An American in Paris (aka navigating one of the most beautiful cities in the world with a few blunders at one of the top schools in France)
1. What types of classes did you take abroad and how did they compare to UCSB?
I took five classes while I was abroad, three in French and two in English. They were super different from UCSB classes, as the class sizes were way smaller and the attendance policy was far stricter. They were also discussion-based and project-based, which was very different from UCSB’s large lectures. I took four seminar courses and one lecture course, but even during the section of the lecture course, students were very engaged and frequently participated. In addition, students are not shy about asking questions at Sciences Po and were very vocal during class.
2. What was your favorite class abroad?
My favorite class was my Liberté D’Expression class–Freedom of Speech. We covered all sorts of topics and it felt incredibly relevant to this day and age. Most of the class was an hour of discussion, which I loved, as it not only allowed me to drastically improve my French, but it also let me stay engaged with the course material and readings. My professor was super cool and genuinely cared about all the students in class. I remember one time a student had a coughing fit, and he literally offered the student some of his water. I never knew exactly where the discussions in class would lead us, and I loved that.
4. How would you describe your host institution?
The campus is more spread out than UCSB. There are different buildings across different streets, but all near one another. The different campus areas are smaller, because Sciences Po is in a city, but the classrooms are very pretty. There are old ornate mirrors in there, and desks are set up in a semi-circle formation for most classes, as that makes discussions easier.
5. Are there student clubs/organizations that UC students can join?
Yes! I would highly encourage students to join Melting Pôtes. It’s for exchange students in particular, and it helps you get to know local Sciences Po students. In addition, Sciences Po offers various activities like dance classes/rock climbing lessons that are really fun.
6. Describe your housing situation.
I lived in the 5th arrondissement in Paris–the Latin Quarter. My apartment was on the fourth floor and I lived with three other students from UCSB. I loved my Parisian apartment, as it was located right by the Sorbonne so there were a lot of affordable restaurants near me and a lot of students nearby. I was a ten minute walk from the Panthéon area, which is also where a lot of students gathered so that was really fun. We had to find our own housing, so that was a bit stressful and I would definitely recommend starting early. We ended up getting our housing through NY Habitat.
7. Where did you eat most of your meals?
Cafeterias, restaurants, street vendors, at home, etc.
8. How much was an average meal? Do you have any budgeting tips for future students?
I would say the average meal ranges from around 10-20 euros depending on the restaurant. If you’re grabbing a crêpe, that’s just around 3.5-5 euros! For budgeting, I would definitely say you’re going to be spending the most on traveling, so make sure you book your tickets in advance! I booked a ticket to Portugal three months before I planned to go and got a ticket price for like 20 euros (basically how much a meal would cost!)
9. Would it be difficult for vegetarians/vegans and others with strict dietary restrictions to find meals?
For vegetarians it’s doable, but for vegans I would say it’s a little difficult. France is super reliant on dairy in their diets, so being vegan is a bit difficult. There are a few vegan concept stores, so it is doable, but it is more pricey. The falafel in Le Marais is amazing!! Good for vegetarians (I would recommend La Du Falafel).
10. Describe your most memorable dining experience abroad.
I had three top dining experiences abroad: one in Iceland and two in Paris. In Iceland, I had the best sushi of my life. It was after a super long day of exploring the natural beauties of Iceland with my friend. A few older ladies on the tour recommended this hole-in-the-wall sushi place and it was amazing! The food was so fresh. My other favorite dining experience was getting ramen after I spent around 5 hours in the Louvre. I was so hungry and it just hit the spot. It was super fresh and so nice on a cold and grey day. The third was when my dad came to visit. He took my housemates, a few friends, and I out to eat some amazing Japanese food! It was so cool, because my housemates and friends were able to meet my family, and we all bonded over the delicious food.
11. What local food or drink do you miss most now that you are back?
I miss having a local boulangerie and patisserie right by me! The pastries were to die for… The strawberry tartes and éclairs were my favorite. I would also love having wine and cheese nights in my apartment, so I really miss three euro bottles of wine. The crêpe stand that was right next to my apartment was amazing as well.
