Paris Periodical: Lessons Learned from a Semester in Paris

As relieved as I was to complete my last exam, it was quite a bittersweet affair. Although this means that I am at last free of all academic obligations (at least for the next few weeks, before I'm back at McGill for the winter term), it also means that my time in Paris has come to an end. I can't help but feel slightly heartbroken at the prospect of leaving this beautiful city. It has been a true adventure. As such, I've learned quite a bit in the months that I've been here. Here are a few of the lessons that living in Paris for the last four months and a half has taught me...

 

  • International stamps for postcards and letters from France to North America cost €1.20. If you're sending letters to another European country, the stamp costs €0.95 and if you're sending letters within France, the standard stamp costs €0.20. It takes about a week for a mail to reach North America from France.

  • Free mobile offers a super cheap and basic phone plan that is ideal for exchange students (or anyone on a budget, for that matter). Basically, for a grand total of €2 per month (with a one-time charge of €10 for the SIM card), you get 120 minutes of talk time, unlimited texting, and 50 megabytes of data. Granted, 50 MB is not a lot, but you also benefit from the free wifi network all around France. Personally, I rarely used any data at all this semester. However, the process of canceling your phone plan is pretty tedious since you are required to send a formal letter requesting the termination of the line through snail mail. Pro tip: La Poste offers a service to write and send the letter for you.

 

  • LaDurée macarons are worth the splurge. This is pretty self-explanatory.

 

  • Setting up a French bank account is a hassle but absolutely essential if you're going to be living in the country for any extended period of time. It makes traveling to other European Union countries that use the Euro a bit easier. You'll need proof of residence, your student ID (or proof of enrolment at your school), and your passport to open an account. Getting proof of residence can be complicated for exchange students as we often end up subleasing apartments and don't have water/electricity bills under our names. In these types of situtations, you'll need to have your landlord sign an attestation stating that you are indeed living in their property as well as a copy of the front and back of their ID.

 

  • One of the best ways to discover Paris is to take a stroll without a clear destination. You're bound to stumble upon the most delightful surprises on your promenade, like this secret garden I found by chance in an alley of the 14th arrondissement one weekend!

A Secret Garden I discovered in Paris' 14th arrondissement.

 

  • When the unthinkable happens, it's okay to give in to your emotions. I cried after the November 13 attacks. Even though I was not directly involved nor did I know anyone who was harmed, I just felt overwhelmed by the fact that something so awful had happened. It really puts things in perspective. Then, in the midst of our nationwide mourning, this moving exchange emerged and warmed hearts around the world, giving us all hope for the future.

 

  • Rideshare (aka Blablacar) is a great way to meet new people while traveling short (or long) distances. I've been really lucky to be able to travel quite a bit this semester. While I elected to take the plane for the majority of my trips outside of France, I did end up traveling with Blablacar for a few of my weekend getaways. In addition to being easy on my wallet, Blablacar gave me opportunities to meet new people that I would have never crossed paths with otherwise and to practice my French. It's definitely something I would recommend everyone to try at least once in their lifetime.

Paris Gare de Lyon.

  • Take advantage of the convenience of traveling from the French capital! Paris is served by three airports: Charles de Gaulle (CDG, the largest, principal airport), Orly (ORY), and Beauvais (BVA, the main “Paris” airport served by the infamous budget airline, Ryanair). Keep in mind though, that Beauvais is not actually in Paris; you have to either take the airport's shuttle bus service (€17.50 each way, or €15.90 if you book online and print your tickets in advance) or arrange a Blablacar, which is what I did. On the other hand, train travel is equally convenient and SNCF has some pretty nice promotions every now and then. As an additional bonus, the train stations in Paris are gorgeous and make you feel super classy and like you're starring in an Audrey Hepburn film.

 

  • Most museums and landmarks of historical significance are free of charge for long-term residents of the European Union between the ages of 18 and 26. So, even if you're not studying abroad in France, if you have a long-term EU visa or some way to prove that you are a resident in another EU country, you can benefit from free admission to places like the Château de Versailles, le Louvre, le Musée d'Orsay, and l'Arc de Triomphe! Trust me, those admission prices can add up when you're trying to culture yourself as much as possible.

The famous clock of the Musée d'Orsay.

Last, but not least, I learned a lot about myself. I experienced a lot of new things this semester - notably traveling truly alone for the first time. Paris will always hold a special place in my heart because of all of the wonderful memories I've made this semester. I hate to say goodbye to Paris and France, so I'll say this instead: À bientôt, Paris, et gros bisous !

 

Photos are the author's own.