International mobility: Lara El Berjawi, PhD student from the Giangrande team, presents her recent arrival at the IGBMC

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The IGBMC is an institute with an international reputation thanks to its research, scientific expertise and technologies. It is an attractive environment to conduct research and training. This is reflected in the high number of researchers, post-docs and PhD students from other countries who come to work at the institute. In order to better understand the experience of a foreign person arriving at the IGBMC and to participate in better preparing and welcoming foreign workers and students, we discussed this with Lara El Berjawi, a Lebanese doctoral student, who arrived in February 2022 to complete her thesis in Angela Giangrande's team.

The IGBMC, an internationally renowned institute

After obtaining her master's degree in biology, specialising in proteomics and genomics, from the University of Saint Joseph in Beirut, Lebanon, Lara El Berjawi decided to do her thesis at the IGBMC. She had already heard about the institute from several people as a very good centre to do her thesis in genetics. Her master’s supervisor, Laure El Chamy, had completed her thesis at the IGBMC in 2008. Lara El Berjawi decided to apply when Angela Giangrande contacted her thesis’s supervisor, Margaret Cherigny, about an opening for a PhD student in her team.

For the PhD student, the IGBMC was also attractive because "France is close to Lebanon and offers many amenities: everyday life is quite affordable and you can get around very easily, even without a car".


Difficulties, especially concerning access to housing and social security

By approaching the French embassy in Lebanon, Lara El Berjawi was able to obtain all the information she needed regarding the professional visa and obtaining a residence permit, without any difficulties. "Where it was a bit complicated was opening a bank account: I had to have a different one from the one I use in Lebanon", explains the doctoral student. “To open one, I had to have an accommodation in France, but to have an accommodation in France, I needed to have an account opened”, says Lara El Berjawi, “I’m really thankful to the people of IGBMC who helped me with this process”.

On the topic of accommodation, what “scared me most was not being able to find one: it was difficult to know where to look, how to know what was reliable in France from outside," says Lara El Berjawi. Also, in Lebanon "we are used to living with our family or relatives, living alone in a flat or with a stranger was stressful". In this regard, the IGBMC supported the student and provided her with spare accommodation until she could find a place to live with another doctoral student in her team.

The doctoral student was also in contact with the Euraxess scheme to find out what documents she needed to fill in to obtain her residence permit. This was useful for her to know the procedures.

There is still some difficulty for Lara El Berjawi, who does not yet have access to social security: to obtain it, she had to provide a certain number of documents such as proof of residence in France, her work contract or the residence permit. She is in contact with the IGBMC's HR department, which carries out the formalities for her and accompanies her.


Advantages for students and a good quality of life at work

Concerning the conditions for students in France, the doctoral student explains that there are "many advantages, I am still learning everything that exists, especially when it comes to reduced prices the facilities offer to students".

Today, Lara El Berjawi has been at the IGBMC for two months and finds that "there is a very good quality of work at the IGBMC, I have the opportunity to be in contact with technologies to which I did not have access in Lebanon". As for her social integration, the doctoral student adds that she "enjoys working with the team, and there are also the events organised by the SPB which are very good for meeting and exchanging with new people. These are moments where everyone participates in making connections, it really helps to feel integrated and I will certainly go to the next editions of their English lunch!"