La Vie Française

Hello, world! I am back at it and this time not suffering from the negative effects of jet lag! I have now been in Paris for almost a month so I feel that I’m much more able to start posting about happenings and life in general in Paris now that I’m better acquainted with the city. This week we are talking about: the French home.

My study abroad program, French and Critical Studies with CIEE, is a language intensive program which means that everything that we do associated with CIEE is in French. What that means is that the program forces us to be fully immersed in the language ALL .THE. TIME. CIEE in Paris has two options for housing: student apartments or a homestay with a French family. The students in FCS, however, don’t have a choice; we are required to live in a home stay in order to keep us exposed to the French language.

That being said, for the past month I have been living with my host mother, Katherine (pronounced Kat-rine with a nice French rgh) who, as I mentioned in the previous post, doesn’t speak a word of English. When I first learned this, I was terrified that she and I would struggle to relate with one another; I feared that I wouldn’t be able to express myself. However, we are nearly a month into living, speaking, and dining with each other every single day and I can confidently say that my fears were completely unfounded.

You see, Katherine loves, and I mean LOVES to talk. She sits with me at breakfast every morning and listens to the radio, but as soon as she hears something that sparks her interest the radio is forgotten and she is speaking, with a relatively high level of knowledge about the subject and flowing right on into the next one. This was especially great for me the first few days into living with her because there really wasn’t a need for me to talk and I could get used to the pace of speech from an actual French speaker. These days I’m much better able to interject with my own opinions on the subject and she and I can have more and more conversations which I think both she and I really appreciate.

As I’ve been able to communicate with Katherine, I’ve learned a lot more about her and her life. She is in her 70s with three grown daughters, two of whom live nearby and frequent the apartment. She started her professional life as a secretary but somehow got connected with someone in the art restoration business which led to her second and most favorite career as an art restorer. She told me that she’s worked on a team that has restored big pieces of art such a painted ceiling in the Louvre and another work in l’Assemblée Nationale. She still does some smaller pieces and I occasionally come home to the smell of some of her chemicals that she uses on the paintings.

Speaking of home, for Katherine and me home is a two bedroom apartment in the northwestern suburb of Paris called Neuilly-Sur-Seine. There I have my own room with a big window that looks out over our ally with those cute white Parisian window shutters. I also just have to mention: in the bathroom we have a heating rack for our towels! It’s pretty standard for French homes but I just find it amusing and also incredibly amazing when I get to wrap myself in a warm towel — it’s just great.

My bedroom

Our living room

A little bit about Neuilly: it’s smack dab in between l’Arc de Triomphe (that fancy Roman-looking arch that Napoleon built way back when) and La Defense which is just a gigantic hollow cube in the more business-y part of Paris. Neuilly, as I’m told, is rather chic, although I can’t say that stops people from letting their dogs “relieve” themselves on the sidewalks and not clean up after them. Yeah, watch your step.

Other than that, I’ve found that our apartment in Neuilly is actually in quite an ideal location. It takes me about four minutes to walk to the metro which will then take me straight into the city which can connect me to ten of the fourteen lines in the city. I am also just a ten minute walk away from the Bois de Boulogne which is to Paris what Central Park is to New York. Saturdays are especially hectic with runners and walkers everywhere, not to mention tons of adorable dogs out playing in the fields.

Bois de Boulogne
Some new friends I met in the park

Another essential part of my French home life is the food. Katherine is an amazing cook. She can turn anything into a delicious and nutritious meal. I remember my first night with her I was a little apprehensive when she put my first meal in front of me: cabbage wrapped in ham and covered in cheese. As far as looks went, I was strongly questioning whether what I was about to put into my body would even be worth it, but I was starving so I dug in and it was incredible! Also, leftover night at our place is not to be dreaded because she just whips something completely new together from the ingredients she used previously. I’m serious — carrot and mushroom in a creamy sauce over angel hair pasta…who would have thought?!

At times Paris can feel slightly exhausting and incredibly lonely; it’s hard to live in a place that you’re unfamiliar with around people who don’t know you or even speak your language. In a city where it is so easy to be anonymous sometimes you just want a taste of home. I’m sure every student who has studied in a foreign country understands exactly what I mean, but I have to remind myself how lucky I am to have this opportunity. When I get these kinds of feelings I’ve found that it’s best to talk to friends and family; they really are just a phone call away! Also, if you can find it, eat some of your favorite food. If you can’t find that, listen to some of your favorite songs or do the same activities you would at home. For me, I’ve found that going for a run helps me immensely because running has always been a very cathartic activity and it’s something that I’ve done first at home, then at school when I moved away from home, and now I can do it here!

