England is looming

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As my time in Paris draws to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m going to miss about living in here and what I’m looking forward to having back in my life once I’m in England.

Things I’m going to miss

  • The boulangeries: It’s so nice being able to buy a fresh baguette or croissant whenever you fancy, I don’t think Durham will be able to match that.
  • Drinks by the seine: A lovely place to meet up with friends in the evening!
  • Café au lait/ café crème: I basically became addicted to these, in theory the same as a latte but for some reason it just tastes so much better.
  • Crêpes on every corner: Nutella and banana crêpes are soooo good.
  • How much there is to do: If you’re bored its so easy to find something to do for free. That reminds me that I’m going to miss the gardens and the free access to museums a lot as well.
  • The transport system: It’s so easy to get to where you want to be, with so many different options for the same route. As long as there isn’t any snow or strikes that is…
  • Speaking French: It’s the best feeling when you actually understand and contribute normally to a conversation.

Things I won’t miss

  • The taste of the water: The water in my flat was weird. I don’t know why.
  • Going for runs and trying to dodge all the tourists: One of the most frustrating things, why doesn’t anyone move out the way when they see you coming!
  • Not having an oven: So many recipes that wanted to be made and weren’t, can’t wait to do some baking finally!
  • The lack of a good cup of tea in cafes: I don’t have much to add, I just really miss buying tea when I’m out.
  • Nothing at all open Sundays/ bank holidays: What if I run out of milk on a Sunday!? Or I need to go to the doctors! Both of these things happened, the solution was always expensive.
  • The prices: (!) I can’t wait to put my Tesco Clubcard back to work and actually buy food for reasonable prices.
  • Living on my own: I’m glad I did it, but I’m ready to live with people again, it can get very lonely.
  • Speaking French: As much as I love it, I also hate it when I can’t understand and contribute. It will be nice to go out and not fear having to ask questions. Being able to speak a language fluently is so amazing.

As my next blog will hopefully be a video blog with pictures and videos of my year, I wanted to take this chance to talk about whether I actually met my aims for my second semester. My aims were to make more French friends and speak more French in general. While I’m not sure I made actual friends, I do have a French student on Whatsapp since we were lab partners! And I’m actually quite proud that I put myself in the situation where I was working in a pair with one French student for six weeks- It certainly meant I was speaking more French. As far as speaking French is concerned, I definitely did more of that due to a group project and working in a café as well as forcing myself to speak French was I was out and about. While I’m not fluent yet (anyone will tell you that this is very difficult), I certainly feel much more comfortable with the language than when I arrived and in general I’m comfortable conversing. The good news is I have a lifetime to improve, so I’ll definitely be returning to Paris! A bientôt x

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!

 

Lapland Larks

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Hej hej,

Apologies in advance for what is about to be a somewhat hyperbolic and unrepresentative reflection of how amazing studying abroad is, but, still riding the high of recent travels, I want to endorse seeing life in a different country as a unique experience to exploit your new geography and travel to places more accessible than from the UK.

Before coming to Sweden, I’d only a very vague understanding of what and where Lapland is, and had never considered it to be somewhere I’d prioritise travelling to. I had visions of lots of snow, extreme cold and perpetual darkness in the winter months, which wasn’t entirely unappealing, but also didn’t do much to sell the idea to me. When my newly-found friends decided to book a trip advertised at the welcome fair, however, the fomo hit, and I too signed myself up for 5 days in the far north on the ‘Lapland Express’ tour.

As a budget tour catering for students, compromises were made to keep prices low, including taking an overnight coach to spare expenditure on accommodation and transport. Laden with a rucksack filled to the brim with every piece of warm clothing to my name, I was collected from town, and we began the long drive north. Amazingly, despite what seemed to be the entirety of the UK being coated in a generous blanket of snow in previous days, Uppsala had been distinctly free from wintry weather, which I soon realised wasn’t a reflection of the situation in the rest of Sweden… Once we were outside of the city, the scenery changed dramatically, with every road, house and tree obscured by thick layers of snow. I won’t lie, the reality of spending 17 hours cooped up on a bus was as unpleasant as it sounds, but the excitement of what lay ahead (and occasional drama on the road – stopping the bus to avoid collision with a baby elk etc.) kept spirits high.

The distance from Stockholm to Kiruna

Our first stop was Kiruna, Sweden’s northernmost city, famed for its enormous iron-ore mine, which – fun fact- is causing the entire city to be gradually relocated 3 km east to allow for further extraction. After a quick change into warmer clothes, we were bussed to a local activity centre, where we immersed ourselves in the full tourist experience, driving snowmobiles across the snowy plains and being taken by husky sled back to base. It was a fantastic way to begin the trip, and definitely succeeded in waking us up after such a long journey!

