success 3

Change affects everyone in different ways but often induces immediate comparison of the new and the old for all. Four months ago I moved to Paris from London and I started my blog as a means of documenting these comparisons in terms of work, higher education, quality of life, customs and norms, the political system, class, race and relations, and other key indices that form the complex make up of a society and create the distinct cultures that differentiate them. What I will continue to stress, my first and very simple but most telling conclusion is such that it’s one thing to ‘know’ about a culture, and another to actually live in it.

What I ‘knew’ of Paris before I arrived, partly derived from whimsical, romanticised, fairytale-esque portrayals in film and literature, as had been reinforced during the course of my French studies degree. The charm, passion and intellectualism of Paris’s character became attributes that I aspired to and I optimistically decided that after a year in its company they would radiate from my own. I had yearned for the character of the city and I had distinguished it from that of the people, for the rest of what I ‘knew’ of French culture by way of the people was their crude yet heartbreakingly accurate stereotype. Paris is a beautiful city littered with some unsavoury attitudes and this contrast has created for me a rollercoaster first semester with extreme highs and extreme lows. I will share with you a few experiences.

Similarly to the UK, France’s black population account for 3% of the country’s total population, and though far from being dispelled in the UK, the issues of race and ethnicity remain far more taboo and contentious south of the Channel. From the 17th to  20th century, the French empire had expanded over territories in North and Central Africa, Canada and North America, the Caribbean Islands, India and countries in South East Asia and Oceania. Sadly, the resistance of some in France to rid of the prevailing attitudes of its colonial era are manifested by the overt display of some racist and accepted tendencies.

I’d been advised that I’d never get a job for a role involving some sort of customer service because for a country with such a strong sense of national identity, the combination of being black and being British meant that French clients would distrust me. Campaigns had been erected under President Nicolas Sarkozy, 2007-2012, for companies to introduce ethnic monitoring (though truthfully I believe the expected outcome seems dubious), and others in favour of blurring out names on CVs and job applications. The two remain to be effectuated.

The same difficulties, the doubt and suspicion applied when searching for apartments and flat shares, even when I was practically ready to throw my rent money at potential landlords and future flatmates. I’d also been unfairly accused of shoplifting from my local supermarket, and been scorned and shouted at that I should be so grateful that France had welcomed me here upon refusal to give an old perverted Frenchmen my telephone number. Cheers mate.

Furthermore, as detailed in The Grown-Up Child’, I had struggled to adapt to university in Paris. With the yearly fees averaging around a mere 180Euros for an undergraduate degree and 250Euros for a masters course, whilst pockets remain full, the learning resources are somewhat scarce. My university is short-staffed, the once dreaded PowerPoint slides I now miss and long for, and with no textbooks and incoherent, half in English, half in (poor) French notes, I fought to show my teachers that my grades were not a valid reflection of my academic ability nor my character, hard work being one of my strongest personal values. They say there’s a first time for everything – two modules, failed.

On a lighter note, Paris boasts a variety of restaurants in which it is possible to eat well and avoid prices that are too dear. Paris is also bakeries and patisseries galore! Bread baskets are served with every meal, a croissant is typically favoured over a bowl of cereal in the morning and with up to 400 types of cheese and 8 billion bottles of wine produced in France each year, it has been one of my biggest conundrums that Parisian women manage to stay so thin. Well, it seems that in Paris, you can always count on the aide of a good-willed stranger to keep tabs on your waistline! I’d been sarcastically told ‘bon appetit’ every time I’d eaten in public (when it was just fruit! *mostly) and I’d been warned I’d get fat by a passerby at the park eating my sandwich on my lunch break. Landlords have also been known to suggest to tenants to perhaps ‘lose a bit of weight’ before move in day.

Though I could list them endlessly, in spite of some unanticipated, uncomfortable, troubling, perplexing and just plain weird episodes, there have conversely been an array of opportunities in Paris and better times.

Whilst he is now considered to be hugely unpopular, 2012 saw the election of left-wing President François Hollande and the reverse of France into a socialist state. France retains its position as the second most taxed country in Europe, after Belgium. The theory would suggest that the higher the tax revenue, the more money available to be invested in public services and infrastructure, therefore enabling France’s citizens to enjoy a higher standard of education, healthcare, transportation, social care etc.

