Ok, so I’m not here to tell you it’s all going to be terrible but I am going to be brutally honest about a few of the struggles I had upon my arrival in Paris and during my first couple of weeks here. Before you get reading, start worrying and over thinking, it’s not all doom and gloom and of course, it does and will improve exponentially throughout the year and then no doubt, settling back in for fourth year at Cardiff will be the next challenge! The plan here is also to throw in a few little cultural observations I’ve made at the end, so don’t get too disheartened and do carry on reading!
As with moving to any new city, getting about the place is one of the first hurdles you will encounter. Therefore, public transport must be at the top of your to-do list upon arrival. Having lived fairly rurally back home, I have driven myself everywhere since the age of 17 and in Cardiff, as I’m sure you are all by now aware, everywhere is within walking distance. Of course, I have used the tube, and various other forms of public transport when travelling, but it has never been part of my everyday. If like me, you also have a dodgy sense of direction, Apple / Google Maps or Citymapper will become your new best pal. Once you have your daily commute down, the rest (including all of the getting lost) becomes exploring. The cost of public transportation is obviously city dependant but I would advise looking into some kind of travel pass (e.g. Navigo card in Paris) to make this aspect of your year abroad life as economic as possible.
Accommodation was my top pre-departure concern. I had somewhat underestimated how difficult it would be to find somewhere even remotely affordable in central Paris. This has resulted in me living in a semi-suburban Air B&B room in a shared flat, which is working out well for the most part but has left me a little further away from other students than I would have perhaps liked and will definitely look for in Lyon. Thus, be organised and start looking for somewhere to live ASAP. It can be a little scary when you’re on the verge of homelessness just days before your flight but if it comes to that, remember there are always temporary options and it could be easier to find somewhere once you’re actually in your new country.
Moving from the Welsh capital to the French, there has certainly been a jump in expenses so your finances are another boring adult measure to bear in mind. I’ve been learning the hard way thus far.
LANGUAGE & CULTURE
Now for the language barrier. This one was of course to be expected. Your target language is going to sound a little different in context and when spoken by your native peers than it has ever done in the confines of a classroom spoken by your numerous teachers over the years. I’ve got all my hopes set on the idea that only time will improve this aspect, practice makes perfect etc. In all honesty, when moving to a major European city the “culture shock” that everybody speaks of isn’t going to be massive, you’ll probably only notice a few little quirks.
I read somewhere recently that Paris is known as a lonely city and this reinforcement of something that I had been feeling, in turn made me feel much better about it and changed my outlook on this experience completely. As cliché as it may sound, your year abroad really is a time you can utilise to “find yourself” (as much as I tend to despise the term). Being alone is sometimes something we all need to embrace and self-entertainment, whether it be exploring your new home, studying or reading, is most definitely a valuable skill.
BAGUETTES, BERETS AND BICYCLES
To put all the rumours to bed, there aren’t men with handlebar moustaches walking around in striped t-shirts with strings of garlic or onions about their necks. There are however plenty of beret wearing ladies, lots of people on bicycles and people walk around with many a baguette (often nibbled at, as I think I have demonstrated rather well below) under one arm / in an artsy tote bag.
Everybody smokes. Ok, not everybody. But people of every age, on every street corner, are smoking. The smoking break at a nearby office looks to a passer-by somewhat like there has been a fire drill given the amount of people who have left said building.
MILITARY / POLICE PRESENCE
Perhaps it’s coming from a small town into a big city that has made me realise the heightened military and police presence, but armed police literally seem to be everywhere. Like ants on the ground.
As much as I hate to make generalisations, nobody in Paris queues and you’ve got to be much more assertive en route to the till or whilst embarking the métro.
GREEN DOESN’T MEAN GO
A green man means proceed with caution not go. Vehicles can (and will) still come at you from the left. This one, fortunately, I haven’t learnt the hard way.
EXPRESSION & EMOTION
People get visibly angry and cry in public. It’s so very un-British.