The afternoon was spent touring the city, but we didn’t have the energy for much more. The darkness isn’t totally complete, as you can see from the photos, there’s a degree of light at midday, but we’d arrived right in the middle of the polar night season, meaning that for the entirety of our stay the sun never actually rose above the horizon. Regardless of how often you check the time, your body can’t keep up with such a dramatic change, and I spent most of the afternoon bus journeys napping and then waking up, disorientated, to see that it was pitch black at 3 pm…

On Tuesday, we left our hostel and headed further north, stopping at the Ice Hotel on route for a tour of the production rooms and a nose around the ice suites. I can confirm that the beds are very comfortable, but the visit did nothing to help me understand why people willingly pay £150 to sleep in the extreme cold, despite the attraction of some seriously stunning artwork. Before arriving at our accommodation, we made another stop to visit a Sami community, who continue to practice their traditional livelihood of semi-nomadic reindeer herding (though nowadays with the aid of snowmobiles and helicopters). After feeding the reindeers lichen, we warmed up inside a lavvu, a tent heated by an open fire, and drank a broth made from reindeer antlers. All very touristy, but bucket-list activities for any trip to this corner of the globe.

We were meant to be staying in Abisko National Park for the remaining days, but a twist of fate in the shape of a vomiting virus meant we were relocated to a ski resort in Björkilden, and rather than having hostel rooms, we enjoyed the luxury of wooden cabins with lakeside views, a kitchenette and PRIVATE SAUNA! Smug is probably an understatement to describe the general sentiment, and I have to say that, standing outside our cabin watching the Northern Lights that evening, life felt pretty damn good.

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Wednesday happened to fall on the 13th of December, an important day in the Swedish calendar, also my name day, Luciadagen – Saint Lucy/Lucia’s Day. This page gives a nice introduction to the general idea. I was gutted to miss the celebrations in Uppsala, but we got a taste of the festivities when a local school came to perform Swedish carols in the hotel lobby, dressed in traditional attire with the ‘Lucia’ donning white dress and crown of candles. There were also free festive snacks, which I exploited as breakfast: lussekatter (buns flavoured with saffron) and pepparkakor (hard gingerbread biscuits).

Fortune was shining on us again, as the weather was declared good enough for a trip across the Norwegian border to Narvik to be given the go-ahead. We drove across the snowy landscape listening to Christmas songs, stopping at a fjord on route to take photos before being dropped off to explore for a few hours – the longest our guide was willing to risk waiting before returning, for fear that the heavy snowfall would close the road back. She wasn’t being paranoid: a group the previous week had delayed their return by 10 minutes, and found themselves stranded in Narvik for two days thanks to extreme weather, with only the possessions they’d brought for the day with them. I can’t really speak much for the city itself, but, as a true history student, I can wholeheartedly encourage a visit to the war museum. Military history isn’t usually my style, but it turns out that I was amazingly ignorant when it came to Norway’s role in WWII, which is well worth a look into if you’re interested.

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A fjord on the outskirts of Narvik

Wednesday evening was spent in possibly the most stereotypical Swedish fashion imaginable. Not only were we drinking glögg (Swedish mulled wine, can taste uncannily like Ribena, take care) in a cabin in the snow, we were lounging in our very own sauna, and even slapped on an ABBA mixtape to complete the picture. When the heat of the sauna became too oppressive to cope with, we all dashed outside, straight into a fresh pile of snow. I kept telling myself my muscles would thank me for the rapid changes in temperature, but I can’t say it felt like they were appreciating it the next day.

Thursday was our final day in Lapland, and, having decided not to join the excursions for ice climbing and cross-country skiing, we spent it ticking off all the wintry activities we hadn’t found the time for before. We borrowed sleds, and half walked, half slipped down to the lake, taking in a magnificent frozen waterfall on our way.

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‘Olaf’ enjoying the view 

The journey back to Uppsala was as painfully long as the first, but broken up with stops – such as a visit to the ‘Arctic Circle’, which, as shown on the above map, we’d crossed days before without the slightest notice or mention. We were warned not to get our hopes up too much, which I’m grateful for, considering that it is quite literally an inflated road sign, obscured by the dark and a generous layer of snow.

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Wow what a spectacular sight (sarcasm intended)

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: