Welcome to the IP Program in Paris! Your year of study in France may very well be one of the most valuable of your education; it has the potential to be a year of great intellectual, personal, and social growth. Your success will depend wholly on your attitude and self-motivation. This cannot be stressed enough. Leave your expectations behind: pack your most open mind and your determination.
This report is a summary of past student experiences. Although it will probably seem abstract, please read it carefully before leaving. We have tried to anticipate your questions and have included many crucial bits of information you will find useful once in Paris. You will be asked to update this report next year, so bring it with you and refer to it during your year in France. We wish you the best for a successful year abroad! BON VOYAGE!!
Your Arrival and First Weeks in Paris (Top)
Paris is not only the capital of France, but also the center of life in France, historically, culturally, architecturally, administratively, etc. It is known as the "City of Light", others even call it the "cultural center of the world". In any case, it is a city with a rich historical past (more than 2200 years since its foundation) and present.
You will be arriving in Paris in the last days of August. There will still be a lot of foreign tourists in town, and it will be hot and sunny. This is the end of the summer vacation in France for most French people with the exception of college students, since universities don't reopen until October. Some of the local businesses will be closed, but things will return to normal fairly quickly as the natives prepare for the reopening of primary schools and return to business. In your case, the Preparatory Language Program (PLP) will begin within a few days and you will find yourselves quite busy.
A Few Things To Be Prepared For (Top)
These points may seem small but it is often the small things that add up to big differences and create the inevitable effect you will come to know called culture shock.
Remember Culture, is a good thing so remember to just go with the flow of whatever you may experience!!!!!!!! Remember you're in Paris now, anything can happen!
Physical Climate (Top)
Situated in the basin of "Ile-de-France" in the northern center of France, Paris has a mild continental climate. September temperatures are typically 22-25°C [72 - 77° F], with little rain. October through March is colder and rainier than what most California students are used to, with temperatures close to or below freezing at times.(8°C -0°C) [46° F -30° F] Therefore bring warm clothes, including a heavy coat, scarf, hat and gloves (or be prepared to buy them once winter arrives). Bring lighter clothing for the earlier and later periods of the school year. For the winter a variety of sweaters and other layered clothing, such as thermals or polar-fleece are advisable. A warm overcoat and a raincoat are essential. Due to global warming, Paris received an incredible amount of snow during the early winter, beginning in November, until Mid January: This is definitely not normal, but be prepared for it none the less and watch out for icy sidewalks!
Political Climate (Top)
French students are politically oriented, and gatherings can include animated discussions on national and international events. Many French students have strong opinions on world affairs and they keep current on world politics. You should keep up with world affairs, because you will often be asked your reactions to events taking place in the US and elsewhere. You will encounter people with critical attitudes toward American policies, and you should be prepared to deal with the situations in a diplomatic and informed manner. By the way, you should not assume that an attack on the US government is a sign of personal antagonism or unwillingness to cultivate a friendship. The French are well aware that you personally are not responsible for the policies of your government.
Regarding politics at home, if in an election year, don't forget to register for an absentee ballot before you leave.
There is a wide variety of political activity which many students find to be educational. However, please remember it is against the MICEFA policy to take part in any form of political demonstrations. Manifestations (which is what the French call it) can always turn for the worse, one never knows, so please have an opinion but DO NOT GET INVOLVED!!! Remember, visas can be revoked.
French labor situations can also be stormy at times, with frequent strikes involving a number of private or public economic enterprises. Although in general they do not last long, they do require a lot of patience and sometimes an adjustment of plans.
Religious Climate (Top)
Although France is largely Roman Catholic, virtually all major religions are represented in Paris. Recently, a controversial French law banning "ostentatious religious symbols" in public schools has been proposed which would ban all ostentatious signs of religion (i.e. an Islamic scarf, a Jewish kippa, or a Christian cross) in public schools and universities. The official reason behind this law is to protect the French constitutional principle of "laïcité," or separation between church and state.
French citizens hold the law of separation between church and state as one of the highest in society; remember you are not in California anymore and you really don’t need to ask people about their beliefs or religion, if it comes up, feel free but don’t be too nosy!
Before going into details the most important points are:
The way you handle your money will make a great difference in your year in France. This area has posed many problems in the past, so be sure to consider your financial situation carefully before leaving. This cannot be stressed enough. If you are planning on receiving financial aid you must be prepared to wait two to three months extra to receive your first checks.
More importantly, you must make certain that you have taken all the necessary steps to secure your aid. Check and double-check! Make sure your financial aid officer knows you will be overseas. Make sure you have notified the holders of any existing loans of your plans. It is bad enough to have to wait for the aid without trying to solve problems from overseas.
Traveler’s checks are NOT RECOMMENDED AT ALL, after the financial crisis they are not really accepted in most places anymore.
Perhaps the best method for obtaining cash during the year is to obtain a debit card with a Visa or MasterCard logo which allows you to draw money directly out of your US checking account. This also gives you a good rate of exchange, as you get the bank's money market rate. The best debit to get in California is either a Bank of America Card or better any credit union debit card. With Both cards you can get cash in French ATMs without transaction fee. However with the Bank of America Card, the only bank you can pull money from is with Parisbas BNP, a French bank all over Paris.
This card can be used at ATM's throughout Europe and thus can replace traveler's checks. Some students have reported a delay in receiving these cards, so explore this option right away and do not forget to get an international (4-digit) "PIN". It is strongly recommended that you initialize your card before coming to France to ensure that it works properly.
Another very good method for getting cash is to obtain a Visa or MasterCard credit card (again with an international 4-digit PIN) with the highest limit possible and then draw cash advances against it in France. The VISA bill can then be paid in dollars with American checks at an excellent exchange rate. If you are using a credit card, a good method to avoid interest charges is to keep a credit balance against which you draw cash advances. Students have also reported success putting a parent's name on their checking account and having the bills sent to the parent for payment. This works best if you know the billing date for your card. Then one can take cash advances a few days before the billing date and only pay interest on those four or five days.
Yet another option is to open a checking account with an American bank that is linked to an ATM in Paris (browse www.citibank.fr for more information). You can withdraw money directly from your checking account and take advantage of higher exchange rates, since your balance is in dollars until the time of withdrawal. If a parent is a cosigner on the account, he or she can deposit financial aid checks and pay bills as necessary. Make the necessary arrangements as soon as possible to assure that ATM cards and checks are available before you leave.
Overall, having a French bank account is very important. In order to get a rent subsidy, a mobile phone forfeit, and other necessities, you must have a French account. Some landlords will only accept check payments for rent, and you probably want to send a check to pay your electricity bill. Luckily MICEFA will provide a permanent address for you to use, so you can open your bank account immediately. BNP Paribas and Société Générale are the easiest banks for foreigners. Both offer student or "Pack Jeune 15-25 yrs" promotions for minimal-fee checking accounts. BNP is 1.50 euros/month while Société Générale is about 4.50 euros/month. Required documents to open accounts may include copies of your passport, Carte de Séjour, attestation de domicile, and possibly even an electricity bill statement! Again, as within all areas of French life, be patient with the processing, and trust that it will eventually all be handled! Receiving your RIB is a top priority; the RIB is the French PIN!!!!
Remember that you are not in the US and things take a lot longer here... two weeks to get your bank card, two more for the check book, and a week to replace a lost or stolen card... You have two options for transferring money - wire a lump sum (expensive and a bit time consuming but worth it if you don't want the hassle) or withdraw from an ATM in smaller increments. Withdrawing from ATM will cost a little bit for each transaction, but the exchange rate is always the best, and some people find it easier to budget if they put one month worth of expenses in their French account and leave the rest in the States for the months ahead. The exchange rate between the euro and the dollar a lot closer than the French franc in days past, which should make money managing easier.