12. Describe your host city.
My host city was really large. It seems like every street offers something new to discover about Paris. By the end of it, I felt like I knew where I lived relatively well and I could get around the 5th arrondissement without even looking at google maps, but there are other areas I wish I had a chance to explore more, like Montmartre. Paris will always leave you with things that you still want to do. I remember someone telling me they had lived there for 15 years, and it still felt like the city was always showing them new secrets they didn’t know about.
13. Was it easy to get around?
The metro was really easy to navigate, but I will say when a strike happens it makes it really difficult to get around. With a big strike like we experienced in December 2019, everything basically comes to a standstill for a little bit. It is very useful if you know some French, but navigating the metro system shouldn’t be too difficult even if you don’t know French.
14. Did you feel safe in your host city? Do you have any safety tips for future students?
There wasn’t a threat of gun violence in France, but there is a lot more petty crime there, like pickpocketing and bag-snatchers. As long as you stay vigilant you’ll be fine! In the four months I was there, someone tried to snatch my phone once… I glared at them and they apologized. Most of the time they try to target tourists, so as long as you don’t look like a tourist you should have nothing to worry about.
15. What were some interesting/fun things that you did in your host city?
I loved just walking around and exploring the city. It’s so fun to go inside random stores and window shop or to check out new cafés. People watching in Paris is also insanely fun. On Friday, I would try to go out and do something new. I think one of my favorite decisions was visiting L’Atelier de Lumières. It’s an art exhibit that utilizes light and brings paintings to life. It was stunning. Another fun thing I did was I celebrated my 20th birthday in Paris!! I hosted a small gathering in my apartment and then went out with friends. It was such a cool experience to celebrate my birthday abroad and it was a super fun night full of delicious food, nice drinks, and dancing!
16. Describe any cultural differences you experienced while abroad.
One cultural difference is Parisians smile a lot less than Californians. It actually took a while to get used to. In addition, they have more tunnel vision when they walk, which makes sense as it’s a busy city and people have places to be. When entering a store, it’s also important to always greet the person working at the store and say goodbye and thanks to them when you leave. It’s considered rude if you don’t do so.
17. How did you handle culture shock?
The best way to handle culture shock is just to give yourself time to get used to it and befriend locals.
18. What is your favorite aspect of your host culture?
I love how Parisians take their time. When eating, they would give themselves 1-2 hours and they treat it as a social occasion each time they go out and eat with one another. They know how to take breaks and enjoy life. When I first got to Paris, a lot of local businesses were closed, as it is common for the French to take their vacation during August. I really like that they seemed to have a solid work-life balance.
19. Tell us your favorite travel story from your time abroad.
My favorite experience traveling was during fall break. I visited one of my close friends in Italy, and then traveled with my friend who was doing a study abroad program in the U.K. all around Europe. We got to explore Bologna, Venice, Florence, Prague, and Berlin. I loved that experience, because I feel like I was exposed to so many cultures and different kinds of people in such a short period of time. I also loved going to Lyon to experience Le Fête de Lumières, or the festival of lights. I went with one of my close friends I met while I was abroad, and it was one of the coolest experiences ever!!!!
20. What was your biggest fear about studying abroad that turned out to be no big deal?
I was really worried that I wouldn’t like living in a city, because it would be too stressful or too busy. However, my worries were completely unfounded. I loved living in a city. If I wanted to take it easy and just chill in my apartment or in a café, I could do that, but if I wanted to explore or do something new, I had the chance to do that on every street.
21. What was your biggest challenge abroad?
My biggest challenge abroad was finding a balance between doing school work and exploring Paris/the rest of Europe. It’s really hard to study while you’re abroad, but I found I was able to find a good balance by studying in different places. That way, it felt like I was exploring and getting to know the city even while I was studying.
22. How have you changed as a result of your time abroad?
I am much more open-minded than I was before. Leaving California definitely showed me that I had been living in a California bubble, and it was really interesting to hear about different perspectives when I left.
23. What is your advice to prospective UCSB EAP students?
If you’re on the fence, go for it! Studying abroad was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I feel like I’ve grown far more independent by putting myself out of my comfort zone, and I feel far more certain about where I stand in the world now.