No, things will not be exactly the same as they are at home but that’s precisely the purpose of study abroad: to gain a new perspective. Instead of being stuck on what I miss about my home in the U.S., I go out and explore to find new things that help me feel at home here.

Paris Reflections!

   

Since I arrived back in Michigan, I have been thinking and reflecting on my summer semester in Paris. I kept a journal from the first day I arrived in Paris, and detailed every moment and funny memory. Looking back, I am so glad I did this because I was able to better understand what I learned and see how I adapted to a foreign culture. Studying abroad in Paris was undoubtedly the best adventure in my life so far. I met the most incredible group of people through IES, who became my close friends I am blessed to have lived in France over the summer. If I typed out everything I learned about living in a foreign country, we would be here for hours. So to save the trouble, here is a short list of the best lessons I learned while living and studying in Paris:

  1. “So much of who we are is where we have been.” -William Langewiesche. I found this quote written in graffiti on a wall in Paris near the Seine River, and it resonated with me as I progressed through studying abroad. I felt myself becoming more adventurous, where I traveled by myself to Belgium, Luxembourg, and Stonehenge. I felt myself becoming more comfortable speaking a language I had never studied before, where I was not afraid speaking French with locals. I felt myself falling in love with Paris. So much of who I am will remain in Paris.
  2. Bread will never be the same. When it comes to bakeries, the French have this perfected to an art. I probably ate my weight in croissants and baguettes, but French bread is incredibly delicious. My favorite dessert, and what I will miss the most about French food, is Pan du Chocolat (chocolate-filled croissant). Hopefully I can find an authentic French bakery in Michigan!
  3. Travel. Travel. Travel. Traveling within Europe is incredibly cheap and easy. When are you ever going to live in a foreign country again in your life? Take advantage of every opportunity and leave no stone unturned. My group and I went to London, England together, and I went to Brussels, Belgium and Luxembourg City, Luxembourg by myself. My group was more interested in exploring Paris than traveling far, but I didn’t let that falter my plans. Even if you have to go alone, don’t regret not going somewhere. I had a blast both on my own and with my group. Also, I learned how to book travel accommodations and research places to go all on my own. When my flights were delayed and trains became cancelled due to strikes, I figured out alternate routes on my own last minute. How cool is that? Travel, and travel far.
  4. The Eiffel Tower never gets old. From the first time I saw the Iron Lady to the last night under the sparkling lights, I never grew tired of looking at how beautiful the tower is. Every Wednesday, my friends and I had a picnic under the tower to watch the sunset and sparkling lights. I always looked forward to every Wednesday, and could not get enough of the Eiffel Tower. The view from the top of the tower isn’t bad either, but I’d much rather watch the lights sparkle with a baguette and wine from our secret terrace we found.
  5. Take the leap and study abroad. I have to admit, I was a little nervous just before I left. I had never traveled on my own before and had never been to Europe. I would have to learn a new language and learn to navigate a foreign country. Luckily, the nerves went away the second I got to my apartment. I fell in love with Paris and made incredible friends in my study abroad group. I learned a ton in my classes that I know will take me far in the rest of my studies. I created internship connections through my professors. I tried food I never thought I would dare eat. I traveled alone to other countries. I saw Stonehenge. Nothing will ever compare to what I experienced, and most importantly, I learned that a classroom is much more than four white walls.

Take the leap and study abroad; you just might learn something about the world around you.

À bientôt, et je t’aime Paris!

-Alissa Smith

My Last Week in Paris!

Finals week finally arrived for all of us at IES Paris! While I feel like I’ve only been in Paris for one day, it’s been seven weeks of unforgettable experiences. Since our finals happened to be on the Fourth of July, the staff at IES Paris decorated the IES center with American flags and streamers. Our professors and staff have been incredible to work with, and we’ve all become extremely close. It’s hard to turn in our last final, but we’ve all learned so much and made great internship connections.