It is important to know that your first two months will be the most expensive, so allow extra money. This is often due to the fact that most places require a deposit equal to one or two months rent as well as the first month's rent.
If you are receiving financial aid during the year, be sure to bring enough money with you to carry you through at least two or three months. This cannot be stressed enough. Your school will not send out the checks until after registration. Then the check will go to Long Beach. Then the checks will be included in one of the biweekly courier letters to Paris. You can avoid this extra step if you authorize your parents to receive your checks and deposit them directly into your American account. Be sure to authorize your parents to have access to that account. You will arrive at the end of August; your financial aid may not get to Paris until mid-November. Some schools allow direct deposit into your American checking account; if this is the case for yours it pays to have this hooked up, you will receive your money sooner and with no hassle.
Exchange rate fluctuations can significantly affect the dollar amount of your expenses in euros. Due to the recession in the current world, especially in the US the dollar is not worth what it once was: Be prepared to spend a minimum of 800 to 1,000 dollars per month (not including Rent).This figure does not include travel expenses and does not allow for an extremely active social life. It should cover pocket money, meal tickets, laundry (about 3 euros per load) and dry cleaning, toiletries, postage (letters to the States cost the same as postcards, 0.46 euros, snacks, and some number of recreational activities. This budget also includes the monthly metro pass, which is usually 80 US dollars, 55 Euros. Note that this budget is subject to drastic change depending on your priorities, your life-style, and your discipline. It is highly recommended to keep track of your expenditures on a month-to-month basis and, after the first two or three months give you a better idea of your life in Paris, to make yourself a budget that you can be comfortable with for the year. Leave room for unexpected exigencies and for a plane ticket home, if you don't travel with round-trip ticket. Many students who pay no heed to their spending, spend a lavish and party-laden first semester only to be confronted with a long and thrifty second semester. Make your whole year enjoyable by planning well.
The cost for textbooks is usually negligible compared to American universities; some students have only had to buy 2-5 books per semester, none of which were extremely expensive, others had no books to buy at all. Food prices are generally higher than those in California, especially for meat. However Grocery shopping is MUCH LESS EXPENSIVE than it would be in California, a weeks worth of groceries come out to be around 30 euros a week, in any Fran-Prix(Local French Chain Store). Clothes are generally more expensive in France, particularly cotton, but one can find great deals at the open-air market. Note that there are sales in France only twice a year, in July and January. Do not miss the winter one! Since you may want to participate in the cultural life of southern France and also travel to other areas of Europe during your vacation periods, you should augment your budget accordingly. We have found that during vacations students usually spend two to three times the amount of money for the same time in Paris.
Above all, plan ahead and overestimate whenever possible. Allow yourself a comfortable living allowance; if you spend less than your budget, you can always augment your vacation money. Also be careful during Christmas break, as the rent is still due for January and the IP emergency loans are limited to 300 dollars maximum.
Finding housing in Paris is probably what you're most worried about, but my advice is, "Don't worry! I felt the same way but it all worked out." Yes, you have only about 2 weeks to find housing, but the MICEFA staff will help you. However, Don’t rely on MICEFA, Brush up on your French apartment lingo!!! PLEASE be INDEPENDENT and STRONG, you must check out French housing websites, like appartager.com or FUSAC.fr….these could come in Handy, but remember, Don’t expect to be living in luxury….You want to be able to afford to explore Paris, not just an apartment
Students can either rent furnished or unfurnished studios ($600 and up) or apartments which are generally expensive and completely unfurnished. Another option is a chambre de bonne in an apartment building. These are the remnants of old servants quarters, and are therefore less than lavish. They are generally 5 to 8 floors up, very small (5-10m2), but completely furnished. These rooms can be rented from anywhere between 200- 400 euros, or free in exchange for approximately 12-15 hours of work each week (baby-sitting, light housework, English lessons). They may not include kitchen or bath with the room. They are a good way to save money if you are able to adapt to the living conditions. Not every building complex has an elevator, so get used to stairs! If you do not mind living outside of Paris and dealing with the commute, accommodations can usually be found at lower prices and better conditions. Real-estate agencies are a safe and secure way to locate an apartment, but be prepared to pay extra fees. You can also live with a French family if you are ready to respect their house rules and adapt to their living style.
Au Pair - I arrived in Paris on August 24th. I began looking for housing my fifth day in Paris. One of the housing options is to work as an au pair and get housing in exchange. I talked to MICEFA about finding an au pair position. They had an informational meeting and gave me phone numbers to call three different families for interviews. For the three interviews I went to, I would have to babysit one or two kids (including picking them up from school and occasional cooking) for 10-15 hours a week. In exchange, I would get a room and access to a toilet, shower, and kitchen. I was offered a position at my third interview on my seventh day in Paris.
The housing offered was very different at each of the three places where I interviewed. The first one was a chambre de bonne on the 7th floor without an elevator. It had a tiny room with a bed, a desk, a sink, fridge, microwave, and hot plate. There was a shared toilet down the hall and a shower one floor up. The second was a medium size room in a house. It included a toilet and shower shared only with the child, and a shared kitchen. The third place, where I am now living, is a chambre de bonne on the 8th floor without an elevator. It has a medium size room with a mattress, a desk, plenty of closet space, and bookshelves. It has a kitchenette with a microwave, stove, refridgerator, and sink. It includes a salle d'eau with a shower and sink. The toilet is down the hall and shared with one other person. In exchange for my housing, I work about 12 hours a week with two children. The mother wants them to learn English, so I just have to spend time with them and speak to them only in English.
Since I found the au pair position, I didn't really have time to look for a studio or a shared apartment. However, I know that a good resource is www.fusac.fr. There are postings for housing as well as tutoring or babysitting jobs. Craigslist.org also had useful postings. (IP advises that you do not make any reservations until after you have arrived in Paris and are able to view the accommodations.)
I personally think the au pair position is the best deal. It is only a few hours of (fun) work for decent housing. Renting will be very expensive (500-800 Euros for a studio or shared apartment, in 2007) and it might mean having to share a room or apartment with strangers. I also suggest that students begin looking for housing starting their second or third day to avoid stress. My group wasn't very clear on this point and only rushed to look for housing after meeting with the OIP and MICEFA representatives. It seems that housing is very scarce, but it is available. If you like living with flat mates, you definitely should look on other websites like appartager.com for housing which could give you access to a full apartment and great house mates…and French society!
Finding an Apartment Brush up your French vocabulary, as you will need it for flat hunting.
Students will find housing in a variety of studios or apartments in Paris. Some compromises may have to be made, so try to be flexible! Keep in mind that living conditions are different in France (smaller rooms, fewer facilities). Also bear in mind that the French students will not be in town until mid-October, approximately six weeks after you arrive. If you are dreaming of a French roommate, you may have to be patient, but it is always worth the effort.
They usually have tile floors, small bathtubs or a shower, a kitchenette, and a shared bedroom. They are more or less conveniently located, but in old buildings unlike somewhat different from what Americans are accustomed to. The buildings are probably noisier than you are used to. Lodging of guests may be acceptable, but this varies with landlords and roommates.
