This time I’m not coming with a review or a travel guide, but with a topic of a more personal character. I like reading about other people’s experiences, listen to their stories; not only because I’m sneaky, but also because there’s nothing more satisfying than being able to relate and tell yourself: “Well, girl. You’re not alone in this”.
I moved to Paris over 4 years ago and this blog post is going to be a kind of an update on how it’s been so far. A mix of what’s been great and not so great.
Every time I meet people who moved to Paris from another country I ask them how it’s been for them and whether they like it. It’s not one of these questions to keep the conversation going, but I am genuinely interested in their answer and their experience.
As you can imagine, me moving to Paris to enroll Sorbonne University was one of the biggest steps in my life. In four years, my character was tested, my spirit was crushed and then rebuilt again… The journey that still goes on is exciting but not as easy as it may seem. Today, I feel like Harry Potter’s phoenix, who was reborn from the ashes.
I’m lucky to have a mother who loves traveling and was determined to send me studying abroad [or get rid of me? I’m still debating on that one]. I enrolled the first year of Bachelor’s in my hometown at the faculty of Foreign Languages (English & Japanese) while preparing my application for the universities in France and the language test. As you can see, I passed the test and was accepted in Paris-Sorbonne (IV) University at the Applied Foreign Languages programme.
Something that made me even more excited about moving to France was the fact that my boyfriend at the time was living here. This relationship played a big role in my experience, as one can guess, but these circumstances were a complete coincidence. I met him after my decision to move to France. Not before. I wanted to make this part clear before we move on.
By the way, grab a cup of tea/coffee as I feel this blog post is going to be longer than usually.
Studying in Paris
Well let’s start our little chat with the reason why I moved to Paris in the first place: studying.
Everyone heard of Sorbonne University. It sounds cool when you say you’re studying at Sorbonne. I enrolled the university not as a part of an exchange programme but on equal terms with other French high school graduates.
So, when you first come to the university, there’s no one to accompany you and instruct you on what you should do first and what are the rules here. As an example, I learnt that in order to validate my Bachelor’s I had to do a mandatory 3-months internship by chance. The fact that by the end of it I had to give in an internship report I learnt last minute.
Basically, you are on your own and have to figure out everything by yourself.
The Bachelor’s degree at Sorbonne University turned out to be easier than my Bachelor’s at Novosibirsk State University where I was studying 24 hours a day 7 days a week. I’m not saying the education at Sorbonne is bad. Half of our professors were great. I learnt so much from them and will be in their eternal debt! Although, some of them taught me nothing. Sorbonne is still a good University, but definitely not what it used to be.
Actually, one of the best schools are Ecole Normal Supérieure (ESN), Polytechnique, Science Po, HEC Paris and some others. In French they call them Grandes Ecoles. They are quite hard to get into and you have to pay high tuition fees if you’re a none-EU citizen.
During my Bachelor’s degree years in Paris I relaxed so much I wasn’t studying as hard as I should have. To my excuse I can only say that I was working part-time to pay my rent.
My first year of Master’s is another story. I suddenly felt very motivated and even decided to stop working part-time to have more time to study. And I put a lot of effort in my studies while enjoying it, to my biggest surprise! By the end of the first semester [the second semester we were supposed to do a 6-month internship], my body gave up on me and I had a rough time over the Christmas holidays. And do you think my efforts were rewarded? Nope. I was not admitted to the final 2nd year of Master’s. And the admission jury basically screwed me over not once but twice [pardon for my French], the details of which I’m not going to go into. I’m trying to let it go and move on.
In March 2017 I’m supposed to start my final year of Master’s [fingers crossed] which I am very happy about. I am ever so grateful to my parents for the support. Moral and financial.
Making French friends
I moved to Paris on September 10th in 2012. Very motivated, excited and in high spirits, I was certain to make new friends quite easily.
Until age of 16 I was extremely introverted and shy. Three weeks in Bournemouth where I went to with a friend to improve my English helped me to come out of my shell for the first time. That was a successful experience and it definitely did level up my confidence. Still, I was far from being rid of my shyness and my self-confidence was fragile. So, a few months after I’d moved to Paris, started my programme and went to a couple of parties, my certainty in making friends easily undergone some changes.
In fact, making friends of your age in Paris proved to be one of the hardest things. I had very bad experiences and upsetting situations over the years. And it’s not me exaggerating, believe me. I used to be q kind of person who thought that everything was my fault.
At the time it made me feel awful about myself. Today, after my character has grown stronger and I analysed the situations I’d been through I understood that my inability to make connections and feel included in the conversations was not entirely my fault. Or not at all my fault, for that matter.
I might go into details of it in another blog post, but for now I will only say, that Parisians love go to parties, organise evenings, dinners. The problem is that they are stuck in their circle of friends or are interested in people of their social status. They almost never let outsiders in. They sometimes come up to you and ask a few questions, but if you are not an interesting professional connection [talking about networking], they will quickly switch to talking about themselves, their studies, their projects etc. Oh, and most of them don’t care that French is not your first language. Even when talking directly to you, they are not likely to slow down or avoid using slang.