After we crammed for finals and turned in our exams, IES took everyone out to a fancy farewell lunch at a restaurant called Deuz. We were served fried eggplant rolls filled with goat cheese (sounds weird, but I promise it’s actually the best appetizer I’ve had), and some of the best duck in Paris with everyone at IES Paris. We were sad to say goodbye and we all hope to come back to Paris to visit everyone!

Even though it was the last week, we still had some exploring left to do. We visited the Paris Mosque, which is one of the most beautiful and intricately decorated buildings in Paris. The bright blue tile floors were gorgeous in the sunlight, and the mint tea served there changed my life. Tea will never be the same. The gardens were beautiful, and since the Mosque is a hidden gem of Paris, we were able to enjoy the gardens in peace with no tourists.

   

A few of my friends from Avondale (my high school in Michigan) happened to be in Paris while on their trip through Europe during my last week. I was super excited to meet up with them! I took them to my favorite crêpe place, La Crêperie de Josselin for lunch. We had a blast catching up and exchanging travel stories, all while enjoying some of the tastiest crêpes in Paris! (Shout out to the IES Paris staff for introducing me to this crêperie!)

Shortly after, I explored the city visiting some of the places I still needed to cross off my list. One of these places was the famous Love Lock Bridge. This bridge is an icon of Paris, but unfortunately Paris removes the locks each month to keep the bridge from collapsing. Although, I was not disappointed, as there were hundreds of locks on the bridge. I hope to come back one day and put a lock on the bridge, as this ranks pretty high on my bucket list!

For my last night in Paris, I decided to do something special for myself. I bought a ticket to the top of Montparnasse Tower, which is the tallest building in Paris. I stayed for the sunset and watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night. The view was breathtaking and I could see for miles beyond Paris. I enjoyed some fantastic chocolate mousse while watching the sunset from the skydeck, because when in Paris, why not?! It was a great way to close my summer semester in Paris and the view of the city is something I will never forget.

Au revoir, Paris!

-Alissa Smith

Musée d’Orsay, Top of the Eiffel Tower, and the World Cup!

I was able to visit the Musée d’Orsay over the past week, which is a very unique museum. The museum itself is inside the old Paris train station, built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900. Musée d’Orsay houses several famous artworks, including an entire wing of Vincent van Gogh paintings. If you climb to the top floor of the museum, you can look out across the Seine and have a great view of the Louvre from behind the famous Orsay clock. The Musée d’Orsay was one of my favorite museums in Paris and I can’t wait to come back soon!

  

  

  

When in Paris, going to the top of the Eiffel Tower is on everyone’s list. Unfortunately, elevator tickets sold out months in advance, which meant I had to climb the 674 stairs to the top. The climb was not bad, as I had a great view at the top of every staircase. Once I finally reached the top, the view was breathtaking! I could see all of Paris and into the hills of the French countryside. The climb was definitely worth the hard work for the amazing views! (I treated myself to some French ice cream at the top of course).

  

I was lucky enough to have to opportunity to study abroad during the World Cup. France has been playing exceptionally well in the tournament, which means all of Paris is constantly celebrating their victories. My group and I attended one of the World Cup watch parties on a Paris rooftop. The place was packed with French soccer fans, and everyone went wild when France scored to win the game against Australia. After the game, everyone took to the streets to celebrate the win. There was crowd surfing and free food, which made for an amazing day. The game also happened to be on the same day as Fête de la Musique, which is France’s national day of music. There were live music stages on every street corner, combined with the crazy energy of French soccer fans. This was definitely one of my top experiences in Paris!

À Bientôt!

-Alissa Smith

 

 

 

Latin Quarter and First Day of Classes!

Classes finally started at the IES Center! My first class is French 101 with Professor Lerouvillois. I have never taken French language before, but I find learning the language very interesting. I think the language rules are very similar to Spanish which I studied for five years, so I am learning pretty fast.  After class concluded, all of us students went down the street to a local deli.  We also put to use what we learned in class and ordered our food successfully in French! (Je voudrais un sandwich, s’il vous plaît = I would like a sandwich, please.)

The other class I am taking here in Paris is Global Marketing with Professor DeGendre. I absolutely love this class and it is super interesting. We learned about how companies change their advertising campaigns to match the culture of a country. McDonald’s was a unique example I found interesting, as the McDonald’s here in Paris has a very fancy interior, a different menu, and also serves macaroons! I hope to have a career in international marketing, so this class is great experience!