Transport in Paris is excellent. The Metro, the Paris underground is quicker, cheaper and has a much denser network than its London counterpart, the Tube. High-speed trains, the TGV run from city to city in France as well as cross country to Belgium, Amsterdam, Germany, Italy and Spain to name a few. The buildings and streets are prettier and well looked after, and the wealth reallocation by the French government is such that even relatively short-staying, non-French citizens can benefit, for example, applying for CAF/APL can grant you with approximately 200Euros a month towards Paris’s sky high rent prices. I’ve since found my new apartment.

The main purpose of my year abroad in Paris was to learn another language and thus far, my French has significantly improved. I had faced an incredibly rough start, though I have learnt that to adapt means to lose your pre-judgements, expectations and anticipations and delve into new experiences with an open mind. I have enjoyed France’s arts culture, been inspired by it to connect with an old hobby of mine, writing, visited the sites, taken lots of photographs, I’ve made some new friends and become even closer with old ones, and I can only hope that my good fortune continues on into the New Year!

French gals

French gals

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See Paris in Pictures for this month’s photo update

University in the UK surpasses the notion of serving solely as an institution in which to study and gain a degree. It presents experiences that stretch far beyond exam halls, Harvard referencing and Red Bull, and instead forms the backdrop against which many milestones outside of higher education are met.

For many, the term ‘student life’ often concludes some anecdote of the challenges and sometimes calamities of the first move away from home. Amongst an extensive list of first time responsibilities include cooking for yourself, cleaning, laundry, bill paying and budgeting, and other activities that promote the development of self-sufficiency. And so despite its widespread reputation for partying and alcohol – and neither of which I do deny – ultimately, university in the UK is the symbol of the period in a young person’s life that provides the stepping stones to autonomy and adulthood.

In perhaps the greatest paradox yet, I ventured cross country from the UK to France, and as I settled into my new Parisian apartment felt I was entering into experience and maturity, refined and sophisticated grown-up living, and even wangled through some Franglais to land myself a part time office job. Yet when university started a few weeks later, surprised, I felt a complete disconnect, as if actually as a young woman, I was now returning back to school, I’d felt I’d somehow been demoted to being a child. Thus, in explaining a few key differences between the French and British system (University of Manchester vs. Université Paris-Sorbonne IV) perhaps you will see why.

Hours

Lectures at Paris-Sorbonne will start as early as 8am. Allowing for travelling time, this also means a 6am or earlier wake up. I’ve never set my alarm as early as when I was in secondary school or college.

Lecture Structure

PowerPoint at Paris-Sorbonne does not exist. Lecturers prefer to dictate to the whole theatre for the entire duration of the lecture. More often that not this makes a total of two and a half hours. Though sometimes three. And sometimes there are no breaks.

This also means that you cannot refer to any lecture slides on Blackboard or such form of university intranet. Therefore, there is no such thing as simply skipping a lecture. You do not have the flexibility to use the slides or a textbook and adapt the information to make your own notes. You are 100% reliant on what the teacher has fed you during the everlasting dictation sessions. There is no autonomy.

Attendance

For some modules there is no paper register. Instead pictures are taken to record attendance.

Student – Lecturer Relations

You must officially register to each seminar you attend by presenting that seminar leader with a form which includes a passport-sized picture. The seminar leader then learns the pupils and they will know every face and name. This is so that they can grade you on ‘participation’, how many questions you’ve answered/how many times you’ve put your hand up/how engaged you appear during their classes. You are not anonymous. You cannot slip and slide into seminars. You will get caught. You will be reprimanded.

Accommodation

Most students live in or around Paris in their family homes for the entire duration of university. There are no halls of residence and student flat shares are extremely hard to find unless perhaps occupied by other international students. Therefore, there is no concept of independent living.

Student Motivation

Students go to university to study. The party and social aspect is severely lacking. The clubs and societies are based around sports. The range is therefore limited in number and diversity. However, you can take a sport as part of your university credits. Basketball practices, football matches, yoga sessions etc. are written into the university timetable, like PE lessons.

University of Manchester, Université Paris-Sorbonne IV

Who will win?