That is not true for everyone, of course. I generalise. And it is not true for people of elder generations. Just be aware that making friends in Paris might prove to be a challenge. Especially, when you are a girl [I think girls will understand what I’m talking about].
Before moving to Paris, I had been learning French for roughly 6 years at school. My predisposition to foreign languages was one of the rare things that would make me feel somewhat more confident. That is also why I wanted to go on learning languages at the uni, as at the time I still didn’t know what I wanted to do exactly.
In theory, my French was good enough to painlessly and fearlessly move from one country to another. In practice, the French you are taught at schools and the French spoken in France differ.
I had to re-learn my French over the years. They use a lot of slang, weird [but fun] French sounds such as “rhoooooo” as a sort of displeasure, or ridiculous phrases, for example: “t’es trop chou” literally translating as “you’re so cabbage”, but meaning “you’re so cute”. In addition to all of that, they speak fast and don’t articulate as much as a foreigner could hope.
When your brain is forced to operate in a foreign language 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, you quickly burn out. It takes time and effort to learn to concentrate. I would often fall asleep during lectures or would completely lose it by the end of a long day.
Good news, it gets better with time. Especially, when you put effort in speaking foreign languages as much as possible. It happened so, that since the day I came here, I speak 80% of the time in French, 15% of the time in English and the rest in Russian. I don’t want to sound snobbish, but I always avoided Russian group of students, because they tend to stick together and speak only in Russian. Luckily for me, my uni group had only French speakers. It’s not like I was avoiding my compatriots. It just happened so 😀
I would advise the same to anyone else who wants to learn a foreign language when living abroad. Try to speak it as much as you possibly can. Even if you are among your compatriots, motivate them to practice the language. Don’t choose the easiest option: your mother tongue.
Adapting to a new culture
That was one of the most exiting and easiest steps for me. I’m always up for trying new activities, food and learning new things. I like to think myself to be open-minded and easy-going. Although my attempt to integrate a French groupe of friends was somewhat a failure, I somehow always managed to make good friends with people elder than me. That’s my thing. And it makes some of my friends laugh at me.
Well, they may radicule this little fact about me as much as they want to. Thanks to my friends of a respectable age, I learnt a lot: from French and foreign politics, to art, books and French cuisine. They have way more experience and interesting stories to tell. They also introduced me to theatres, classical music concerts, took me to various exhibitions and taught me to appreciate art.
I rarely enjoy going places by myself, but I’ve grown to love walking through Parisian streets with my favourite music in my ears and enjoy a good weather. You can never get bored in Paris. There’s always something to do and to visit by yourself or in groupe of friends: from museums and theatres to bars, restaurants and cafes.
French cuisine is delicious and products are high quality: cheese, wine, foie-gras, champaign, cidre, crêpes, fondu and a lot more.
Side note: as a European resident under 25-years old age mark, I often benefit from a reduced prices in museums or cultural events, or even free entries!
Another cultural aspect that is very strongly present here in France, and not as much in Russia, is politics. French people are more or less politically educated and many are actively engaged. Some may disagree with me on that one, but I come from a country where people have practically no political education, don’t understand politics and don’t want to.
Over the years in France, I developed a habit of keeping up with the latest news and strive to understand the political mechanisms. I want to have a say in the future development of my country even if it’s an indirect say. And I don’t share the complete indifference of some of my compatriots, friends and family members.
Recently my political views and talks have become the reason of a strong disagreement with my friends and family. By no means do I think France is the best country in the world. Or even a better one. It’s a different country with its own culture and struggles. I just guess that every time I critique my own country and government, my friends and family see it as me drifting away from my origins and feel like they are losing me. Rhooooo….
When I say I’m from Siberia, people automatically assume I don’t ever feel cold in Paris as I’m used to living in an igloo and ice diving is my daily routine. Sorry to disappoint you, it isn’t.
I’m freezing! I’m so cold I wear two pairs of thick socks and multiple sweaters at a time during winter in Paris. The humidity makes all the difference.
To me, all people who wear just a hoody or ballet flats at +4Cº seem insane. Believe me, I much prefer -10Cº in Siberia than +2Cº here.
By the way, I find winters in Paris very frustrating. It’s bloody cold but no sign of snow. It’s just not fair.
Visiting France and European countries
In Europe everything is close and I try to travel as much as I possibly can. As a foreign student it is not always easy, but I managed to have some trips on a budget over the years.
My close friend who lives in Alsace had me over at her place on multiple occasions and made me discover the region through hiking and visiting little towns around.
I also had a pleasure to discover Normandy. I did a road trip to Etretat and then my colleague and friend drove me to Saint-Malo when I was doing my internship near Port-En-Bessain.
All in all, visiting France and traveling around Europe is one of the most exciting aspects of life here!
P.S. I think I’m going to stop here for now. If you have similar experiences or questions, tell me all about it in the comments below 😉