Helpful hints for finding housing: Use the following services - MICEFA, American Church in Paris (Quai D'orsay), and French/USA Contacts (FUSAC) magazine. You can also try to find housing through the newspaper classified ads, a renters magazine called De Particulier a Particulier, or rental agencies, but it is often more difficult as competition for apartments in Paris is high and most owners do not like to rent short term, nor to students, let alone foreigners. But that doesn't mean it is impossible, and don't be afraid to take the initiative to find suitable housing. Do not expect to be pampered by the MICEFA staff, even if they may prove your primary resource. Be sure to ask about everything: the type of heating, electricity, phone bills (electric heating is very expensive and phone service is even worse-you pay for all local calls too). Don't forget that you are going to have to be satisfied for an entire year, so you don't want to regret not having asked the necessary questions. You don't want to be one of the students trying frantically in January to find alternative housing because they are unhappy with their initial situation. If you can, bring statements of financial guarantee, i.e. bank statements, student loan statements, Financial Guarantee statement written by IP (this has proven to hold a lot of weight here) - they could come in handy. You should allow at least a couple of weeks to find a place to live. If you have the ability to come early, there is no one in Paris during the summer and apartments are much easier to find.
Homestay Living with a French family is an experience in itself (cuisine, slang, traditions, etc.), and if you have an open mind, it can be very satisfying. Here are some tips to help you prepare for your homestay. We recommend you take these suggestions very seriously.
Following is a list of issues that some of us had with our families. Read it carefully, consider them, and talk about it with your new family soon after your arrival.
If you use their telephone, don't abuse it. The French rarely telephone after 9:00 p.m. or before 8:00 a.m. Keep the calls short, not only because it's not your line, but French communication services are very expensive. If you are not allowed to use the phone (most students were), buy a phone card and use one of the many public phones. Or get a cell phone.
Having someone sleep over, such as friends and relatives, is typically not accepted.
Most French homes or apartments are quite small, so do not be shocked if your room is just the right size for a bed and a desk. This probably will not be up for discussion, but bear it in mind.
A few suggestions: Most families have their preconceived ideas about Americans and the US (based on movies and TV programs) and they will often voice them. Some are funny (all Americans are fat, Americans only eat hamburgers, etc.), and some might annoy you. (The French feel free to make statements that Americans would find rude.) Instead of getting angry or defensive, ask why they think that, try to understand, and do not forget that Americans have preconceived ideas about other cultures, too. Comparing stereotypes can be fun, if it is done diplomatically and with an affable outlook. Offer to help with the dishes or setting the table. It is a great time to talk or listen to another family member, and you will reap immense benefits in finding an entryway into the inner culture and language of the French. These activities also establish you into the family routine. Be sure to ask ahead of time how to use phone, laundries, bathroom, etc.
Above all, be considerate. Remember your real family might tolerate your "habits," but the same habits might annoy others. This is common sense. If you have any questions about behavior, ask your hosts what they expect. Communication is the key to your successful home-stay in France. So voice all concerns and ask all your questions at the beginning to obviate any conflicts. The French are not afraid to tell it like it is, so you shouldn’t be either…
Eating Out (Top)
Although restaurants tend to be expensive for students, there are many cheap places and snacks in Paris. Finding out the locations of the university restaurants (CROUS) is a great way to save euros and even to meet new people if you don't mind the cafeteria atmosphere.
Social Life (Top)
Your attitude, openness to new experiences, and patience in developing friendships will greatly affect your success in the social arena. Do not be afraid to socialize and speak French. You may find French students aloof when you meet them in cafes or nightclubs. Bear in mind that you are not unique in Paris. Instead you are just the latest in a yearly cycle of foreign students. It may take a great effort on your part before you can make congenial friendships. It is not impossible and it is very rewarding, but it takes time and effort on your part.
Past experiences have made it quite clear that many men in Paris, French and otherwise, seem to consider foreign women as prey. This is driven by the fact that there is a new group of foreign students in Paris each year. People will try to take advantage of your natural inclination to be friendly. This does not have to ruin your year or be frightening, but bare in mind that French men can be quite forward and persistent. Eye contact and a friendly smile will be construed as an unequivocal invitation in France. Women will need to learn to be prudent and to say no more strongly than they might need to in the US. Subtle hints are not the French way. Don't give in to pressure, which is a specialty of the amorous Frenchman, nor be afraid to be rude to those who persist!
Outside of classes, the best way to meet the natives is perhaps to pursue your hobby or interests while in Paris. The best advice you can have is to find a niche in Paris. What do you like to do? Dance, sports, playing chess, rollerblading, scuba diving.whatever it is, Paris almost certainly has a place for it. So get involved and create your Parisian life, don't wait for it to come to you. The most common complaint is about not meeting enough French people. But this inevitably comes from those who were not willing to come out of their shells and make something happen for them. There are numerous social organizations that are open to you; all it takes is some effort on your part to search them out. Paris is by far the cultural center of France, with a huge choice of activities offered every week. You can find what's happening in Paris in the weekly publications below:
Pariscope/Officiel de spectacles: These are weekly publications-new pamphlets come out each week and can be bought at any newsstand for under fifty cents. They include listings of all cinema times, museums, special expos, clubs, bars, restaurants-all the main extracurricular activities of Paris. A very good reference!
FUSAC: This is a good magazine for English/French speakers-new publications come out every two weeks on Wednesdays. It is FREE-and available at several locations around Paris (American Church on Quai d'Orsay, English Pubs etc..) It includes extensive listings of apartment and houses for rent, objects for sale, jobs and activities throughout Paris.
Medical: Health matters present no unusual problem. Medical and pharmaceutical services are comparable to those in the US. Your Resident Director and/or the Institute can recommend a doctor. Their charges are less than those in the US, usually 20 euros ("tarifs conventionnés") for a general practitioner, 30 euros or more for a specialist, but doctors can charge more if they wish. Prescription prices are also usually lower. Be aware that some medicine available over-the-counter in the US requires a prescription in France.
Consider bringing a yearlong supply of any medicine you have to use regularly. It may be cheaper to get a new prescription for the same medication in France. Talk to your doctor and look into availability. Pharmacies are open 24 hours on a rotating basis (Call the Commissariat or look at the postings at any pharmacy entrance to find the pharmacie de garde) and pharmacists are extremely helpful in advising remedies for common ailments. Doctors will make house calls in France (SOS Médecins).
Contraceptives are readily available and found everywhere in cheap public distributors.
Dental work is about 2 to 3 times less expensive than in the US but dental costs are not covered by student insurance. Since you are responsible for paying all medical bills upon treatment, funds for illness or emergency should be included in your budget. Program insurance will reimburse you at least partially (expect a month for reimbursement) for covered expenses, after the $100 deductible, (doctor's fees, hospital bills, drugs, and medical lab expenses) upon submission of bills. French doctors, and dentists expect their fee to be paid at the time of your visit.
n Paris, the subway (the "metro" is for short distances within Paris, whereas the "RER" is for longer distances in and out of Paris) is the best mean of transportation. With it, everything becomes within walking distance. Of course, a lot of walking will soon become a part of your everyday life. A card that is worth looking into is the "Carte Imagine 'R". This is a yearly metro pass for students under 26 years old. It is a very good deal but you have to know how many zones you will use, which may depend on the university you choose to attend. You should
get the special Carte Navigo,
which costs only 5 euros to purchase, then 4 euros for the picture, and you can constantly recharge your card for every month at any metro stop, which is VITAL FOR
Post: Airmail letters up to 20 grams and postcards to North America cost 0.90 euros. They generally reach California in 7 to 21 days. You may want to send valuable items "en recommandé" (registered mail). For Christmas mail be sure to allow 2 to 3 weeks for airmail. Surface mail is available; check for prices. Be careful to declare a minimum value to avoid additional customs tax. No need anymore to wait in line at the counters for stamping your letters, as there are now coin-operated stamping machines. There are weight and size limits for outgoing packages. The Post Office will handle packages up to 20 kg (44 lbs.). The SERNAM service is no longer available, so for packages over 5 kgs (11 lbs), try Economy Mail. Itemized customs declarations must be filled out for each package. There are weight and size limits for outgoing packages. The Post Office will handle packages up to 20 kg (44 lbs.).
