As the days began to get shorter and the air started to become colder, the realisation that Christmas was upon us hit me rather quickly. Upon my return from swelteringly hot Monaco, I was greeted to a breezy chill in the wind, coupled with the littering of towering Christmas trees complete with flashing decorations and beaming lights. It was a rather beautiful sight.
All around Paris you could spot these enormous, sky-scraping trees, Christmas markets being set up with dozens of stands, and ice rinks beginning to appear for keen visitors to strut their stuff on the ice. Paris was the last place I ice skated in fact, 9 years ago, and after that experience I concluded it wasn’t best for me to try it ever again. Mulled wine was everywhere, definitely not my thing, but hot chocolates topped with whipped cream were my go-to after a long slugging of work at University or when the temperature started getting a little too cold to feel my face.
Now I’d settled in properly and fully immersed myself in the University life, I vowed to myself that I would explore France and its culture. France is a gargantuan nation, and far larger than most believe it to be. A mind-blowing example is the fact that it takes less time to drive from Paris to Manchester (English channel crossing included) than it would to drive from Paris to Nice on the glittering South coast. From the bustling metropolis of the French capital, often grey and cold, you can travel to other parts of the nation and witness rows and rows of palm trees.
Such diversity is unheard of pretty much everywhere in the remainder of Western Europe, with a grand wealth of popular hotspots to discover and a wide range of history to see. Although University life can get extremely busy, I always take my time to sightsee and partake in activities whenever I can. For example, I enjoy long walks in the city centre, covering most of the major attractions along the way.
I unfortunately missed the first week of University lessons due to a delay in my visa process, but come the second week I had arrived in Paris and was raring to learn. The education system there has many similarities and differences compared to what University of Manchester undergraduates are accustomed too, but generally I found the transition into life at SciencesPo somewhat comfortable and straightforward.
The day was Saturday the 4th of September 2021. Months of hard work, research, filling out application forms, searching for accommodation and processing my French visa had led to this moment. Nervous? Definitely.
I have been so lucky to enjoy my year abroad in Paris, but I remember how nervous I was when I first arrived. I got on the Eurostar in September and realised I was moving into a flat I’d never seen; I couldn’t speak a word of French and I had no idea how lockdown and Brexit regulations were going to change over the coming months. Despite these worries I have muddled my way through and had such an incredible year! But here are the things I wish I’d had more information on before I left.
Accommodation in Paris can be expensive and hard to find, and when you are new to the city it is difficult to know the best areas to live in.
In terms of location, different arrondissements of Paris can offer different things. I have met people living all over Paris, and it is a well-connected city. Perhaps I am biased, but if I were to recommend an area it would be the 5th arrondissement. It is a great place to live as a student and has great metro links, cheap bars and restaurants, a beautiful library and loads of shops.
If you are a student, you can get cheap accommodation from Crous. They provide student residence, costing anywhere between 150-600 euros per month depending on size and location – this is probably the cheapest option for student accommodation in Paris. They have residencies all over the city.
If you are looking for a flat to share with a friend or group there are various agencies you can use, such as Central Paris Rentals or Lodgis. It’s also worth looking at Erasmus Facebook groups if you are looking for roommates or for a spare room!
I made the bold (or stupid) decision to move to Paris without speaking French, I don’t even have a GCSE in it. I am not a language student and I have been taking English courses at a French university. The lack of French is certainly what scared me the most in my first few weeks and sometimes it still does 9 months later. My French is definitely not perfect but I am improving every day. I took classes in my first semester and try to practice grammar when I have the time. However, I picked up what I needed to really quickly! I can confidently ask for my bread at the bakery, a pint at a bar, a receipt in a shop and directions if I need them. Also, the trope that Parisians will never speak to you in English is false. As long as you try to say something in French, if you’re struggling, they usually give in and Franglais with you!
The Covid situation is ever changing and lockdowns are unpredictable. However, when lockdown was introduced in Paris at the end of October, I was shocked at how different it was to the first lockdown I had spent in England. When lockdown was strict in Paris, we were allowed to leave our flats for one hour per day, within a 5km radius and we had to fill in an attestation form to show we were out for a legitimate reason. Lockdown rules have been fluctuating over the past few months, but mostly my social life has been revolving around coffee breaks at the library and pints in the park. It is strange adjusting to new regulations like attestation forms and curfews, especially given how unpoliced lockdown in England is in comparison.
I think street harassment has to be the most significant cultural difference I have experienced in Paris. Sexual harassment on the streets is a universal experience for women, people of marginalised genders and lgbtq+ people everywhere, but I can only comment on how it has felt different as a woman in Paris compared to in Manchester. Catcalling is significantly more frequent in Paris than in the UK. I have also experienced and heard of experiences of sexual harassment that feel much more extreme, this included being followed home, being flashed, and explicit misogynistic and homophobic abuse from strangers. These experiences unfortunately happen to women, people of marginalised genders and lgbtq+ people everywhere, every day, but I wish I had been aware of how frequent and intense it can be in Paris.
Paris is a super expensive city, especially compared to Manchester. There are small supermarkets like Franprix and Carrefour everywhere but they can be quite pricey. I quickly worked out that it is worth finding markets to buy fresh fruit and veg, Belleville Market is particularly good! Also, it is worth finding specialist shops for specific cuisines, there are loads of great Japanese and Korean supermarkets, Greek delis and much more that have great offers. In terms of eating and drinking out, central Paris is certainly more expensive, I once paid 16 euros for a rum and coke. Student areas like the 5th arrondissement are much cheaper for drinking centrally, or some of the outer arrondissements like the 19th! There are cheaper options if you keep your eye out for them.
Anyone thinking of studying abroad in Paris, I hope you find some of my experiences and tips helpful!