It’s almost here. You’ve gotten your passport, filled out the copious amounts of paperwork your school requires, waited at the consulate for the dreaded visa appointment and tried to stuff four months worth of clothing in a small duffel bag. Paris, here you come.
While you may feel physically ready to go, you might still feel a little unsure of how things are going to be while abroad. Will you make friends? How will you get around? Well fear not, because I’ve been in your shoes and not only survived but thrived during my semester in Paris. I have gathered together some tips, tricks and life hacks for your semester in the City of Lights.
Like any student studying abroad, I had a difficult time trying to figure out what to bring and was definitely guilty of bringing things I only ended up wearing once or twice. To avoid this, I would suggest packing as light as possible and then paying a visit to one of the many vintage shops in Paris, like the Kiloshop. Some friends and I discovered the shop on one of our many strolls, and I was eternally grateful that we did. The store is unique in the fact that you pay for your clothing by weight. Most items are very reasonably priced and are from quality brands, which makes this store a much better option than hitting up the Zara or H&M down the street.
Along the same lines as packing clothing, packing toiletries can also be a struggle. Between the space that they take up and worrying that they are going to leak in your bag, toiletries become an added stress that you don’t need in your life. Make your life easier by getting some refillable silicone travel containers at Marshalls or TJ Maxx, filling them up with enough of the products that you typically use to last you during your first days, and then make a trip to the local supermarket, or Monoprix ( don’t worry, I’ll tell all about this gem in a little bit) to get what you need. Those refillable containers are also great to have for weekend trips.
It goes without saying that it is beneficial to practice the language that is spoken in a country you are staying in for many months, but for real, a little bit of French will go a long way. You can ease your way into learning the language with apps, like Duolingo, or podcasts, like Coffee Break French, before saying au revoir to America.
However, there is nothing that will help you learn the language quite like taking a French class with a native French speaker in Paris and using what you learn when out and about. Don’t be afraid to practice what you learn with locals. While practicing with strangers may seem a little nerve wracking, it will help build your language skills. Most Parisians also know some English, so sometimes they like to practice with you too.
While you might not want to think about classes, you are studying abroad, so it is important to think about the courses that are being offered and which ones would be the most beneficial to you and your time in Paris. If your school’s program offers an art class, I would highly suggest that you sign up for it.
Now, I am not one who typically finds enjoyment in browsing art museums for hours on end, so I would not usually recommend it to anyone, but there is a ton of perks of taking an art class abroad. Personally, I enjoyed having a teacher available who was not only knowledgeable but also passionate about art and was able to answer the questions I had in full detail. Another benefit of an art class is that you’ll be able to skip the massively long lines that are inevitable at museums like the Louvre and Musee D’Orsay since professors book their museum visits in advance.
If you only take away one piece of advice from this article, please let it be the following. While you may be tempted to travel all around Europe while abroad, make sure you carve out time to truly enjoy and explore Paris.
This suggestion is not to say that you should completely nix the idea of traveling outside of France. Many of my fellow classmates used their breaks as chances to travel, but often they missed out on visiting some of the more unique and unknown places just a train or bus ride away. I was fortunate to make friends with a few girls who I would go on day trips with. While we went and saw the typical touristy places, like Sacre Coeur Basilica and the Eiffel Tower, some of my favorite places were a little off the beaten path.
Shortly after I arrived in Paris, I went with some new friends to the Palace of Fontainebleau, which was a quick train ride away. I had not known about the palace prior to meeting these people, but I enjoyed how quiet and serene it was compared to the famous Versailles Palace.
One of the most memorable and beautiful places I visited in France during my stay was the province of Givernery, which contains the home of Claude Monet. Not only was it a place full of history and inspiration but it was also a place full of beauty. I went in early October when all the flowers were in bloom. I enjoyed the many photo ops and admired the scenery that inspired arguably one of the best artists of all time.
Another mistake that I saw many fellow study-abroad students make was not taking advantage of student or youth discounts. France works a little differently than the US in the sense that “youth” pricing usually applies until the age 26, rather than 18. Most study abroad programs require students to carry a university-issued student ID for the duration of their stay, so you may as well use it to your advantage. Many of the well-known landmarks I went honored my student ID, such as the Notre Dame and the Versailles Palace.
A decent amount of the museums in Paris offer free admission to those with long term visas between the ages of 18 and 25. Both the Musee d’Orsay and the Louvre offer free admission to those between the ages of 18 and 25 at various times, and like many other notable landmarks across Paris, admission is free for all on the first Saturday of every month.
I said I was going to tell you all about the beauty that is Monoprix, and that’s just what I am about to do: If you are obsessed with Target, then you’ll love Monoprix. The store has typical items like shampoo, home goods and stationery, but it is also a great place to shop for gifts to bring back to relatives and friends.
France is known for its beauty products, which are also sold in the U.S but at a much steeper price. Stock up on them at Monoprix (or CityPharma) for a nice gift for any of the people in your life. Monoprix also sells cute t-shirts with French sayings, perfect for commemorating your time in France.
Most importantly, enjoy your time in Paris and don’t let life’s stresses get in the way. Eat and savor the delicious macarons and croissants, sip cafe au lait and people watch at a sidewalk cafe and look out over the beautiful city from the top of the Centre Pompidou. Four months go by much quicker than you think, so make the most of every day. Bon Voyage!