Hair care: French barbers are excellent but can be expensive. For men a wash, cut and style runs about 15 euros. For women the price can be double or more, depending on the salon. Designer hair care products are very expensive. If you insist on a certain American name brand, plan on bringing some with you, or having it shipped to you.
Cameras and Film: While film is somewhat more expensive in France, developing costs significantly more than in the States (and do not count on free doubles). Photo Station will be your cheapest option. Most types of film are available.
Laundry and Dry Cleaning: Laveries abound in Paris and they are all the same price. A single wash load costs 3 euros. Dryers cost 0.30 euros per six minutes or 0.80 euros per 15 minutes, count on a minimum of 3 euros. You may want to practice your hand-washing skills before you arrive. Woolite is sold in France though there is a cheaper French generic brand. Most laundromats also have coin operated dry-cleaning machines, 8.40 euros per load. This is much more economical than a cleaners. If your lucky enough to have a washer in an apartment you WILL NOT have a dyer, so get used to hanging your clothes to dry…saves the color though.
Telephone: France Télécom will be happy to install a telephone in your apartment at their convenience. (Count on it taking several weeks sometimes). The cost of installation (cheaper for students) is 30 euros or 40 euros depending on whether or not previous tenants had a phone. The basic service will cost you 7 euros per month, plus your local (minimum 3 euros per month) and long distance calls (available through other companies than France Télécom). Itemized billing is not standard but can now be obtained for free upon request. Also available are "receive only" and "local only" phone lines which may entail additional expense. It is more expensive to call overseas than from the US. It is more economical to have friends and family call you and then reimburse them. Or you can use a card.
Calling cards, whether through ATT, Sprint, or MCI make reaching the States a lot easier, but much more expensive than with French calling cards. Note for US calling-card users: the phone number in France for an American operator is 00-0011. The "Euro Latina" calling card seems to be the best deal: it offers from 300 to 1280 minutes of calls to the US, for 15 euros depending on how you call, from a public or private or cell phone, through a regular or 800 number or through a call back system, all available on the card. Calls from a cell phone are always much more expensive. Watch out also for the expiration date (usually 3 months). For more information on other phone cards: www.allomundo.com
In France, all public telephones are "chip"-card operated. These "télécartes" have a microchip rather than a code or magnetic stripe and can be bought at any "bar-tabac" (tobacco shop, usually in a café/bar): 50 units for 8 euros and 120 units for 15 euros. They should be used mostly for domestic calls, not for international calls. Checking expiration dates is always a good idea. Once you get settled, you will probably want to look into a mobile phone.
Nearly all students opt to get a cell phone. It turns out to be pretty expensive if you call overseas from a cell phone, so use a phone card (cf. above). However, mobile phones ("portables") are more popular and services are often cheaper than in the US (depending on the value of the dollar). Because of the lack of compatibility between the different cell phone systems in the US, I doubt that your cell phone will work in Europe (GSM 900/1800 Mhz), but I advise you to bring it if it is a tri-band phone (GMS 900/1800/1900 Mhz). There are two types of cell phone services: a monthly subscription (you usually get a free phone with it) costing around 30 euros per month for 2 hours, or a rechargeable card system (you buy the phone) if you do not call often. Based on experience, absolutely avoid at all cost the mobile of Orange (it belongs to France Télécom). There are two other companies, SFR and Bouygues Télécom, which are about equivalent. In France if someone calls you, you don’t get charged or minutes don’t get taken away, its free! The art of Texting is vital and cheaper.
Computers and internet: DSL is available for those bringing a computer, but you must be able to get a land line and most plans require a one year contract. Prices are coming down (as cheap as 20 euros for 128K, 30 euros for 512k), and having the internet readily available to you may be worth it. For those without computers, internet cafés are very abundant. Also, many of the universities offer free internet access, but you have to be willing to wait in long lines to get to a computer, and time limits are often applied. Bringing a computer is a good idea if you are used to typing your papers, though this is not usually required in French universities.
Electricity is an issue for printers and accessories, but usually not for laptop computers. Europe and most of the industrialized world uses 220V/50 hertz rather than our 110V/60 hertz. Never plug an electrical device constructed for 110V in a 220V outlet (or vice versa). You will need to have a converter for most electronic appliances, which can be bought at places like Surcouf, near Gare de Lyon. DO NOT BRING BLOWDYERS, Please make sure to not bring that many electrical appliances with you.
Shopping: Paris has a huge number of quality shops and boutiques, but clothes tend to be expensive over here. If you must own Levi's Jeans and no other brand, buy them before you come over. Make sure not to buy any American brands because they will be very expensive. H&M can be your new best friend, as well many other stores, winter coats are cheaper in Paris than in the US due to the necessity, but please bring something warm before. Don’t be fooled by the small Euro price, it is more in dollars.
To buy cheap food, there are small supermarkets, and tiny grocery stores in every neighborhood. Food prices range drastically over here, but what you are used to paying in the States is pretty much what you'll be able to find here. There are many supermarkets, Champion, Ed and Leader Price, not to mention Auchan. But you'll find yourself buying locally. There are two other stores I have found that are of interest: Tang Frères and Paris Store both of which can be found in Chinatown. Take metro line 7 to the Port d'Ivry station and walk along the Avenue d'Ivry, you'll find both of them right next to each other on the left. The Paris Store can also be found at the metro station Belleville line 11 and 2. They carry stuff the other stores don't that may be of interest to you. Paris Store also has a phone card for the States, which is very price effective. You'll have to ask for it. It is the PTI COM + card which shows 15 euros on it, but, depending on which Paris Store I asked, they sold them for about fourteen euros for 808 minutes to anywhere in the States. You dial a local number, then a code, then the US country code (001), and then the number. An hour phone call cost me just over two euros 0,59 euros for the card and 1,38 euros for the local call.
Most products that are available in the States can be found here in some shape or form. You just have to be willing to look. However, if you do like a specific brand, you may want to consider bringing extras with you or having someone ship you some if necessary (shipping is not cheap and the mail system is not 100% reliable).
You probably have read it at least once already and you'll read it again in most of whatever your exchange program gives you, most students spend way too much in the first two months they're over here. So watch out!
*Carte Imagine 'R': This is a yearly pass for unlimited transport on the Metro, RER and Bus. It is available to students 26 and younger. The cost depends upon zone usage: Zones 1-3 (Paris and nearby suburbs, including Nanterre University) costs around 350 euros/year, which is about 30 euros/month, about 1.10 euros/day. Obtain an application at any metro guichet and send in your form ASAP-Sept! The Carte Imagine 'R' also comes in handy in other aspects of your student life- enabling you to enjoy discounts at McDonald's and Gaumont Cinemas!
*Carte 12-25: This card is offered by SNCF Train and EuroStar travel throughout France and Europe. A 44 euros one-time purchase saves you between 25 and 50% on all tickets, and even some airlines. For any travel-plan ahead, often a month's notice entitles you to even greater promotions.
