Places to visit in Paris

Favourite hangouts (drink and food, going out)

  • Le Barav (practically lived there) – cute French wine bar – better to book the day before for drinks and food – great ambiance, cheap food (<15 euro) and cheap wine; buy a bottle at the neighbouring (linked) bottle shop and drink at the bar/restaurant
  • Max y Jeremy (practically lived there too) – Spanish/ south American wines and tapas – good value and great ambiance
  • La Candelaria – cheap Mexican food and awesome cocktails • VIP club – great for girls nights out and dancing, don’t buy drinks there – v. expensive
  • La Fee Verte – for food / hot drinks and study / or evening drinks

Favourite (less mainstream) landmarks/ places to visit

  • Viewing platform level 9 of Printemps (must) •
  • St Chapelle •
  • Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny •
  • Jardin des Plantes •
  • Chateau de Fontainebleau (40 min by train out of Paris)

Personal Food Favourites in Paris

Restaurants

  • La Cuisine de Philippe (6th arrondissement) – specialises in soufflé but all meals were incredible – ~31 euro per meal
  • Au Bon Coin (5tharrondissment, a little tucked away) – delicious French food – 24 euro for entrée + main
  • Chez Papa (9th arrondissement) – specialises in foie gras– about 25 euro per dinner excl. drink
  • Au Bougnat (on the Ile de la Cite, close to Notre Dame) – superb French fine dining for 24 euro (entrée + main)
  • Breizh café (3rd arrondissement) – delicious pancakes, galettes and french cider; cheap
  • Le Relais de l’Entrecote (6th arrondissement) – best steak/frites, but ONLY steak/frites and desserts on the menu

Coffee/Brunch

  • La coutume cafe (7th, coffee, brunch and lunch)
  • Ten belles (10th, coffee, light lunch, snacks)
  • Les enfants perdus (10th, delicious and filling brunch on weekends)

Ups and Downs in Paris

Accommodation costs in Paris are fairly high, but manageable… it’s Paris after all! I paid $750 euro/month when sharing with my partner for the first semester (he came along with me). During the second semester, after my partner left, I paid double that amount. The place was a one-bedroom freshly renovated apartment, fairly spacious in Parisian terms and with a fold out couch for visitors. It was great living there, but I do not recommend leading such an elaborate lifestyle. Most of my friends were paying around 800 euro.

I did find the food and other daily living expenses lower than in Brisbane. I was lucky enough to have a lot of savings. I worked full-time prior to my exchange and studied part time which allowed me to save up. I think I burned through about $20k of my own savings over the year, and the bursary I got from QUT was exceptionally helpful. I started running out of cash in the last two months and had my partner kindly lend me some money. I did not work, but had a few friends that found some casual part-time work either tutoring English or baby-sitting. I set up a local HSBC account to avoid paying excessive fee. It seemed to work well. Beware the opening and closing of account involved paperwork and a bit of time.

It’s hard to say what my biggest challenge in Paris was. My main challenge was after Paris – i.e. getting back to the normal life. Biggest practical challenge was probably extending my visa as it had to be done quickly (once the schools pre-approved the extension of exchange) and the process was somewhat tricky to navigate. Communicating with the landlord was a bit of a practical challenge too as she spoke next to no English. It was not a big deal though, she was lovely and I just go to practice my French.

I can’t actually think of a time I felt unsafe during my exchange. My advice is to avoid certain parts of the 18th, 19th, 20th arrondissement (do your own research) and just exercise common sense. One thing worth noting – sometimes it was nearly impossible to get a cab late at night, so particularly females should be mindful of having someone with them as they search/wait for a cab.

To summarise the benefits of my experience – it was arguably the most fun year of my life to date, I met some great people that will remain friends for a long time, and opened up doors to pretty incredibly job prospects.

France loves bureaucracy

The school itself was located in the 11 arrondissement (fairly central) and close to numerous ‘hipster’ and trendy areas. I chose to live in the 5th arrondissement, and in retrospect the commute was a hassle. I chose the 5th as on paper, when researching Paris out of Australia, it sounded like a (possibly overly) safe and rather posh area, whilst still attracting the young.

I did love that area, but felt the distance to school (35 min by metro) was an effort. The school building was lovely on the outside but nothing special on the inside. It was completely functional, had a great community feel and it did hold some great parties. Another bonus was a subsidised cafeteria, where students could get a huge lunch (choice of main/ entre/ drink or dessert) for ~4 euro. Unheard of. It was also a great hangout for getting to know other students and socialising.

