How to Make the Most of Your Semester Abroad in Paris

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The carousel in Paris an exchange student dream ride

Studying abroad can be both exciting and nerve-racking, but the experience should undoubtedly change you as a person. I am spending the spring 2012 school semester abroad in Paris, and having already been here a month and 10 days, I have fallen in love with the best city in the world. Based on some observations I’ve made and through my daily insights, I’ve assembled a guide for other college students.

• Don’t sleep in and waste half the day; you can do that when you are home. Then again, allow yourself at least one chill day every so often.

• In general, uploading photos and blogging can wait, but experiencing a culture different from your own cannot. This is the reason why you came to a foreign country, to become immersed in a new culture and/or practice the national language. Don’t expect, however, “to seamlessly adapt to a European culture,” warns Emma B., a student studying abroad in Paris this semester from the United States. “We shall forever be observers of their ways,” she says.

Eiffel Tower

• Feel free to do as much research as you’d like on things to do, places to go, people to see . . . But in my opinion, you will find the hidden treasures just by walking around or riding a bus, without any destination in mind. This has become one of my favorite activities in Paris. If I have a few hours to kill, I’ll hop on a bus going in a good direction (sometimes I won’t even look where it’s going if I want to have more fun) and stay on as long as I’d like. Sometimes the bus is more fun than the metro, because at least you see the city. The change of pace is great, too.

Try new foods, and if you are in a homestay, gladly accept anything you are offered at the dinner table, because you could end up liking it. I was once served a pizza with anchovies toward the beginning of my time here, and I liked it, even though I wouldn’t necessarily order this myself. Furthermore, experience the thrill of going grocery shopping in a foreign country. In Paris, Monoprix is golden. It’s there I discovered muesli granola, which exists in the United States, but somehow I had never tried it. The Monoprix bio version has become my new best friend.

Sacré Coeur

• Stay in touch with friends and family from home, but not so much that you are always on your smartphone in public and it is taking away from your time here. I came to Paris intending to be active with Facebook and e-mails on my Blackberry, but after a few weeks, gaining access to free Wi-Fi turned out to be both harder than I thought and not as necessary. I’ve abandoned using my international phone when I am not at my homestay, for the most part, and I couldn’t be happier. When I get home every night, I allow myself the daily dosage of contact with home, but as soon as that chunk of time turns into a few hours, I escape the prospect of getting sucked into my homestay and I venture out into the City of Light. Like they say in France, “Profitez!”

Erica Finkelstein is a college student from American University, in Washington, D.C. She is majoring in public communication and double minoring in marketing and French, and currently studying abroad in Paris. Read her CV.

Editor’s note: What’s the smartest thing to invest in before your trip to Paris? The GG2P Travel Club of course! Find out more.

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