UGC Movie Theaters: Offers interesting prices for regular movie-goers. Promotions are offered in terms of number of movies and/or months (ex. 5 movies/mth=30E, instead of paying separately and it costing 40 euros). Visit any UGC for details. Or a year long card offering unlimited movie-going for a great price, if you're a real fanatic. This is much better than in the states, I own a card, and it pays itself off after every two films I’ve seen. This is also a good way to re-watch a film in French to practice your comprehension skills.
FNAC Card: This store (FNAC) has everything in multimedia-CDs, Radios, Computers, Tech supplies, Books, Concert Tickets etc.If you think you might be a regular shopper-apply for a member-card with a low sign-up fee, and start earning points towards free gifts!
Eurorail Pass It is best to buy in Europe, rather than in the US. Find out more from any SNCF boutique.
ISIC Card: Good, general card. Offers some promotions on travel-automatically designates you as a student, and is recognized by many. You can get information on the internet at www.isic.org.
Academic Life (Top)
The Academic life is very different in Paris than in California. Do not get caught in making comparisons. But one thing is sure: the system is not user friendly; you must make things happen for yourself and get used to taking the initiative.
Registering for classes: You must have a lot of patience and persistence. Independence is a must. There is no one to guide you all the time. It is very important to ask questions, so you will quickly have to overcome the intimidation of addressing people in French. Information is not volunteered and no one coddles foreign students. You must have approval of courses by the director of the university/department. Catalogues and schedules are by department-one must go to the department office, called the UFR, to obtain one. Each department lists its classes outside the department. You go to each specific department to enroll in the desired classes. You may find when you get there you must wait in long lines or you are turned away because you came on the wrong date or wrong time. A student signs up for classes by handwritten forms (no computer or phone registration system). You must be registered in the computer as a student in order to receive a university ID card. A student may also have to "crash" a course-but usually is able to add the class with no problem. Therefore, it is advisable to always over-enroll since there are no dropping formalities. It gives you a wider range of classes to choose from and allows some leeway once you discover the professor and the course content to drop if they do not meet your expectations. SAY GOODBYE TO ONLINE REGISTRATION and WELCOME TO FRENCH BUREAUCRACY!!!
MICEFA is a great help with administrative issues, but it is up to you to determine what is best for you (with the advice of the Resident Director). With a choice of more than ten universities, you can find something that suits you, but you must be willing to be flexible. You are sure to be annoyed by the French system at one time or another, but it almost always works out with some patience and determination.so don't stress. Having an idea of what you would like to accomplish helps a lot, but don't pass up the opportunity to take a class that interests you with some French students. Also, when you run across the grouchy secretary for the third time in one day, remember you aren't the only student she's seen multiple times asking the same questions.
Most classes consist mainly of lectures and an occasional activity. Oral presentations by students, individually and in groups, are very common. Grading is often based on 1 or 2 exams throughout the semester and on presentations. Syllabi are not common in French universities. Required readings are given orally. Professors rarely expect students to buy many books so you will not have to spend near as much money on books here. The professor-student relationship is not nearly as close as it may be in the States. The professor may be available for questions after class, or at an arranged time, but 'office hours' are not common at all. Usually the teachers tend to be receptive to a foreign student, and try to accommodate.
Libraries can be found easily throughout Paris. Whether public, such as the Georges Pompidou Center, or on campus, there are a myriad of libraries at your disposal. A list of local bibiliotheques de quartier can be obtained at the Hotel de Ville de Paris. Students enrolled in courses in the Art History Department can receive a stamp on their student ID card, allowing them to enter most museums in Paris for free!
The Academic Program in Paris (Top)
Your first challenge will be deciding which university to attend. This decision can hinge on many things. To be considered are location of the campus, your level of French (some campuses have classes specific to foreigners, in others you will blend in with the French), your main areas of interest (not all subjects are taught at all campuses, and some, such as Paris I or Paris V are very specific), and finally your expectations for the year (how hard do you want to push yourself?). Here are some of the more common choices for IP students:
Paris III - Sorbonne Nouvelle Sorbonne Nouvelle is nice because it's in Paris and the area is beautiful. There is one main building, but classes are spread out to different buildings all over the city. Most classes seem to be huge lectures with 100 students or so. You will be more anonymous in these classes than at Nanterre or Saint Denis, which is not so beneficial for a foreign student.
Paris X - University of Nanterre
The city of Nanterre is rather industrial and does not offer much to tourists. The University of Nanterre is located just outside of Paris on the west side, 10-15 minutes by the RER metro from Charles de Gaulle Etoile (Arc de Triomphe), next to the RER station.
Nanterre is a large university. For general courses, you can find just about anything to satisfy credits at your home university. The buildings are spread apart, and categorized into area of study i.e. Economics, Linguistics etc. Class size can range from 20/30 people to more than 100, and they normally last 2 hours. The Office of International Relations is located in Bldg A and is the best place to begin for student card and general course information. Again, you need to be patient in locating classes and dealing with teachers in order to make sure the course is at your appropriate level. Nanterre does have a substantial sports department with an indoor swimming pool and outside tennis courts. It is one of the few universities in Paris which has an integrated campus. The campus has a French Library, an international library, a university restaurant/cafeteria (Resto-U) which costs about $2-3 for a meal, a pizzeria, and a couple of snack bars. A list of the Resto-U can be found at the MICEFA or the CROUS (a student union) nearby the MICEFA office.
This particular campus has a French as a Foreign Language program which can be completed in one semester. Students in this program are foreigners from all over, so the admissions office is familiar with equivalency and grading procedures and the professors are conscious of the fact that some students have never had any exposure certain subjects, that there are different levels of language, etc. The campus is fairly accommodating for foreign students. The "French as a Foreign Language" program (FETE) is one where you actually receive a Diploma from the French university! However remember that you need at least 3 hours to receive 3 credits at home, Nanterre is not very wise when it comes to this situation.
Paris VIII - Vincennes St. Denis
Vincennes St. Denis is in the north of Paris, which means at least 45 minute metro ride. The metro stop is located directly across from the campus. The campus is a liberal-arts university and the environment is similar to that of a community college. Some courses are offered at an annex building off campus, a bus ride of approximately 5 minutes. The student population is very eclectic in nationality. The library is very modern and offers a great study environment. A computer lab with internet access is available to students. The number of computers is limited and there is a one-hour maximum limit on use and usually up to an hour wait. Classes at St. Denis are 3 hours, compared to 2 hours at Nanterre. That means that you get 3 units for each class instead of 2. Inexpensive food options are available on campus. There is absolutely no structure within the FLE classes, you will be in a class with a mixture of foreign students with various levels of French which makes it really hard for the professors to teach. However, I feel that the registration within the FLE department is much easier than at Nanterre.
Paris IX - Dauphine
Dauphine is located on the northwest side of Paris, metro Porte Dauphine. It is one of the smaller universities, and perhaps one of the more elite because it has a selection process for its entry students. Dauphine specializes in Business degrees, offering courses in General Business, Marketing, Finance, Economics, International Relations and more. There are also usually at least 10 different courses offered in various subjects taught in English. There are also some FETE (French as a Foreign Language) courses available. The Office of International Relations is helpful for obtaining your student card and listings of courses. Class size can be anywhere between 10 and 100 people, depending on the subject, and anywhere from 1.5 - 3 hours in length. Everything is located within one main building complex on 6 different floors. There are several computer labs located throughout the building offering free access to the Internet. There is a sports department offering a variety of club activities. Dauphine is always organizing student trips during holidays to other parts of France and Europe for very reasonable prices. The best advice to remember with any university in Paris is to be persistent in locating your courses and teachers. The system is not as organized as one may find in the States, and often times classes do not begin or are not located when and where they are said to be. In general, the faculty at Dauphine is helpful and excited to have foreign students, especially English speakers, and there seems to be a better cohesion among French students here. However, because these French students have been accepted to Dauphine, they are not necessarily open to strangers, so don’t count on them opening their doors first.
