Rain, Snow and Internships

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This past month has been pretty exciting in Paris is terms of all the different weather conditions. First there was an unprecedented amount of rainfall, causing the seine to flood and worryingly closing many metro and RER stations. Not only that, but lots of the stations still open had leaks all over the place with the water being collected in buckets. It wasn’t amazingly reassuring… Next came the snow which was quite exciting. Paris itself looked beautiful in all its white sparkling glory but it seems the city isn’t really cut out to deal with adverse weather and many stations were closed and all the buses cancelled for a while.

While all of this has been going on, I’ve been steadily getting through a mountain of work – a lot more than last semester. However, despite the stress of this work and lots of speaking French, I managed to fit in a little visit to New York (or at least Paris’ mini Statue of Liberty) and a trip to Normandy, which was also affected by floods at the time. Even though much of the area was water logged it was still very pretty and visiting the D-Day landing beaches really left an impression. What as more impressive was that the soldiers each carried the weight of another person on their back up the beach whilst under fire. I tried to carry my boyfriend, Charlie, up the beach and promptly collapsed. I would never make it as a soldier.

Throughout all the fun, excitement and work one thing that has always been at the back of my mind has been to try to get an internship for the coming summer. This has been quite difficult to do from another country and has involved a skype interview as well as an assessment day squeezed in in early January, 2 days before I was due to fly back to Paris for my exams. Since one of these first exams didn’t go fantastically well, I’m going to put it down to this assessment day (which also had me missing out on other more fun plans I’d put into place before this last-minute interview).

I was lucky enough to interview with such an accommodating company but others have not been as helpful. I’ve known some people who have had to fly back at short notice, at their own expense for an assessment day. This means missing classes and sometimes losing a large amount of money from your own pocket. This kind of thing is something to bear in mind when doing a year abroad, you have to be prepared to be flexible and to pay. Fortunately, I have now managed to find an internship for which the final stage was a telephone interview – lucky me!

With my summer plans in place, I’m looking forward to focusing more on my French work, knowing that I won’t have to hurry back to England any time soon. This is only good news as I’m becoming more and more << Parisienne >> by the day (see photo for proof!).

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Very happy with my new Beret!

Round 2

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My first week back for my second and final semester starts tomorrow. This time around I was ready for the inefficient French system and really tried my best to be organised. This meant sending emails to all the modules I wanted to do at the end of the December. However, despite my best efforts I’ve somehow ended up doing something a bit different from my original plan. The good news is that I haven’t missed the first two weeks of classes, so compared to last time, everything is looking good.

After having spent a great few weeks at home catching up with my family as well as managing to see some friends that I hadn’t seen since June it’s safe to say I wasn’t too pleased about coming back to Paris on the 7th of January to do my exams… Just to make it worse I only got back to my flat the night before my first two exams, and it really wasn’t easy dragging all that extra Christmas present weight up four flights of stairs. I couldn’t be happier that my exams are over and after a very well timed trip to London and the return of my boyfriend later, I’m now very excited to be here and to get back into the swing of things.

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Now part of the Sorbonne!

Then again, now that the exams are out of the way, I’ve had more time to worry about my seriously full timetable. I feel very very sorry for the actual physics students here who basically work 8:30 – 18:00 every day. A very different experience to a Durham timetable in my opinion. One piece of exciting news is that my University has become part of the Sorbonne, which happened on the 1st of January which meant I came back to new signs and logos all around the campus. This also makes it a lot easier for me when people ask which university I got to, a ‘The Sorbonne’ is a lot simpler than ‘Université Pierre et Marie Curie’!

One thing I noticed straight away once I was back was that after three weeks of only speaking English, I was really struggling to understand any French. It really is one of those things where you need to use it or you’ll lose it! Even after a week of just enjoying Paris and relaxing I’m still not sure I feel ready to start learning in French again. Hopefully, by the end of next week I will have picked it all back up.

So since nothing new or exciting has really happened to me recently, I wanted to take a look back at my favourite moment from my first semester. For me this was realising that I was finally comfortable living in this new city. This was the moment when I realised that I can do the whole year and really enjoy it. I realised that I know the city, I can understand French, I can sort things out in a different language and live all by myself. I can’t say that it was a very memorable moment, or that I remember where I was when it happened, but there definitely was a moment and it was a really great feeling.

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I can be French!

 

 

 

To finish off, I wanted to talk about my aims for the next semester. Hopefully by my last blog post I’ll be able to look back at this and say that I achieved what I set out to do. My reason for studying abroad was to experience living in a different country, look at physics from a different point of view but mainly to improve my French. With everything that happened in the first semester, I felt like I didn’t put my all into this, I still improved but I didn’t feel like I made the most of every situation. Because of this, my aims for the next semester are to make more French friends, speak more French in general and really make an effort to do this. Wish me luck!

