Bon­jour Paris, au revoir com­fort zone!

My first weeks in France didn’t go to plan. Despite all my preparations, unforeseen challenges kept coming up. Read on to find out how I solved them and what I learned in the process!

Isabelle in front of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
Photo: private

Hello, my name is Isabelle and I like to plan things down to the last detail. So, naturally, that’s how I approached my semester abroad in France: Weeks before my departure, I was looking for an apartment in Paris, of course - unfortunately without success. I ended up having to drag my suitcase to a hostel – a first personal challenge, right on day one!

As it turns out, the apartment hunt works better on-site anyway: The Parisian housing market is very fast-moving, because contracts are often signed directly after the first viewing and you can move in immediately afterwards. If you want to be sure to have a place waiting for you upon your arrival, you student residences are your best bet - for example "Cité U", "Crous" or a so-called foyer privé.

After searching for an apartment on the usual platforms, such as Seloger, PAP and Carte des Colocs, you should definitely go to a viewing of your prospective apartment and convince the landlord or landlady to rent it to you. Online, however, one should be careful about sharing one's data. I have often encountered dodgy ads, where either the photos did not match up (sometimes you could see a window from one angle, in the next pic from another perspective it was suddenly gone), or they tried to get me to transfer money in advance.

Near death experience with public transport

Oftentimes, if you’re not French yourself, you’ll find landlords to be quite sceptical. Personally, I was able to prove my trustworthiness through calls and showing up in person. I now I live in a small flat in a student residence – it’s unfortunately quite expensive, but feasible through Erasmus and DFH funding. If you want to rent for under 900 euros per month in Paris, student accommodation provider "Crous" is pretty much your only option.

Next, I needed a ticket for public transport. The good news: At 350 euros a year, a student ticket in Paris is even cheaper than in Berlin! The application for the "Imagine R" ticket takes place completely online, which is also very convenient – that is, if everything is working as it should.

If, as was the case for me, you wake up to a message saying your account has been locked because you are either deceased or already existed on the system, it's a little more difficult. Not even the real-life employees at the metro stations have no way of changing your online status. But even in this situation a solution could be found: After several phone calls to the central office, I eventually ended up speaking with the right person who could have my ticket printed. By the end of the week, my “Imagine R” was in the mailbox - almost on time!

Overcoming administrative hurdles

So, off to university I went! The next challenges were already waiting when it came to enrolment and course selection. The biggest tip I can give others in my position is this: Have a lot of patience and a good level of basic trust! At first, the international students couldn’t enrol in any of the compulsory seminars via the portal. After hours of waiting and a few discussions at the Scolarité (the enrolment office), however, the problem was solved for most of us with a manual registration.

Registering for the university sports classes worked the same way – and was so worth it: I can only recommend these courses to all international students. On the one hand, it’s a great opportunity to get in touch with French students, and on the other hand, by taking part in sports courses, you get additional points for the exams at the end of the semester. So, it’s not only good for your health, but you can also improve your grades by working out once a week!

Overall, here’s what I’ve learned so far: You can plan all you want, but that doesn't mean things will always go according to what you had in mind. On the contrary, when you go to France, it is not unlikely that you will run into unforeseen obstacles from time to time. But my experience over the last few weeks has shown me that, with a good dose of flexibility and perseverance, it’s entirely possible to overcome these hurdles. You definitely have to get out of your comfort zone, but there are always helpful people who’ll offer support. Once everything is sorted out, you’ll find that you are more capable than you may have expected to begin with.

(Published 31 October 2022)