After class and lunch, our group decided to take the metro and tour the Latin Quarter of St. Germain des Prés. The Latin Quarter is the oldest area of Paris and contains all of Paris’ old universities. It is known as the Latin Quarter because the universities used to only teach classes in Latin. We also visited the famous cathedral of Notre Dame and the royal chapel of Saint Chapelle. Notre Dame is famous for its two large towers that I plan to climb to the top of sometime, while Saint Chapelle is famous for its extensive stained glass walls. My personal favorite is Saint Chapelle (bottom photo) because the intricate details on the stained glass are amazing. No two panels are alike and the glass is hand painted.

   

Since the Latin Quarter is famous for being the oldest area of Paris, I of course had to eat at the oldest restaurant in Paris.  I ate at Café Procope, which was established in 1686 and is still open.  I sat outside in the back alley as I was served duck and crème brûlée.  This was definitely the best meal I have ever had (and probably one of the fanciest)!

     

Bon appetit!

-Alissa Smith

Arc de Triomphe, Seine Boat Tour, and Champs Elysees!

What is a summer studying in Paris without a visit to the Arc de Triomphe? This was one of the monuments I was most excited to visit! Something I did not know is the only way to access the Arc de Triomphe is to cross the street through an underground tunnel because the street is so busy all the time. Once we got to the Arc, we decided to climb the tons of stairs to the top for an amazing view of Paris.

   

Our IES group also took a boat tour on the Seine to see all the famous locations of Paris. We learned the history of each monument, and saw all of Paris within a few hours. One of my favorite monuments is the Pont Alexandre III bridge, pictured below, which is the most ornate and extravagant bridge in Paris.

Later on, we went shopping on the famous Champs Élysées. This street houses all of the most expensive stores in Paris, ranging from Louis Vuitton, to Gucci, to Versace. We soon realized we were the most under-dressed customers, but still had a ton of fun window shopping. While on Champs Élysées, we stopped at Ladurée, the most famous macaroon store in France. I had a lavender macaroon and it was one of the best desserts I have ever had. I will definitely have to buy a box before I leave!

   

Bonne Soirée!

-Alissa Smith

Eiffel Tower Picnic!

After attending another IES orientation for French culture in the morning, the entire IES business group decided to head to the Eiffel Tower for a picnic. A picnic on the famous lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower is pretty high on my bucket list, so I was super excited for this! We bought some French baguettes and headed for the lawn space in front of the Eiffel Tower. After eating a freshly made French baguette, I will never be pleased with American bread ever again! Freshly made French bread is like nothing I have ever tasted, and eating it in front of the tower made it even more special!

Since we live in the 15th arrondissement and the Eiffel Tower is in the 7th arrondissement, we had to take the metro for the first time. There are multiple lines and the stops can get confusing, so the metro was very difficult to navigate. After getting lost for a few moments, we eventually found the correct stop. We are slowly getting better at reading the maps, but I think getting lost is part of the fun of discovering new places. Something unique to Paris is that each metro entrance is decorated differently depending on the area.  These are two of my favorite entrances below:

Since one can never get tired of looking at the Eiffel Tower, we decided to go back to the tower for sunset. We watched the sunset from the opposite side of the Seine River and the view was fantastic. We also stayed long enough to watch the tower light up and sparkle at night, which was definitely one of the coolest sights I have ever seen. I am in love with Paris!

Ciao!

-Alissa Smith

 

 

 

First Day in Paris!

After months of preparing and the excitement leading up to studying abroad, I’m finally here in the famous Ville de Lumiéres (City of Lights)!  After an eight hour flight, I managed to navigate the massive Charles de Gaulle airport and catch a taxi to my apartment in the 15th arrondissement of Paris.  My apartment is above a fantastic boulangerie, or bakery, where I purchased my first baguette.  French baguettes are like nothing I have ever tasted before.  Something unique to Paris that I love is that it is completely normal to walk down the street eating a giant baguette with a bottle of wine.

   

Photos of my apartment and room on Rue de la Convention, 15th arrondissement (the old green doors are my favorite!)

