Finding accommodation was one of the hardest parts of living in Paris. Firstly, even as a study abroad student, you are not guaranteed housing. I was not allocated a spot in the university accommodation. The ones associated with Parisian universities are not located in the best areas of Paris. However, they are convenient and most likely cheaper than anything else you will find. I believe that it’s worth applying in May just to see if university housing is an option for you.
Otherwise, I sorted my accommodation before I arrived through internet searches. Most people live on their own in small studio apartments, but there are multiple bedrooms if you have flatmates. There are also sites and Facebook pages for people looking to lease empty rooms throughout Paris. The Sorbonne is split up into multiple campuses; the Nouvelle Universite is near Censier Daubenton on the M7. I was extremely lucky and found an apartment in the 5th arrondissement about a 5 minute walk away from my campus through Airbnb. I highly recommend that site as it allows you to pay in your own currency and there is a middleman to help facilitate the process. Airbnb is a great starting point – especially for those only going for one semester. If you’re staying for the whole year, then it might be worth it to invest in finding an apartment.
In general, I would recommend living in the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 13th, 14th or 15th arrondissement. Ones to avoid include the 9th, 10th, 18th, 19th and everywhere outside the centre. Housing can definitely be difficult, so don’t be afraid to get creative – being an au pair, reaching out to friends etc. Also, if you’re there for the whole year, it’s worth applying for CAF (a government grant) which will help with housing funding.
The modules will obviously vary greatly based on department. Because I was studying abroad as part of my degree, all my modules had to be within the same department – Cinema et L’audiovisuel – for me to receive credit. Be sure to communicate with your home university to approve all module choices as it becomes difficult to switch after the first week. All my courses were fully in French with normal Sorbonne students. I took 2nd year and 3rd year modules that sounded interesting. There was a lot of choice to pick from and every module has different specialisations depending on the seminar you pick. I was surprised to find modules as one 2 hour installment that usually meant a lecture. There were no screenings or tutorials outside the lecture, therefore I found it difficult to express myself and contribute to the conversation. Also, there were no weekly assigned readings – only the assessment.
The Assessment was totally in French, though I was allowed to write ‘ERASMUS’ on my assignments – which adjusted the harshness of the marking. There are two types of modules – ones that run on continued assessment and a lecture/exam based one. Typically modules are on continued assessment which will include one ‘partiel’ (an in class exam) and one ‘dossier’ (a take home assignment). Two of my modules also included presentations as part of the formal assessment. The grades were typically split 50-50 between two assignments during the semester. Most of the professors were accommodating with study abroad students, such as allowing dictionaries for exams. I found the marking to be fair on the whole, though it does take a lot of studying to get good marks. Also their scale is between 1-20 with above 10 being passing and above 15 as exceptional.
The university did offer some help for incoming students whose first language was not French. During orientation, we had to take a French language test and those who did not pass were placed in a one week intensive course before modules began and then assigned a French language class for the year. Those that passed the exams could take methodology and culture classes. I took a French methodology class and a French art history class from the International Office. The classes were extremely useful and reassuring as all students in those modules were study abroad students like me. Otherwise, there were officers from the university you could talk to in the event that you were having difficulty settling in. Despite all the help, it was still very difficult to adjust to French modules and the French education system. At times it could be frustrating. However, I was assigned a tutor to help me settle in and I found it extremely helpful as my tutor was lovely. A lot of the communication depending on your reaching out to your tutor rather than the other way around. There is some help outside as well if you look for it. For example, there is a ground called Franglish which meets at nights and you exchange conversation – 10 minutes in English, then 10 minutes in French and then you rotate partners.
There is so much to do in Paris, you can easily stay occupied in the city. There are museums, coffee shops, parks and shopping. A lot of museums are free for EU citizens and students; take advantage of that! My favourites were ther Louvre, Rodin Museum, Musee de l’Orangerie, Centre George Pompidou and Musee d’Orsay. There are the obvious landmarks to visit such as Arc de Triumph, Eiffel Tower, Place de la Concorde, the Pantheon and Hotel des Invalides. It’s also useful to look at Time Out Paris for upcoming exhibitions and events around the city. Also, it it’s not too cold, you can go for a jog in Jardin de Luxembourg, Le Jardin des Plants or Jardin des Tuileries. And lastly, the food must be explored – from finding the best croque monseiur to the macaroons at La Duree.
There are plenty of bars and cafes for nights out that are the equivalent to pubs in England. There are also restaurants, wine bars and specific streets – such as Rue Mouffetard – which are quite lively during the night. In terms of clubs, there are various different types around the city. For different levels of dressing up and different music choice, there is quite a variety. I found Paris nightlife quite expensive with entry between 10 and 20 euros and 8 euro drinks once inside. Also, nightlife in Paris starts much later than in London. Most people will begin eating dinner and 8pm-9pm and go to the club at 1am in the morning. The Metro does not run all night and varies based on the day of the week, but on average it ends around 2am-2:30am. Some people will stay out until it starts the next morning at 6am. Otherwise, taxis are not too expensive for getting home and Paris is smaller in size than London, so typically distances are not too far.
Just outside of the centre, there’s Disneyland and a large park in Boulogne-Billancourt. Train tickets can be quite expensive, but it is the easiest way to get around France for a weekend away. Investing in a youth railcard could be beneficial if you plan in travelling more frequently during your time in France. Some areas to explore include Normandy, Bretagne, Lyon, Rennes, Aix-en-Provence, Lille and Strasbourg. The Mediterranean coast is a bit far, but it’s absolutely beautiful. Also, because France is part of mainland Europe, it is easy to travel to neighbouring countries such as Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy and Switzerland. Also, Paris has two large airports, so travelling is extremely easy from Paris.