 

Christmas in Paris

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Since my last post I’ve been incredibly busy, but now that I’ve arrived back home to PROPER chocolate and tea, I’ve finally found the time to fill you in on Christmas in Paris.

There’s so much to do in Paris at Christmas time and I really tried to squeeze it all in. The Christmas traditions are similar in France, but one of the biggest differences was the serious lack of mince pies. This was a devastating discovery until I found them in my local M&S- problem solved. Another slight difference is the Christmas cake, the French have the “Galette des Rois” – the cake of Kings. The cake is traditionally enjoyed on the 6th of January, celebrating the arrival of the Three Kings in Bethlehem. This led to an interesting discussion in my French class, where we learnt that it’s actually a very expensive cake. This is down to the current butter shortage which is most likely due to the fact that China has discovered croissants! (Amongst other reasons).

Being the organised person that I am, I drew up a plan that allowed me to do all the Christmassy activities as well as squeezing in my final French test. Fortunately, Paris got into the Christmas spirit very early on, with these cute Christmas lights going up in the second to last week in November.

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The first Christmas lights I saw!

As well as getting ready for Christmas, I was also lucky enough to celebrate Thanksgiving twice, with one of the celebrations being a pot luck. I was quite confused at first, having never heard of a pot luck before, but it turns out that everyone brings a different dish so you end up with a variety of things to eat. The good thing is that most people can’t be bothered cooking meat, so there was loads of vegetarian food I could enjoy as well! It’s actually such a great idea that I’m hoping to do it again back in Durham.

Christmas lights are kind of a big deal in Paris, so I felt it was important to see the famous Champs-Elysées lights as well, which were even better seen from the top of the Arc de Triomphe.

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From the Arc de Triomphe.

This was actually a traumatic outing due to the freezing cold temperature. I’m not sure why but Paris feels even colder than Durham ever has, it has me thinking that I won’t be able to survive the temperatures when I go back to Durham next year… Despite the temperature, Paris didn’t quite get the same amount of snow as England, something I was quite sad to miss out on. Why does it only snow when I’m not there?? Nevertheless, I did still manage to catch a winter cold – twice! Luckily, I was well cared for and provided with endless paracetamol and hot drinks.

By the beginning of my last week in Paris before the Christmas break I was fully recovered and ready to fit in as much as possible. First on the list was the Christmas markets. I managed to fit in three of these before I left. The first was called the “Village de Noël” and even though it was right in the middle of a business district, which was not the nicest location, it was very cute and had loads of stalls. I even got to meet Père Noël and stand in an English telephone box (?)

The best market by far was the Notre Dame market. Even though it was quite small, it definitely looked the best and really got me ready for Christmas.

I also took the opportunity to finally go to all the shops I’ve been walking past since I arrived. I stocked up on some fancy chocolate and visited two of the biggest department stores, both of which were suitably decked out for Christmas. Just to make sure I’d really looked everywhere, there was also a trip to a big shopping centre on the edge of Paris (they had a Primark!). Everything was very pretty and so I took a lot of pictures since I can’t imagine I’ll be seeing the same kind of things in Debenhams next year.

The final adventure, and possibly the most exciting, was a trip to Disneyland. This was something I’d been looking forward to for weeks and it was made even better by the cute Christmas decorations and the Christmas parade. We were lucky to have really good weather as every other day there was almost constant rain. We made the most of it and spent the day outside, walking around both parks. I was exhausted by the end and we didn’t even get to go on all the rides! I’m already looking into when I can go back to finish them off…

All in all, I had a pretty great November and December, and I did actually do quite a lot of work – I promise!

Cultural Guilt

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After almost 11 weeks in Paris, one of the things I’ve struggled with the most is the guilt of not making the most of my time here. When I’m relaxing after university, eating tinned soup and even when I’m studying I have the feeling that I could be using my time to see and experience more of Paris.

This feeling was growing towards the end of October as I’d spent a lot of the month worrying about and sorting wifi, my bank account and then even more so when I had a mid-term exam for each of my modules. Mid-terms at my host university count for about 20% of the module mark and normally take place between 18:00 and 20:00 in the evening. This is probably my peak procrastination time so really isn’t when I’d choose to take a relatively important test.  This meant staying in and studying for these, taking more time due to the language difference and resulting in more guilt. The other side of this is guilt for not studying. I was in a bit of a vicious cycle, yet to find a balance between everything.

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I will admit to a quick visit to Le Musée de l’Orangerie when I should have been studying.