After unpacking, I headed to my first Paris outdoor café with my roommates Karlie, Ann, and Nanxi.  At first, we struggled to order food in French and were very unsure of how to politely get our waiter’s attention.  We quickly learned it is a custom in Paris to spend hours eating a meal, where the waiters will only come to the table if you call them over.  There is no tipping waiters in French culture, and the staff will get offended if you don’t finish your meal (lesson learned).  Despite the stereotype that French people often face, Parisians are some of the most polite and friendly people I have met.  Everyone so far has been completely willing to help us with our French and speak to us in English.  In fact, a few Parisians told us they were excited to meet Americans because they wanted to practice their English skills.

Later on, we had orientation at the IES center.  Meeting the rest of the students in the program was a blast and I can’t wait to get to know everyone!  After a long travel day, I am very excited to be in a place I have never been before and experience everything Paris has to offer!

Au revoir!

-Alissa Smith

P.S. I never get tired of looking at the Eiffel Tower!

Packing for a Semester Abroad

Here are a few items that I have found to be very important (but often overlooked) when traveling abroad.

  • Plug adapters for every country you plan to visit

Small power adapters allow United States-style plugs to fit into different outlets. You can invest in fancy adapters or find them on Amazon. This is something you’ll use every day so I would suggest not buying adapters under 3 dollars… I bought an extra adapter at what I can only describe as the French version of Dollar General and it broke after two days. Also don’t wait until the last minute to double-check which adapters you need for any extra trips. For example, continental Europe uses a different adapter than the U.K. or Australia.

  • An umbrella

Unless you are blessed with a sunny destination (and even so) you should bring an umbrella. Sitting on the Metro for forty minutes after being caught in the rain is not an experience I wish on anyone.

  • Comfortable shoes

Especially in Paris, people tend to dress less casually than at home. You might be tempted to bring every shoe in your closet to impress the Europeans, but in this case your comfort is more important. Bring shoes you know are sturdy, good for walking, and won’t make your feet ache after a day of sightseeing. If you are still worried about “blending in”, sneakers are actually pretty common among students in Europe – a plain pair of Keds or Vans will do just fine. Or you can put comfortable insoles in those fancy leather boots.

  • Layers

Bring clothes that will layer well together. This will save space in your suitcase but also keep you prepared for crazy weather changes. Scarves and sweaters can also serve as makeshift blankets or pillows if you’re stuck in a cold bus, plane, etc.

  • Stain remover pen

This is one of those items I never think to bring but always end up needing. I dropped Korean food on a favorite dress and had to soak it for ages to get the stain out, wondering why I had left my Tide To-Go at home. They’re not expensive and will not take up any room in your bag. Please bring a stain remover pen.

 

 

A Typical Weekday

I cannot believe I’ve been in Paris for over a month; the time has flown by and there is still so much to see. This post is long overdue thanks to cold and flu season. Thankfully I got by with lots of hot tea and Ricola cough drops, and my cold is finally gone.

Since I’ve been resting lately, I thought I would describe a usual weekday for me in Paris. Each week is different: sometimes we have class trips, excursions, etc., but here is what I do on most days:

Each morning I have breakfast at the apartment. My host mom provides breakfast for me and my housemate which is usually tea, toast, and fruit. Then I grab my books and head to class. The IES Center where I take classes is about a 20 minute walk from the apartment (or a 15 minute bus ride if it’s cold, rainy, or I’m running late).

On Monday and Wednesday mornings I get up earlier because I have a 9 a.m. class. On Tuesdays and Thursdays my first class starts at 10:45, but I like to arrive about an hour early to finish up homework and catch up with friends.

My classes include the Maghreb and the Arab World, Poetics and Politics of Gender in France, French Women Writers, Immigration and Diversity in Paris, and French Language and Context. During breaks I get lunch from a nearby boulangerie. They have typical French pastries but also pasta dishes, sandwiches, and soups for under 6 euro.

After class I usually grab a snack from the same boulangerie. Depending on how much homework I have I’ll either study at my homestay or at a café if I really need to focus. There are also plenty of beautiful libraries.

This is just a brief overview of a usual weekday. Some days I’ll go sightseeing in the afternoons as well. There are so many things to see in the city and a semester somehow feels like not enough time. In March I have trips planned to Ireland and Spain as well as more excursions with the program. It seems far away but I know I’ll be traveling before I know it!