Packing for a year is not easy. Most students recommend packing light and adjusting to a limited wardrobe. It should be reminded that you will be carrying all your luggage on your own. How does one pack light for a year? There is no easy answer but a good rule of thumb is to gather all of your "necessary" items and then pack only half of them.
Remember, the more you bring over, the more you have to send home and the French post office does not offer surface mail. List the contents on the outside of the package as "DES EFFETS PERSONNELS" and declare a maximum value of 30 dollars (never declare the actual value, especially if you are sending used personal items) to avoid customs costs and problems, and insure the package.
At the risk of insulting your intelligence, here is a short list of essential items to bring with you. If you have traveled before you will have your own ideas.
Soap & travel size shampoo
A week's supply of shirts/blouses
Two pairs pants/jeans (this is all on you)
Comfortable walking / tennis shoes (Shoes are cheaper in Paris, especially for men, so buy more here, and please remember you WILL WALK A LOT)
Swiss army knife (in your suitcase, not with you on the plane)
Warm clothing to include:
Cotton sportswear for warm days
You should consider bringing:
Lap-top computer (most adapters are made for intl. current)
Outfit for formal occasions (i.e. Job interviews/meetings)
Hiking boots (if you really are a hardcore hiker)
A year's supply of any prescription drugs you use regularly (US prescriptions cannot be filled here BUT you may get a French doctor to give you a new prescription - Be sure to check on availability of meds with your own doctor first).
Your favorite cold remedies, especially flu remedies (i.e. Nyquil, Contac)
An extra pair of glasses (French optometrists do not read American prescriptions)
Common items which may be extremely expensive here:
Contact lens wearers can find everything they need in Paris, but products are different and may be expensive. Soft lens products are available under the same circumstances.
You do not need to bring any toiletries, except those needed for your trip unless you feel you must have a certain brand. You will be able to find everything you need in France.
If you have to make a choice, opt to pack lighter - common sense is always the first thing to pack. Remember, many metro stops are not wheelchair friendly, or luggage friendly you will probably WALK UP AND DOWN MANY STEPS to get your stuff from point A. to point Z.
Many students travel on weekends, most often to the surrounding countryside or other neighboring countries. Vacations (two weeks at Christmas, one or two weeks in February, two weeks at Easter) provide students with the time for lengthy travel.
Students usually budget a minimum of 40 euros a day for vacation travel not including transportation. You can save money by making arrangements to stay in the youth hostels. You can buy a Youth Hostel card before your departure from the US or after your arrival at the local hostel. Accommodations there are fairly comfortable and cost approximately 20 euros per night with breakfast. Prices vary in other countries. In budgeting for meals, students usually save by shopping for food in supermarkets or bakeries rather than eating in restaurants.
If you plan to go to other countries during vacation, you can always count on train expenses running at least 125 euros round-trip to central spots in Europe. During the October break, remember that some hotels may be closed. Also, there is a tendency to indulge in the local specialties and to buy souvenirs, so two-week vacations cost between 500 euros and 700 euros. Students are always surprised to find that travel is so expensive. Most countries have their own kind of passes - check with any travel agency. There are some excellent values on French Rail Passes which can only be purchased in the US (by you or a friend) up to six months in advance. They are valid for any 15 or 30 day period, so they are great values for Christmas or Easter traveling if you are staying in France.
Another way to save on transportation is to buy a Student Eurailpass, which will allow you to travel by railroads, second class, for a one- or two-month period throughout most of Europe. These passes cannot be bought in Europe, but if you decide you want one after having left, someone in the States can buy it for you. All they need is your passport number. Eurail Passes cannot be used in Great Britain or in most of the former Eastern Bloc countries, but if you check with travel agencies in the States these areas offer train passes of their own. Interrail Pass, on the other hand, can be bought only in European countries (including the UK) and also in Morocco. You pay half-price in the country of purchase, nothing after that.
Final Checklist and Reminder of Thing to do Before Leaving (Top)
BON VOYAGE ET BONNE CHANCE ! (Top)
THE FRENCH CULTURE/ FRENCH PEOPLE (a student's opinion .)
The French are just like Americans in many ways: they eat food, sleep, work, go to school... . The differences between cultures may take a little while to get used to, but in the end they are minor.
Food: French people tend to eat dinner very late in the evening, around 8 or 9. Breakfast is usually bread and coffee. If you like cereal and stuff, they have it at the grocery stores, but don't expect bacon and egg breakfasts at the restaurants. Fast food is a new concept here - vegetarians can eat 3-cheese paninis or crepes, while meat eaters can go to the Kabobs for sandwiches. Restaurants in Paris are more expensive, especially the ones that charge for water (some do).
Dating: Remember that you are no longer in the States, and you must come to Paris with an open mind and patience. Men and women are very different from American men and women, obviously each experience will be very different from another, but remember to always say no if you feel like saying NO. Sexuality is much more indefinable in Paris than in California, the French are very open and they usually don’t like to be stuck with labels, remember come with an open mind, sex and dating is an open subject to which the French love to express and explore.
Alcohol: French people, like Americans, do not really appreciate rowdy drunken behavior - drinking wine is a part of the culture here, but abusing it will not win friends. Remember you are considered an adult to the fullest extent at 18, so by 21 most French people have built a tolerance to alcohol and can probably drink more than Americans, if you should happen to not be used to it, remember moderation is key, but please do have fun.
Clothes: French people wear jeans and sneakers; so don't worry about fitting in. While Paris is a very style conscious town, people wear a huge variety of different styles. Although, Parisians are more likely to pick out darker clothes then bright Californian Colors.
Holidays: The French have more vacations than we do, and they work less often during the week - many grocery stores, banks, and stores in general are closed Sunday and/or Monday. Take this into account when shopping. 24-hour stores do not exist - most markets close around 8 or 9 PM. Sundays are not good days to go shopping for anything important.
Cafés: Find one that you like and frequent it. This is where you will see the most of day-to-day French life. Try the cafes at the Bastille, on Oberkampf, or in the Latin Quarter. Do not be surprised if you must pay to go to the bathroom, even if you did buy a coffee. Some cafes still have the old fashioned squatting toilets - good luck! Food is not served at all hours in cafes OR restaurants, many close during the afternoon. Make sure EXPLORE this is the only way to find out your favorite spots.
Art: Some of the museums in Paris offer free admission on the first Sunday of each month. Take advantage of this! The French LOVE to read and you will find bookstores everywhere. Magazines, as well as the daily papers, are a great way to practice French. There are tons of movie houses in Paris too, many on the Champs-Elysées. Every Wednesday the new films are released, making this a busy night at the cinema. Sunday on the Champs is also really crowded. Some cinema chains sell weekly, monthly and yearly passes that heavily discount the price, and these are worth looking into. Watch non-English films or dubbed English films to improve your French! The louvre is free every Friday night from 6pm until 10pm for 26 and under so take advantage!!!
Library: Your school will have a library, but the Centre Georges Pompidou also has a great library for studying. Checking out books is difficult, if not impossible, to do in Paris, but buying used books is easy, and they're everywhere.
