Paris in 6 Months | The Perspective of a Study Abroad Student
This summer, Savoir Faire Paris had the pleasure of hosting an intern through IES Abroad. Valeria Figueroa is from Miami, Florida and is entering her senior year at Babson College in Massachusetts. With an interest in entrepreneurship, Valeria wanted to learn about the ins and outs of running a small business. As her internship comes to a close, we will miss her positive energy and ambitious spirit! Here is her take on her study abroad time in Paris and tips and tricks for those looking to do the same.
Leaving behind your family, friends, and even pets to study and live in an entirely different continent, country, and culture, can be both exciting and nerve wracking. However, it is an unforgettable experience that you definitely will not regret and will cherish forever, as cliché as that may sound.
To be honest, I almost did not end up taking the opportunity to study abroad. In fact, I was practically set on my decision, until the day before the application deadline was due. I remember talking over the pros and cons of taking a semester abroad with my parents on the phone for hours the night before my application was due. Despite looking down at my list in front of me, which displayed the blatant evidence of the pros outweighing the cons, and the sincere approval and constant support from my parents to take advantage of this opportunity, I was still not 100% convinced about studying abroad. Instead, I kept making excuses to justify not pursuing such an amazing opportunity: “It would be expensive”, “I’ve already been to Paris multiple times”, “I could stay and take more classes and graduate early”… Deep down, I knew none of these excuses truly reflected my hesitation to leave.
Long story short, after going back and forth over my decision with my parents, I finally decided to submit my application last minute, literally scavenging for all the necessary documents and hunting down professors for letters of recommendation just hours before the deadline. Though it was a tiring battle about whether or not to pursue this opportunity, I am grateful and extremely happy that I did. If you’re thinking about making Paris your temporary home for a semester, here’s a nice little guide I’ve assembled from my daily insights and observations, filled with tips and advice that helped me adjust to this wonderful city and make the most of my experience:
Dive into French Culture:
This is probably one of my biggest pieces of advice for anyone who is planning on making Paris their temporary home for a few months. Although it is never wrong to be patriotic or proud of where you are from, it is important and just common courtesy to respect the French culture and traditions. Basically, do not be ignorant or entitled while you are in Paris. You are a guest in this amazing city and just how you wouldn’t like a foreigner to act or behave in your country, do not do it while you’re in Paris. I highly recommend for you to take the time and effort to assimilate yourself into the French culture. It is so rich and unique and you can learn and gain a lot from fully taking the time to immerse yourself into the Parisian lifestyle. So go on and do as the French do: put on your darkest colored outfit, grab a seat at your nearest café, and just sit back and observe (and judge) the world around you.
This goes hand in hand with assimilating yourself into French culture, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to explore while you’re in Paris. Discovering the different aspects of Paris is without a doubt one of the main factors that made my experience here so enjoyable. I really made it my one of my goals to experience Paris at a local level rather than a tourist level. Of course, I still went to the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and all of the other main tourist attractions in Paris, but I didn’t end my list there. Instead, I branched out and discovered other activities and events, which normally would not appeal to someone who is visiting Paris for a few days or a week, due to the lack of time to fit everything in such a short period. However, because I was staying in Paris for an extended period of time, I really wanted to get to know the city and everything it had to offer.
It started off with just hopping on the metro, without a set destination in mind and picking a random station to get off at and just walk. At first it was quite nerve wracking for me to do such a thing, mainly because I have no sense of direction and am always prone to getting lost and my lack of fluency in French had me at a disadvantage. Yet, I allowed myself to get “lost” and after walking around aimlessly and without having the slightest clue where I was, surprisingly enough, I found comfort. It pushed me outside of my comfort zone and further developed my independence. I learned to be comfortable by myself in an unfamiliar city and country, which is vital especially when you’re going to be spending an extended period of time alone in a foreign environment.
It then spread to different aspects, such as discovering different museums, parks, events, and trying new food and restaurants. For instance, I was able to go to an exhibit, called L’Atelier des Lumières, that displayed Gustav Klimt’s most famous masterpieces through projectors and it proved to be a unique and immersive experience, different from the popular and well known museums such as the Louvre or the Musee d’Orsay. Attending and discovering these different activities throughout my time abroad really gave me a glimpse of what life is really like in Paris. It’s common knowledge that the French love their food and truly enjoy their leisure time, but I was actually able to see and experience it from a local perspective, rather than from a superficial perspective. Overall, there is so much to see, do, and experience in Paris and I recommend you make the most of it, instead of limiting yourself to the staple museums, parks, and monuments. Whether it’s going for a walk around that small, hidden park near your apartment or homestay to just hopping off at a metro stop you’ve never heard of on a metro line you’ve never rode on, I encourage you to get out there and truly make Paris your city.
Safety was a common topic I was asked about whenever I told my family and friends I decided to study in Paris for the semester. Despite recent news surrounding the increase in security threats and attacks in Europe in general, I did not let it deter me from studying in Paris. After spending 6 months in Paris, I can reassure you that Paris remains an extremely safe place, despite what the news may have you believe. I believe Paris is like any other city when it comes to concerns about safety, it is all relative to where in the city you are. Every city has its own hint and risk of crime or violence, unfortunately that is just the world we live in today and is unavoidable. I will admit that security has heightened over the past few years, and it is not uncommon to see military personnel and police patrolling public and popular areas in Paris, such as tourist areas. However, I have never felt threatened or unsafe while studying in Paris. Honestly, I’ve felt safer roaming around in Paris, than I have in the United States. As a result, I can assure you that safety should not be a concern and a deciding factor in whether you choose to come to Paris for the semester. Yet, some precautions I can advise you to follow to help you feel more at ease about safety while in Paris is to blend in and attract as little as attention to you as possible. For instance, you can blend in by observing the Parisian fashion style and adopting it, such as wearing all black outfits or dark colored outfits, instead of wearing neon colors and patterns.
I try not to be a basic and cliché person, but I have to admit that studying abroad is truly a life changing experience. Not only does it provide you with the ability to fully immerse yourself in a foreign country and learn about its culture, traditions, and people, it is also a great opportunity for self-growth, independence, and opening your mind to viewing things from different perspectives. Take it from someone who was so convinced about not studying abroad, who ended up staying in Paris after the end of her program and longer than expected because she fell in love with the city and everything it has to offer. The thought about having to go back home is bittersweet. Now don’t get me wrong, I miss my family and friends and I am beyond excited to see them, but Paris is truly someplace else that will make saying goodbye extremely difficult. I really hope you take advantage of the opportunity to make Paris your temporary home for a few months, you will not regret it!
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