Studying abroad is all about perspective. You have to leave your American customs at the door, and get ready to embrace a totally different way of life.
Understandably, sometimes you will get frustrated. And you will get homesick. That's all part of the process.
But as much as you can, try and remember how awesome it is that you get to live abroad and experience a foreign culture first hand! Most people live their whole lives never living outside their own state, let alone another country.
With several years of living abroad under my belt, I wanted to share five key pieces of advice that I wish I had heard before moving to Paris the first time. I hope that the below information can help any OCD, type-A American survive (and possibly even enjoy themselves) in this European epicenter of wine, cheese, socialized medicine, and strikes.
And for more information, photos, and words of wisdom about living, traveling or studying abroad in France, please check out my blog Ma Vie en Franglais!
Patientez s'il vous plait. France is well known for many things. Efficiency is not one of them. But frankly, if you were really seeking out someplace that functioned as efficiently as the U.S., wouldn't you just study in Germany?
Most places of business close for an hour or two during lunch. Most people stop working at 5pm. Most shops are closed on Sundays. If you are moving to France, it will generally take you two to four weeks to settle all logistical issues (cell phone, bank account, etc.)
That being said...
Remember la joie de vivre! You're living in the country that is known for having the best versions of all things delicious and awesome in life: wine, bread, cheese, chocolate, pastries, art, music, fashion and 35 hour work weeks.
Who cares if you don't have internet in your apartment within 24 hours (or three weeks) of moving, and can't get your iPhone unlocked?Just do your best not to get bogged down by logistical obstacles. And always remember to soak up the amazingness of France. Logistics will eventually all fall into place.
- Parlez-vous francais? If you're American, you probably don't. And that's OK.
But at least TRY to learn some basic survival words before landing in Paris.
Most people in the Parisian service industry are used to Americans walking into a restaurant or a store and automatically speaking to the staff in English.
I guarantee you, even a small attempt at a "Bonjour" or "Merci" or "Desolez, je ne parle pas francais!" can go a long way. You'll actually find that a lot of French people enjoy practicing their English, and don't mind speaking it. It's the Anglo-Saxon arrogance that really annoys them.
- Save some euros. Studying can be costly. And you don't want to spend the whole year stressing too much about money. So here are some tips for saving some euros while living in France:
Food:As tempting as it is to stop by the closest epicerie (translation: mini grocery store), which are around every corner, you will save a lot of dough and get better quality produce, meat, fish, cheese, etc., at your local outdoor market (see below for additional details on this wonderful French tradition). Or, check out some of the larger, cheaper grocery stores like Carrefour and LIDL._
Transport: This is not New York City, so don't take cabs unless absolutely necessary. The metro is an efficient and relatively cheap way to get around the city. If you are under 26 and/or plan to live in Paris for an extended period of time, buy a carte imaginaire and you can pay about 32 euros a month for unlimited metro use. Or if biking is more your thing, take advantage of the Velib' program, where you can pick up and drop off bikes at different stations all over the city._
Booze: Who doesn't love a country where wine is cheaper than soda and bottled water? Instead of shelling out 10 -12 on a watered down mixed drink or a pint of beer, go to your closest Monoprix and buy a bottle of wine for anywhere from 2-5 . And yes, it's still delicious._
Cafe: Everyone must experience the French pastime of sitting outside one of the city's many cafes and sipping a coffee while judging all the tourists and locals that pass by. But instead of paying close to 5 for a Cafe Creme (aka a latte), get a regular espresso ("cafe") or a noisette, which is basically coffee with milk. You will save about 2 each trip, and believe me, that adds up._
Market to market. I think one of the best parts about Paris is that it manages to maintain some of its older cultural traditions even in the 21st century. Possibly one of my favorite French traditions is that of the outdoor market. Every arrondissement in Paris has a semi-weekly outdoor market.
It's basically like an outdoor Whole Foods, but cheaper and with less yuppies. At these markets you will find higher-quality, less expensive and local produce, meat, fish, cheese, and other delectable goodies. Check out this helpful website that breaks down the schedules and locations of all major traditional and specialty markets in Paris.