Conversation:When speaking casually, French people tend to replace the "nous" form for the impersonal "on" singular... I guess it is easier to say. For example, "nous partons?" becomes "on y va?" or "on bouge?"
Paris in particular and France in general are definitely in gastronomic country. The food here is divine! One of my favorite parts about this culture is the vegetable and fruit markets that happen every day of the week in different parts of the city.
As for politics, I have found that one of the preferred things to do among Parisians is to sit, eat wonderful food, such as bread, cheese, meats, and wine, and debate with friends for hours on end. I have found that among the youth, it is surprisingly easy to engage yourself in political conversation and it has always been peaceful for me. The general consensus, to clarify the stereotype that all French people hate Americans, is that French people like American people, they just don't agree with our politics. They see America as being the most powerful country in the world and it is alarming to the people here, myself included, that America is not taking responsibility for its consumption and power. French people are in love with OBAMA and now really don’t like their president Sarkozy, take advantage, it was not always like this.
Paris has undeniably been the most enriching experience of my life and I know I could write a whole book on it. I am so happy I am staying the whole year...I feel like I am just starting to speak French fluently and know this culture more thoroughly.
CULTURE SHOCK (Top)
What has my year been like so far? Frustrating but well worth it. It seems that there are two kinds of people. A wine maker might say that there are two types of people: those who prefer Pinot Noir or those who prefer Cabernet Sauvignon. You have the steak and potato type or the gourmet. Given the many generalizations there may be, the following is pertinent at the heart of a successful study abroad: there are those who remain close-minded (these types almost never embark successfully on a study abroad program) and those who become or who are open minded. I really struggle at times with a crucial American obsession: efficiency. There are students who really struggle, the ones who are hoarding their peanut butter jars even though they are empty, the ones who grimace at the baguettes and croissants and actually think American coffee is better than French (the French call our coffee "jus de chaussettes," or sock juice). These students are the ones who are rejecting a new way of looking at life. And that is all it is, a different way of looking at things. If you can change your perspective, then you can easily see that most American habits are not any better than those of other cultures. They're just different. And when a person is raised a certain way, it is not easy to change. Yet this will be the crux of your success in France: the ability to adapt to a new culture, a new way of living. You can butt heads with your new culture, or you can accept the differences, learn from them, and enjoy them. The choice will be yours. So make the best of it.
Another student says: A wise person once said, “Get ready to experience the beauty of culture shock.” Honestly, this experience will vary from one person to another, but this year or several months so far have been nothing short but dream. I probably like most of you who wanted to come here in Paris, have been dreaming of being here for as long as I can remember, and now that I am here, this experience will last until the end of my days. Yes, the shock at times can be nothing but small annoyances at others with the bureaucracy extraordinarily irritating. With relationships with friends or petit(e)s ami(e)s, you will have to learn to see things through completely new eyes. However, with all the shock the city is amazing, the people are interesting, and the culture shock is always going to be there, getting the blues in Paris is a great thing, and it will arrive at one point or another, you just have to take your long walks, get lost in the city and see what sort of magical things are in store for you. Other than this, no one can say what will be in store for you as an exchange student other than, the moment you arrive, take advantage of everyday, when you wake up you, wake up to Paris, to the city of lights. This will be your opportunity to push yourself to limits you never knew you had within you and the best relationship you will get from this experience is with yourself. You are now in control, you are the one who will be in charge of your own adventure, and you are the one who will gain the most from any experience you can have, bienvenue a Paris…
For Students traveling abroad with dependent children – Paris, France
These are some of my experiences studying abroad (through the IP Program) with my 12 year old daughter. I hope these pointers can help make the transition easier for other parents who hope to study abroad. It IS possible (even if your child does not speak French), it just takes a bit more preparation! You don’t need to pay for private schools, nor will your child’s education suffer (quite the contrary) – just use some of the links below…
OBTAINING VISAS FOR DEPENDENTS
Visa Application Website for the French Consulate in San Francisco:
One of my biggest challenges was the French Consulate in S.F. – they do not state on their site specifically what paperwork is needed for your application for your dependent child traveling with you. Basically it is similar to the list of requirements for an underage student – minus the financial documents (you will provide those for yourself already.) If you are a single parent, the important document they DO need, and may take some preparation to get – is a signed and notarized statement from the other parent that they give permission for the child to study abroad with you. State in the letter the dates by month (i.e., ‘I grant permission for xxxxx to study abroad in Paris France with xxxxxx from August 2009 to July 2010.)
The dates do not have to be exact, just showing they grant permission for the year. Even if you have full (100%) legal and physical custody of your child in a court notarized document, the French Consulate in Sand Francisco still requires this signed statement from the other parent.
You fill out a separate long-stay visa form for them, and bring their health insurance proof, vaccinations, plane ticket proof, and the notarized statement. I also brought her school records and other paperwork I thought they might ask for – be prepared. Bring along birth certificates, etc. just in case. (Yes. You will look funny carrying multiple, multiple file folders up there (an accordion file works wonders here), but they may require other documents, so have them on-hand.
Other pointers for the consulate:
Plan ahead; give yourself much more time than you think you need.
Because you are applying for a visa for your dependent child as well, it will take at least a week for them to process the paperwork. Student visas are usually given right there at the consulate the same day – but because you are applying with a child, it takes longer. They offer the service of the passports with visas being sent to you by FedEx, which could save you having to make a whole other trip to S.F. if you don’t live there. (I used this option, it worked quite well. But you have to pay for that, so bring a credit or debit card along!)
Keep your child’s vaccinations current, and get a TB test done just before you go to the consulate. (Thus the TB test date is as ‘current’ as it can be.)
Read the entire visa section thoroughly – at least twice. There is a lot of information provided there, and the more you know before you call or go in, the better the response will be to your requests.
If you have questions and need to call them – that can be a little bit tricky! Someone finally explained to me that the best hours to get questions answered or gather more information are when they are ‘closed’ in the afternoons. So look at the hours of operation listed, and call when advised – I have found after numerous calls the best afternoons, this year, were Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Monday and Wednesday they are processing applications in the afternoon, so it’s a bit more difficult.
Be patient and as polite as you can be; believe me, it will make a difference. The process can seem frustrating, but with pre-planning, and getting some answers/advice on the phone if need be, you will soon have the visas for you and your child!
ARRIVAL IN PARIS
SCHOOL AND HOUSING: So you have the visas, more luggage than you ever thought possible, and have finally arrived at Charles de Gaulle! My advice (and I have been thrifty this year, this is not suggested without ‘wallet watching’): take a cab or a shuttle. They are well worth the price! You will be jet-lagged. (You may not know it then) And your child will be jet lagged as well, and you’ll both be a bit overwhelmed. It is fine. Give yourself that luxury of being taken to the temporary housing in a way that is easy (luggage is loaded for you, and you get a view of the city as you drive in). And it’s safe. Plus, dealing with four suitcases plus a child on the Metro isn’t a great way to start the trip. There are several websites about airport shuttles (which you can make reservations for) or cabs – and OIP provides information as well. Here is one link that I have found for the Paris Shuttle (the drivers speak English and French): http://www.parisnet.com/parishuttle.html
After getting settled in, your first priority must be to secure your housing. There is a fantastic program for non-French students (who speak anywhere from no French to not-quite fluent); but in order to enroll your child in that program, you must have your residence address and your Attestation de Hebergement. MICEFA has been a great help to me in finding housing – let them know your situation, so that you can get a first look at their housing lists. I also recommend living in the lower 19th or 20th arrondisements, the CASNAV program (I will explain it in a moment) is located there, and the school program your child will be in will likely be there as well. (This year, the entry level program and intermediate program are at College Robert Doisneau, 20th, near the Menilmontant Metro stop.)