The teaching methods and quality of education at ESCP were solid. Just like anywhere there were some standout lecturers, who really impressed, and others who were pretty much what you would expect. None were a disappointment. Class engagement was good in most classes, case-based study methods were common (using cases sourced from Ivy League schools) – these are some of the things that appealed to me. I also enjoyed that class sizes were much smaller than at QUT (20 to 40 people was common). I would highly recommend this school to students interested in finance. I honestly enjoyed all of my classes.

My favourite classes were the Derivatives & risk management class (outstanding professor), and the Valuation class (great professor and particularly interesting and beneficial content). On the downside, grading of some professors seemed a little bit arbitrary to me, but overall I was content with my results. The only other frustrating thing was paperwork. There was a lot of it, and not just at school. France loves bureaucracy.

I took all my classes in English, however French classes were an option. The workload was heavy, I did 6 subjects each semester (two of which were half-units) and there were often weekly homework/assignments involved. To do well you had to attend to them. I felt there was a lot more ongoing assessment than at QUT, which I personally did not mind as it forced me to stay on top of the material covered.

Endless things to do

My tip to those aspiring to travel there is to do your best to start every conversation in (even the most basic) French. I quickly learned to respect the native tongue and ask in French whether the person dealing with me spoke English before continuing in English.

Acting as if you expect everyone to speak English and speaking it straight up does not seem to get you far. While on the topic, I will admit that my knowledge of the French language improved significantly over the year but nowhere near as much as it could have. I did not make the language my top priority – my grades and lifestyle were – and honestly I regret not attending every free (yes free) French lesson provided by the partner school.

Overall I must say that to me Paris was everything I imagined. I loved its history and felt it gave the city depth. I am sure I am biased, but I think the beauty of that city cannot be matched. There were endless things to do, and over time my favourites were the less-touristy pastimes (lazing around at the smaller parks in summer, frequenting tiny wine bars, studying in lesser-known cafes, or shopping at the markets and sharing the local delicacies with some friends).

The wining and dining there was superb. Rural France was very different to Paris but no less unique and charming. My personal favourites outside of Paris were the Loire Valley, the Burgundy region, the Champagne region and Villefranche-sur-mer, which just happened to be the most perfect little town in the south of France.

Consumed by Paris

When deciding what partner school to choose I had three main selection criteria. First of all I was after a school that offered a wide range of corporate finance units (don’t I sound fun?!). The truth is corporate finance just happened to be the field that my analytical mind enjoyed and the field that I wanted to specialise in. At the same time I wanted to pick a reputable school in terms of global rankings, something that I could use to ‘decorate’ my CV.

Lastly, of course, I had to pick a location and culture that appealed to me, and I was leaning towards some place with a native language other than English. Something less mainstream than the US / UK seemed more exciting. After researching my options, ESCP Paris was an easy choice. I had never been to Paris before but was convinced I would love it. I was not wrong.

Upon the completion of my first exchange semester, I was consumed by the city, the school and the whole experience. I was lucky enough to extend my stay to two semesters. Aside from the fact that I was not ready to leave – did not feel ‘done’ – after one semester, I saw a real benefit to my career prospects in staying. My decision paid off and ultimately I feel the experience helped me to land my dream job.

This may be unusual, and perhaps a product of my slightly ‘nomadic’ adolescence, but I did not feel the lows of the culture shock. I enjoyed the novelty of everything. I must mention that I had zero knowledge of the French language prior to the exchange, but got by just fine. Despite the popular belief, I found that most Parisians spoke English well enough and were willing to do so.

Still here!

I am sorry I have been neglecting you all but with only one month to go until the end of classes, a looming Masters project deadline and my thesis haunting my dreams I have been a little busy of late. There have been a lot of reflections posted here lately so I have decided to jump on the bandwagon and share my list of useful things to know before you arrive in France. Read more

Let it snow!

For the last few weeks there has been a lot of speculation about when the first snow of the season would fall here. Lille is not a very snowy area – something about the geography – but we’d all been hearing reports from our friends in other European universities that the snows had begun.

But last night, only a few days after the rest of Europe, the weather finally cooperated and I woke up this morning to see these scenes from my window. I live on campus and it just so happens that my little studio apartment was positioned to get some great views. I could go outside to take photos but it’s FREEZING.

