Three top tips for your year abroad in Paris

by Tiana Phillips

I’m sure most students planning a year abroad will be familiar with the slightly daunting feeling of uncertainty leading up to their departure. For me, it’s almost a year on from those initial few months of stress and paperwork, and now I’m a mere three weeks away from the end of my classes at my university in Paris. I wanted to share my experience as three main points of advice, in the hope that outgoing year abroad-ers feel a little more prepared for the year ahead! This article will focus on my personal experience living in Paris/France, and will therefore be most helpful to French students, or just anyone heading off on a Parisian minibreak. Bonne chance!

1. Be prepared for a different (and difficult) culture

In my experience, the stereotypical French attitude of being unhelpful and bureaucratic can be extremely frustrating. You won’t have friendly admin staff sorting out your timetable or sending you reminders, as is usual at Birmingham (UoB, you’re the best). You’ll be met with a lot of inflexible attitudes (I’m thinking of the staff in the ‘lettres’ department of my university, who refused to help me when I had clashing exams because “we have to deal with this every year so why can’t the other department do it for once.”) It’s tough at first, but the best thing to do is just stay strong. Though incredibly rewarding, a year in France is never going to be plain sailing.

2. Try not to be alarmed by the high living costs in Paris

For a room in Paris, rent can be from around 500€ to over 1000€ per month. A weekly food shop will be at least 30€ (most of my weekly budget goes on food, either from supermarkets or takeaway lunches, which means I can easily spend 60/70€ in a matter of days). Paris is the second most expensive city in 2019, but you’re there for under a year, so I wouldn’t worry about this long-term: just make sure you have some financial support or a government maintenance loan. A good tip is to apply for student halls as these are the cheapest form of accommodation, as well as saving as much as possible in the summer leading up to your departure. 

The view from our apartment in the 13th arrondissement

3. Do the touristy sites once or twice, then focus on exploring lesser-known spots and hidden gems 

There’s a lot more to see in Paris than just the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. In fact, you’ll probably find these touristy areas too crowded and infuriating once you’ve settled in. Here are some places which I’ve really enjoyed discovering this year: 

  • Place du Tertre: for bohemian, artistic Montmartre vibes.
  • Opéra Garnier: buy your tickets in advance and tour the inside of Paris’s opera house. 
  • Galeries Lafayette: a really beautiful shopping heaven, especially at Christmas, when there’s a giant themed Christmas tree in the centre of the store. 
  • Île de la Cité and Île Saint-Louis: I love exploring the cobbled streets and squares, particularly if it’s good weather. Plus, I once had a butter, sugar and cinnamon crêpe from a little shop on Île Saint-Louis and it was incredible.

Thai Spices restaurant near Pont Marie metro station: I ate here in January with my boyfriend and it was probably my favourite restaurant that I’ve eaten at in Paris. For pizza and pasta, I recommend Pratolina and Villa Dondelli in the 2nd arrondissement. And let’s not forget the Starbucks on Blvd. des Capucines. Situated in the most beautiful, opera-style building, it may be the most Instagrammable Starbucks I’ve ever been to and it’s definitely worth a visit!

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