Once you have your housing secured (be aware it may be tiny compared to what you are used to), you can begin the enrollment process for your child.
Here is the CASNAV website link: http://casnav.scola.ac-paris.fr/
I cannot recommend them enough. It is a free program through the French public school system, and they test your child and place them according to their level of French ability. (And yes, having ‘none’ is perfectly fine.) My daughter was in the very beginning level, and now has moved into the intermediate program – her French is growing by leaps and bounds, and best of all – she has said several times ‘I really love school, mom.’ The students are with other kids the same level of language, who are all feeling ‘outside’ and can understand each other and the challenges they all face – so they tend to make friends quickly. It is also in a regular French school, so during free times, they can make friends with other French students as well.
OK, now that I have raved about this program, here are the steps you go through:
First, you will need to get your child tested; here is the link (it’s on the CASNAV site clearly as well): http://casnav.scola.ac-paris.fr/page.php?espace=service
Unless you get there extremely early, there will likely be a line when you arrive. In that case, go inside and ask the security person at the counter in front (right up the steps) for a ticket (a number) for the next testing day. That will save you having to wait in line for hours and hours and the next day, get there before the time stated on the website, and at the time stated, they come out, and call numbers – you should have a low number since you got yours the day before.
There is a bit of waiting here and there – advise your child to bring something to read or do. The paperwork is straightforward (it is listed on the website) and the French ability testing is done that same day.
After the testing, they will take about two weeks to mail you the information about your child’s placement, and your initial meeting with the teacher. The teachers are extremely helpful, and several speak some English as well.
Be prepared though – you will be expected to buy many things for your child’s schooling; the list can be quite extensive! Try to plan on about 40-50 euros for those items (especially if they move up quickly into the second level, which requires more things to be bought.)
OTHER SCHOOL NOTES:
STIPENDS: There is a bourse (need-based stipend given out by the French Government) available for parents – the application for it is given out at the school, usually the second week after the child begins the program. It is for lower income families, and is from 100 euros to 377 euros, depending on your income. Use it! It really helps in offsetting the costs of the school supplies, and can cover your child’s ImagineR pass for the year as well! It asks for French financial documentation, but your tax return from 2007 will suffice; just attach a letter and a copy of your school ID explaining the situation.
PAPERWORK: You will have a packet of paperwork to fill out and bring back the first week of your child’s CASNAV program. (It will be given to you at the introductory meeting with the teacher.) One of the things you will need is a translation of your child’s immunization record – even though it is not needed by the consulate, etc. You can go to any pediatrician, and they will write out a letter certifying the immunizations are current. I recommend a doctor that we use, she is in the Marais (a bit far from us) but her office is lovely and she is very nice – and can understand a mix of French and English. Also, there is another routine vaccination that kids get here in France that they do not in the US, it is only 20 euros to get it, and also establishes a record/relationship with a pediatrician here as well.
The school will also give you several copies of a notarized statement; use one to get your child the ImagineR pass – which is really useful. Some Metro workers will tell you it is only for those over 18, but it is available for your child as well.
LUNCHES: Your child will eat lunch at school (no brown bags allowed); they are quite good, with plenty of options available. (We are vegetarian, and my daughter can eat quite well at the cafeteria at school.) You must go to the local Mairie (the town hall for the arrondisement) where they will assign you to a payment ‘tier’ for the meals. Go to the accueil center, they will tell what office in the Mairie to go to. Bring your bank statement (your American bank statement is fine if you don’t have a French one yet), showing your income level, and your student paperwork. They will then determine the level of your school lunch fees – for example, we pay 2 euros per meal for my daughter.
You are sent a bill once every two months by the school, and pay by check (you’ll need to have opened your French bank account by then for that). You could just leave the paperwork in a drop-off box, but since the situation is a bit different than the norm, I found it was easier to wait in line after taking a number. It took a while, but the whole process was done that day, and I had her lunch fee scale taken care of, and my documentation of that, right there.
VARIOUS OTHER INFORMATION CATEGORIES:
TRANSPORTATION: Until your child gets an ImagineR pass, if they are under 10, you can buy them a carnet of tickets ‘reduit’. A normal packet of 10 Metro tickets is 11.40, for the child’s reduced fee, it is 5.90 for 10 of them. (I have found they do not check your child’s age closely, but it is important that they have a ticket on them and not ‘hop’ the Metro – every so often, they do check to see who has legitimate tickets and fine those who do not have a valid ticket on them.)
ILLNESS/PHYSICIANS: The office visits here are 20 euros, and the medicines are not expensive at all – the medicines from my daughter’s bout with the flu were a total of 7 euros! You can also go into the ‘pharmacie’ and ask them for recommendations; they often have most common ailment solutions right there, and they are very helpful in giving advice – it could save you a visit to the physician.
SHOPPING: To get the numerous supplies your child will need, I recommend the Auchan or the Carrefour. They can be a bit overwhelming, but with some patience and time, you can save a lot of money over shopping at the Monoprix. If you walk into the store with the items in a bag and the receipt, you might be detained by store security (they see it as shoplifting). So tape the bag shut, and look for the exchange and return area outside.
The farmer’s markets are a great way to shop, and many are year-round. Here is a site that lists most of them:
They are fun, and really, really inexpensive, a fun thing to do with your child, plus it is a great way to see a ‘local’ side of the city. For most regular groceries, LIDL, ED, and Leader Price are the three lowest priced stores. (There are many of them in the 19th and 20th arrondisements.) FranPrix can also be quite reasonable, but their prices vary, depending on the neighborhood – a ‘nicer’ or more tourist-centered area will have higher prices; the same items in another more ‘out of the way’ FranPrix will be lower. Also, there are many Asian markets just off the Belleville Metro stop.
ACTIVITIES: There is a really fun (and free) pet ‘market’ on Sundays, get off at the Cité Metro stop – you can’t miss it! It’s a nice leisurely way to see some animals and pet them. Just across the way (follow the crowd) are the line of pet stores, which are open on Sundays.
I also recommend the Disney ‘Passeport Francilien’. After you have your residency documents, you can get this annual pass for 89 euros. Right now they are offering a special that kids under 12 get their ‘Passeport Francilien’ for free when you buy yours – this is well worth it, and for the price of one visit, you can go all year long with only a few restrictions. (It is also worth it, I think if your child is over 12 and you plan on going at least twice during the year.) It also gets you 10% off food and beverages – so show it when you buy something to eat or drink there.
VETERINARIAN/TRAINERS: If you are crazy enough, as I was, to add a dog into the mix after you arrived here, there is a French and English speaking vet who is quite reasonable:
Clinique vétérinaire Hélène Rouilly
232, rue des Pyrénées
Tél : 01 46 36 84 21
There are also some trainers who speak English as well (your child may or may not be ready for obedience lessons in French!) A native English-speaking trainer can be reached at email@example.com. I am working with a trainer who speaks some English, mostly French, but who is very reasonable and quite good: www.canivence.com.
I hope this has helped you at least get a bit more familiar with Paris – it is challenging. But it is also amazing, and beautiful, and something you and your child will not forget. If you have any questions or concerns that I might be able to help with, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bonne Chance!
Last Updated 3/6/09 DAP