Hello everyone and welcome to my year-long study exchange journey in Toulouse! We will start off with the good news so far: I’ve arrived.
And I’m afraid that’s where it ends. To be fair I am somewhat to blame for all I’m about to tell you, but I hope that after reading this, you will admit that no amount of extra preparation could have helped. So let’s dive into my voyage from Brussels to Toulouse… oh, did I mention it was all by train? Well, now you know (and those of you familiar with the French TGV probably guessed as much from the title).
When you find yourself staring blankly at the library computer screen without coffee, fear not! The Arabica coffee cart is nestled in the courtyard of Beaupassage. Just over the road from Sciences Po, it is easy to miss. Three different entrances take you in to the courtyard. It is calm, bright and full of plants. I was lucky to find this gem in my first few days in Paris. It became ‘my place’. It is where I took my friends, lazed around, and got my emergency caffeine fixes. Once, my friend Ollie actually ran from his flat to buy me a coffee when I was in dire need and didn’t have my card on me! It will meet all your flat white and matcha latte gentrified café needs… But even better, take at least two days before lessons start, to explore random alleyways, so you can find your own Beaupassage equivalent.
2. Angelina’s – the ultimate pick me up.
The famous chocolat chaud chez Angelina’s is more like a cup of melted chocolate. Le maison de Angelina’s has been on Rue de Rivoli since 1903, but they have since opened a boutique on Rue de Bac, near Beaupassage and Sciences Po. From my father to my grandmother, my whole family regards Angelina’s as the simplest formula for sorting anything and everything out. Bad day? Get an Angelina’s. Miss home? Get an Angelina’s. Feel like university work is excruciatingly endless? You guessed it. Angelina’s. End of term? Celebrate with an Angelina’s.
3. Cheap meals – €1-3 @ Crous canteens!
You will be very thankful for Crous canteens when you have spent too much money on gentrified coffee and Angelina’s hot chocolate. These are dotted all over Paris. Sciences Po does have a Crous canteen, but it’s not always open and the options are limited. Instead walk 8 minutes from the library to Café Mabillon. For €1 (or €3 euros outside of Covid-19 times), you get an entry, main and desert. You can buy up to two meal sets a day, so you can buy one for dinner too. All you have to do is sign up for an Izly account. Simply bring your student card to the desk at Café Mab, or email email@example.com .
4. Le Marais: falafel, falafel, and more falafel.
When you think of Paris, you probably think about les croissants and croque-monsieurs. But I promise you, falafel is the new croissant. There are falafel stands all over Paris, but Le Marais is home to the best (historically, Le Marais was the Jewish district in Paris). The queues can easily go around the block. So try to head over on a weekday. Put ‘L’As de Falafel’ into google maps. If it’s not open, the vendors next door will be.
5. Vin chaud.
As early as 8am you will see men standing around drinking beer at their local bistros. It’s part of the Parisian way of life. So jump on that bandwagon. Okay… so maybe 8am is a bit excessive… but a glass of vin chaud awaits you on every Parisian corner at the end of your study day. Until you’re drinking the occasional glass between lessons with friends, you won’t feel like you’re truly living life as a Parisian.
During my summer I spent four weeks in France, at the Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL) and European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) learning about neutron and photon science, with 17 other students from across the world. It provided a taste of what a year of study abroad was like: the cultural, social and work changes involved.
All 18 of us were in the same boat, meaning we quickly formed a close bond between each other. One aspect that stood out to me was that many of our conversations were around cultural diversities between the different countries we were from. What seems tedious and ordinary to one was diverse and fascinating to another, meaning we managed to have a full discussion about what the word for legumes meant in the various languages.
My work involved helping a PhD student on his thesis. The project was about protein dynamics. I’ve long been a lover of physics, but when it comes to other hard sciences I’m somewhat disinterested. It came with grudging unwillingness that I picked up a bit of basic A level biology and chemistry which I had, until then, contentedly avoided. Contrary to my expectations, it was a highly stimulating topic and one which has amophized an interest in soft matter.
A highlight of the month was celebrating Bastille Day. Free wine was given to everyone (there were thousands of us), a concert, and a fireworks display that is comparable to London’s New Year celebration. It was a fantastic time, meeting people briefly yet nevertheless sharing many memorable moments with. A callout to any physicists looking for a summer experience next year: be sure to check out the ESRF summer school programme!