Hey, finally I’ve managed to get around to posting again. Please excuse my long silence, but there has been a lot of work for me recently and so many other things were going on as well. I also now feel like you know my life in Paris pretty well, so it becomes harder to write about things that are (hopefully) interesting to you. Therefore I have decided to today write about living situations at years abroad. And in order to be of as much use for you as possible I will not only speak of my own experience.
So, there are many options of how people live on their year abroad. Many, especially in Paris, like to rent little studios where they have all the privacy they want. They range immensely in comfort and price and I have seen some very nice ones here. I think they are suitable for people who don’t like to take any risk with potentially weird or messy flatmates, however it can also be quite lonesome at times as it requires you to always put in the effort
to meet people when you want to have a chat or a coffee. Personally I didn’t want to live in a studio as I knew that I would enjoy having people around me when I go to an
unfamiliar city for living.
Sciences Po does not own any student accommodation so I don’t know that much about them, however there is something called Cite U where there are student halls that are affiliated with countries. I think the people who live there like it, but it is quite basic student accommodation and you will live mainly with other foreigners. In Heidelberg, where my boyfriend is doing his Erasmus, most of his exchange friends live in student halls and they have the great advantage to come furnished and to be super cheap. I am sure they can be great fun, however experiences seem to vary hugely. Unlike in British student halls people don’t live with other students in their year but with potentially anyone going to university which makes the people in those halls a very heterogeneous group. They might be for you if you want to spend less money, are eligible and willing to go through the application processes and don’t mind living with mainly international and random students.
Other exchange students here in Paris have decided to live in flats together with other exchange students that they knew beforehand, usually from their home university or friends from home. This, for sure, is very comfortable as you have someone to share the struggle of finding an apartment and you won’t have to live on your own. You also know that you will have a nice flatmate and that you will be able to communicate with each other. However, it also means that you will probably spend all your time speaking English and your experience will very much resemble your living situation at your home university. Maybe this is what you want, however if you already make the effort to go abroad, you might want to try and broaden your horizon a little bit and live with non-English people. From my experience you learn a lot more about other cultures by living with people from different countries and this is what we all go abroad for, isn’t it?
So, my strong recommendation is to live with people from the country you’re going to.
To me it was very important to live with French people during this year abroad in order to properly experience the ‘French way of life’ and so I would be forced to speak French. I spent hours and hours going through online posts trying to find a room in a colocation [flatshare] that would correspond with my budget, the timeframe I needed, and which was already furnished. This process caused a lot of frustration but eventually I got lucky and found a flat with two others in the east of Paris. It is relatively good value for Paris standards as it is a spacious room in a nice apartment and we even have a living room that we share among us three.
Living in a French coloc is not common among exchange students at Sciences Po which really is a shame. It is more effort to find, and probably also during the year as it will be less familiar and you won’t understand everything they say, but it is totally worth it! At the university you will meet mainly other exchange students and hang out with them. That is perfectly normal as they have similar interests and a lot of free time as well. However, leaving after one year and not having ever been out with a bunch of only French people, or having no one to visit when you come back can also be a bit of a shame. Therefore I am extremely glad I made the choice to live where and how I did.
Let me tell you a bit more about it. My flatmates are called Sylvain and Alice, of which the former already has lived in the flat for two years but doesn’t tend to spend a lot of time in the apartment. Alice, however, moved in at the same time as I did to do an internship in Paris for six months. That meant that she didn’t know many people here either so that we would become very close, spending a lot of time together and exploring Paris. She is maybe the most open minded and fun French girl I ever met, and not because I want to say French people aren’t fun but because she is extraordinarily smiley, vivid and interesting. She also proved to be a truly precious source in my efforts to learn French as she was incredibly patient with me and would take the time to correct me when needed. Sadly, Alice moved out of the flat at the end of February so for my last two months here she no longer was my flatmate, however we kept in touch and still see each other from time to time and I very much want to visit her in Toulouse one day.
Now Raphaël is back. He is the guy who originally lives in the room that he rented out to Alice (I live in the room usually his sister Julie ocupies). He is also very nice, but usually out and about or with his girlfriend. She is an artist and invited me to an exhibition of hers the other day which was really cool and proof again that living with locals pays off.
I feel very lucky to have found such a great colocation and it will be something I will always remember. So if you are currently trying to figure out how to live during your year abroad, make sure you know what you want to get out of your year abroad and don’t necessarily just choose the most comfortable option. I promise, it is worth it!