However, with midterms over and everything finally sorted, I’m planning to assuage my guilt by getting some more cultural activities under my belt. The next week is looking hopeful with plans to visit the Catacombs of Paris as well as an organised run through the heart of Paris and a birthday party with lots of other Erasmus students.

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At the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées.

This past weekend also allowed me to experience some fantastic food and discover what there is to do in Paris other than visiting museums. Despite being vegetarian and most menus listing only meat and fish based meals, asking for a vegetarian alternative normally results in some delicious food. On top of the incredible food, a highlight of my weekend was seeing a classical music performance at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. This was a brand new experience for me and was such an exciting opportunity to get dressed up and discover something a bit different. With tickets as cheap as 5 € I think I’ll go again!

Finally, I was lucky enough to be invited for a meal in the Eiffel Tower, by far the coolest thing I’ve ever done. This was an experience of a lifetime made all the better by exceptional food, breath taking views and great company. While we were up on the second floor, the weather changed from rain to fog and then cleared to give an amazing sunset. This gave us some dreamy photos (see below) which I’ll be showing to people for a long time to come.

 

 

 

 

 

Not quite french yet

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Hi everyone!

I’ve been living in Paris for just over 5 weeks now and a lot of things have happened since my last post: I’ve finally found myself somewhere to live (phew!), I’ve started going to classes properly and I’ve already handed in work that counts towards my final mark – all before Durham has even had freshers’ week. The only sad part about moving into my new flat was the fact that I’d no longer get to walk past the best shop in the world on one of my daily commutes. Aptly named ‘The Dog Club’ as it sells the most adorable puppies, which are on display for everyone to see!

However, 5 weeks has definitely been enough time for me to notice the massive cultural differences as well as just the downright weirdness of life in France. Here’s 5 things that I’ve noticed so far:

  1. It’s not easy to find proper cup of tea: As a tea addict, this is the main issue I’ve encountered so far (a lot more problematic than missing my first week of classes). The French almost always choose coffee, which is not something I’m willing to get on board with. The first thing I’ve learned is not to order tea in a café or you’ll end up having to go back and ask for milk. The second is that once your supply of PG Tips has run out, head straight to Marks and Spencer’s for the next best thing- their strong English Breakfast tea. Finally, don’t expect to survive by boiling water in a pot, it’s just not the same.

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    The kettle and toaster I bought to complete my flat.

  2. France is closed on a Sunday: I thought it was annoying that many shops in England close early on a Sunday, but this is the next level. Almost everything is closed on a Sunday. It’s possible you might find the odd shop but you’d have to be looking quite hard. Apparently, no one is unwell on a Sunday either with all pharmacies and doctors having their doors firmly locked and their shutters down. The only saving grace is that McDonalds follows its own rules, so there’s no lack of Mcflurrys all week round.
  3. Every lecture or class is at least 2 hours: Coming from a University where lectures and tutorials are 50 minutes, and the longest class I’ve had is 3 hours, this was quite a shock. Not only are all lectures and tutorials 2 hours, but my programming and practical classes are 4 hours! (not including the 15 minutes that’s meant to be a break). I’m slowly getting used to this new system, but I have to say I’ve struggled to retain my concentration for 4 hours- who wouldn’t?
  4. The use of the internet hasn’t really caught on yet: Pretty much everything here is done on paper. Processes that would normally be quite straightforward in England such as opening a bank account and signing up for modules all have to be done in person or via a hand written form in the post. This does tend to mean that everything takes a lot longer and uses a lot more paper than it really needs to…
  5. French keyboards are confusing: A bit of a strange point, but one that has been quite a big deal amongst my friends and I, even those from countries such as Germany and The Netherlands. Here in France, the QWERTY keyboard doesn’t exist and you have to hold ‘shift’ to be able to type numbers and even for a full stop. It doesn’t sound like much of a problem, before you realise that your typing is littered with ‘q’s instead of ‘a’s and symbols where you meant to type numbers. Have a go yourself by following this link :https://www.branah.com/french

So there you have my summary of what I’ve learned here so far. It turns out that most things are very similar to England, but there a couple of differences that I haven’t quite managed to get my head around yet. At least the buildings are always pretty:

 

Moving to The City of Lights

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Bienvenue à mon Blog!

In the first of many blogs I want to fill you in on my experience of moving to a different country, trying to remember how to speak French (it seems the words disappear from your head when you want to use them) and starting at a University where everything isn’t quite as clear as Durham.

I was lucky enough to have my family help me move to Paris, and so my first few days here were filled with sightseeing and more importantly food shopping for when I moved into my temporary house. Note the word ‘temporary’, as in I haven’t found anywhere to live yet… This is but one of several things I still need to sort out. Given that I’ve only been in Paris for 11 days, I’ll let myself off.

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A classic Eiffel Tower selfie.

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