic coast is located about an hour from Bordeaux and there are a lot of things to see and do. A must see is the Dune du Pilat, Europe’s biggest sand dune. With friends I would often go surfing at the beach or grab some amazing sea food. During the school breaks we would often travel a bit longer to visit other regions and cities. We went to Normandie, the Loire-valley, Toulouse, San-Sebastian among others. This was without doubt the best part of the exchange, traveling, visiting new places, enjoying the culture and the good food.

What was your best experience during your exchange?

My best experience during my exchange was probably spending a week at the countryside in Normandie. It was during spring break and my girlfriend and I decided to rent a charming stone cottage next to a small village in Normandie. We drove there stopping at some stunning places on the way. The cottage was located on top of a hill looking out over beautiful flowy fields. In the evening we had a fire going in the fireplace and we would sit in saloon eating dinner. During the days we went on excursions with the car, and I was really blown away by how beautiful the landscape was. We visited Caen, Bayeux and the D-day beaches. Being a big calvados fan, I was in the right place and ended up discovering pommeau, a mix between calvados and apple juice, gavé bon! You could even get oysters from vending machines! On our way back we stopped at Le Mont Saint-Michel, an abbey situated on the top of a mountain out in the water, it looks like a castle from a Disney movie basically. From the top you had an amazing view over the bay. Overall, it was just a great trip and I’m really looking forward going back there.

What was the biggest challenge during your exchange?

One of the biggest challenges for me during my exchange was dealing with having parallel courses. Seeing as you take several small courses rather than two courses by semester like in Sweden it means you have to keep track of a lot of things at the same time. Personally, I found it a bit challenging doing one thing one day only to be working on something completely different the next. I prefer focusing on one course and immerse myself in it. I also found the relationship between students and teacher to be different. In France the teacher still has a quite authoritative role, which I sometimes felt could inhibit the creativity. There was specifically one teacher that we the first day were told by the administrative
staff didn’t like exchange students. One of the students that was struggling a bit in French was particularly treated badly.

Advice for future exchange students

Finally, if you’re a fan architecture, french cuisine and language I would recommend doing your exchange in Bordeaux. Unfortunately, the school itself didn’t live up to my expectations and overall, the level felt lower compared to SLU. If you want to improve your artistic skill however this is a good opportunity. In the end, your studies will be what you make them to be. I would recommend having a good level in french since everything is in french. If you decide to go then start looking for accommodation in good time. If you want more advice or have any questions, feel free to contact me by e-mail:


Name: Johan Bergljung
Exchange at: ENSAP (École nationale superieure d’architecture et de paysage)
Programme at SLU: Landskapsarkitektprogrammet
Period of exchange: Autumn 2021 – Spring 2022.