Who will win? – Stay subscribed to read next semester’s review

See Paris in Pictures for this month’s update

Every day I stumble across more and more evidence in support of my initial belief that Paris is full of contradictions. Though it retains incredible dynamism as far as the breadth of sites to see, the diverse range of restaurants and bars to sample and the luxurious shopping districts to marvel in, there is something about the Parisian atmosphere, or rather a certain je ne sais quoi, which makes France’s largest cosmopolitan city appear very Zen.

Such fears related to any element of claustrophobia as overcrowdedness and confinement by swamps of tourists being preyed on by scamming souvenir merchants, caricature street artists, taxi drivers, tuk-tuk drivers, whilst you are being rushed and pushed and shoved, can safely be put at bay.

In fact, France’s long time leisure culture and strong emphasis on quality of life is so apparent in even its capital’s inhabitants that their nonchalant attitude rejects the sense of urgency that is so strongly felt by and suffocates us in the UK – see any central London tube station for reference. In contrast, Paris is somewhat peaceful, relaxed and calm. Everything is done at your pace and when you feel like it, an ideology that I am quickly, though not yet dangerously, becoming akin to.

Since my arrival, my type A, list-checking, Now! Now! Now!, personality has been lost in a three week daydream. I still have yet to open my French bank account, get a working French phone and I am still waiting on my Metro travel card in the post. But I don’t feel pushed. My mind has gone for a complete walkabout, or rather taken a long leisurely Parisian stroll, and I simply do-not-care.

In the meantime, I have filled my days seeing family and friends while and in between taking casual (window) shopping trips along the Champs-Elysées and the opulent Galerie Lafayette, hiking up the Eiffel Tower albeit griping my thumbs as I gulped at the 1062 foot drop, visiting the Sacre-Coeur, la Place de la Concorde and Jardin des Tuilleries, snapping photos outside the Moulin Rouge – I dare not see any of the shows in that venue, nor the ‘cabaret’ in the vicinity, playing an art snob at the Louvre and Centre Georges Pompidou, enjoying coffee breaks at l’Arc de Triomphe and evening drinks at La Bastille, even jogging to the Notre Dame and back for a spot of exercise in my new neighbourhood, but best of all gazing in awe at my favourite, wonderland, dream house at the Château de Versailles.

‘Thought you told us you weren’t a tourist last time ey?’ they said, ‘Contradicting yourself already? Just like your new city’ 

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Le Château de Versailles

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Gate to my dream house

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Through the entrance

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Statues of French saints, philosophers, artists, writers, scientists, mathematicians

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Painted on the ceiling

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La Galerie des Glaces – Hall of Mirrors

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View from the back garden

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Pool party!

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The gardens

See Paris in Pictures for this fortnight’s photo update

‘I promise I’m not a tourist, I live here!’I desperately try and convince the French public as I struggle through the crowds with my map upside down, take 20 minutes to buy my metro ticket, and fall flat when the waiter supersedes my French to show off his far superior English skills. I didn’t fancy escargot anyway, and I know what a crêpe is, alright?

Despite my Franglais, disorientation and so far lack of Parisian grace, I have managed to learn a few things along the way. For one, Paris is absolutely beautiful and you will never be disappointed by anyone who should tell you. However, you will be disappointed by French administration and frustrated by its bureaucratic yet inefficient nature.

Since long before the summer started, I have spent countless nights in despair, filing in form after form and processing documents; accommodation, housing contracts, guarantor income statements, inventory, health insurance, EHIC card, home insurance, student finance, Erasmus grant, CAF, photocopy of passport, photocopy of driving licence, photocopy of Manchester student card, photocopy and translation of birth certificate, new foreign bank account, cancellation of current phone contract, new university registration documents (La Sorbonne IV if you’re wondering)…bored yet?

With my growing anxiety and severed optimism about my new venture, I sat bored and exasperated as I waited for a response from all those in charge and wondered ‘What’s taking so long?’ and ‘ Why won’t they get back to me?’

Upon arrival I finally discovered my answer – The city is just too distracting. Every view from every (office) window is breath taking.

I promise I’m not a tourist, but I still can’t believe I actually live here.

Jardin des Plantes

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