At this point in the semester I am very glad I chose to live on campus as my accommodation. Not just because I can see snow on frosty mornings like today, but also because the campus is about a 25min tram ride outside of the main city. Because classes run from 9:40am – 5:20pm (depending on the subject and day) it means I save a lot of time in transit. It also means the occasional 8am start isn’t too painful as the classroom building is about a one minute walk away from my accommodation.

The rent for campus accommodation is a little higher than renting a room in a share apartment, but my little studio does come furnished with a bed, two tables, two chairs, a kitchenette (fridge, sink, microwave and two hot plates) and a decent sized bathroom (shower, sink and toilet). A cleaning lady also comes in twice a month to clean my studio and breakfast is provided on weekdays. So although it’s a little more expensive, the location and other perks make up for it in my books. Then again, the last tram on most nights is 12:15am so if you want to go drinking in Lille with your classmates you are a bit of a Cinderella.

OFII Time is T-Shirt Time

It’s early October and for all the international students in France this means one thing – it’s OFII time!

My appointment at l’Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration (OFII) was last Friday and I am happy to report that it went very smoothly. In less than an hour I had my two medical x-rays, presented all my paperwork to the official, answered a couple of questions with my very basic French skills and was sent on my way with a special stamp in my passport that allows me to stay in France for a full year and multiple entries to the Schengen area.

You receive a lot of information from OFII  before your appointment but there is one thing they do not mention in their letters that is of great importance. It is not a secret that you will have a chest x-ray during your interview. What they do not mention is that they do not provide medical gowns or any sort of cover.

I cannot emphasise this enough for the ladies: unless you are comfortable with the (male) doctor and (male) radiographer seeing you stripped to the waist, wear a t-shirt to your OFII appointment. The doctor will let you keep your t-shirt on provided you remove your bra. I was fortunate enough to be wearing a t-shirt anyway, but one of my American friends was not. She does have waist-length hair, however, and told me she walked into the x-ray room with her hair artfully arranged to cover what she could.

I asked her if she had felt at all uncomfortable during the x-ray. “No,” was her simple reply. “The doctor and radiographer were total professionals and anyway, they’re French. There are, like, topless women on the cover of fashion magazines so by the time they walk past a newsagency on the way to work they’ve probably already seen, like, five pairs so one more couldn’t hurt.”

I couldn’t really argue with her logic but for those of us who are a little more shy or have shorter hair, OFII time is also t-shirt time.

Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis

Like Jodie in Maastricht, I am also taking part in QUT’s new double Masters program. I have completed the first six months of my Master of Business (International Business) in Brisbane and will complete the remaining six months in semester two, 2013. In the meantime I will be undertaking a full Master of Science in Arts and NGO Management at Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales du Nord (EDHEC) in Lille, France.

There is a charming saying that travelers cry twice in the North – once when they arrive and once when they leave. I arrived in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais on August 2nd and so far no tears have been shed but I can confirm that the welcoming atmosphere portrayed in Dany Boon’s Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (Welcome to the Sticks) is very real.

EDHEC welcomes many international students each year and they are clearly  aware that this might be the first time some of these students have been in France (myself included). Months before arriving in Lille I was directed to a special Blackboard site for international students that included, amongst other things, a wonderfully comprehensive student guide that covers almost everything from organising accommodation to opening a bank account to purchasing tickets for the tram and tips for navigating the labyrinthine French bureaucracy. It is probably due to the existence of this guide that I have had a tear-free existence in France thus far.

Aside from its student engagement team at Open Up (they organise activities and trips for students amongst other things), EDHEC also has a buddy system for new students. My buddy and I have exchanged a couple of emails and we have tentative plans to meet for coffee during Orientation next week which is definitely something to look forward to.

It is not just the university that makes you feel welcome in the North – most of the French people I have come across so far have also been friendly and very patient as I use my limited French and expert miming ability. Lille is the second largest student city in France after Paris and there are quite a few tourists so I expect the residents are used to hearing some interesting attempts at their language. There is also a local dialect here call ch’ti – you can hear examples of it in the movie trailer above – but I am not bold enough to try it just yet, but once my French classes are under way at the university it might be a different story.

If you are also considering the double Masters program or going to France on exchange and have some questions, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments and I will respond. I am not sure how I will go keeping a set schedule for updates but there will definitely be a post soon with more information about my studies (I am enrolled in the eleven compulsory units for this semester as well as the optional French Business in Perspective and French language classes) once I have received my timetable and have an idea of how one can undertake so many different units in one semester.

Until then, a bientôt!