Audrey Hepburn, the British film and fashion icon of the 20th Century, once said that “Paris is always a good idea.” As Erasmus student in Paris, I can vouch for Audrey’s revered words. You can count on my judgement, because since September 2013, I am a true Parisienne.
I write to you from my super cosy apartment in the lovely Marais neighbourhood, spread across Paris’ third and fourth arrondissement. This is the beating heart of the ‘City of Lights’, just a three minute walk away from the famous Hôtel de Ville. When I stroll on one of the bridges nearby, I enjoy a lovely view over the Seine river. The bridge brings me to the origins of Paris: Île de la Cité. Where the Dame de Paris - yes, the Nôtre Dame – never ceases to amaze me.
I am a Political Science student in my last bachelor (undergraduate) year, studying at SciencesPo for one semester thanks to the Erasmus exchange programme.
In only two months, I must return to Leuven, a thought that shivers through my every bone. This experience has been so amazing, I wish it never ended.
I must admit, before my departure I was scared. Especially the search for an apartment in Paris was nerve-wracking. Because of the small availability and the extremely high prices, finding a nice place to live is hard.
On top of that, many of my friends and family warned me for ‘the French’, and their ‘chauvinist mind-set’. My French wasn’t at a bilingual level so to say, and I was genuinely afraid that I would not find any friends or that I would fail my courses taught in French (I take half of them in English and the other half in French). Once arrived, everyonce – including myself – was proven wrong.
The courses started the first week of September. My first lecture was an English course: The EU as an International Actor. What caught my attention was that there were only 30 people in the class room. This struck me as weird, since I never had a similar experience in Leuven.
The course itself was very interactive, the professor reserved the last 40 minutes for debate (classes here are two hours, no break). And this was the case for almost every other course I took. I just loved that interaction; it gives you the feeling you are more of a person rather than a number.
I was also very surprised to hear that most of my courses were evaluated through papers and exposés. Exposés are small presentations in front of your classmates – they remind me a little of high school.
After a while, I noticed that about half the students at SciencesPo are exchange students, so making friends turned out to be rather easy. That first week, I already got invited to the SciencesPo Gala, an offer you can not refuse. On top of that, the school organized a lot of activities for exchange students, such as a welcome pick-nick and a tour around the school. The tour around the school came in very handy since the school is located at different buildings throughout Paris’ seventh arrondissement.
After the first week, one of my dear friends pointed out that it felt as if this was my natural habitat. I felt at home and not at all a tourist when taking the metro or Vélib (Paris’ public bike rental system) to get from A to B or stroll the city. I picked up the Parisian lifestyle rather easily: from going to the bakery every morning to get a fresh baguette to drinking a bottle of decent wine on the banks of the Seine river. I also got acquainted with some Frenchmen and women who showed me cheap bars and restaurants (believe me, that’s a challenge here).
So far, I have also had the pleasure of visiting several museums and all kinds of monuments that you might skip on a quick city trip. Practically all of these amazing locations are free for students. Since my apartment is not that far from the Louvre, I have dubbed it my personal space for relaxing. Sometimes, I even go there to finish a paper in peace and quiet (that is if you don’t go near the Mona Lisa).
I can also recommend the catacombs, this ossuary holds the remains of about six million people: very impressive. Under the motto that no one is ever too old for Disney, I bravely admit to have enjoyed a magical day at Disneyland.
One of the many benefits from doing my Erasmus in Paris, is that it is not far from Leuven. I have had several visits from friends, which is of course always fun!
As I have no exams in December, I have planned a trip through France with friends. I am very much looking forward to this since I’m very busy with finishing up all my papers at the moment. November is not the best month for students here; let’s say November at SciencesPo is Leuven’s January.
As you will have figured out by now, my Erasmus experience in Paris has so far been a blast. I can only recommend that you do it too. It will not only give you the opportunity to experience a new city and a new culture, but it will also broaden your social network in a way you never imagined. Again, I’m very sad that this experience is coming to an end, but I can already say: “je ne regrette rien!”