For friends and family:
Anyone who knows me, will know how excited I have been about this trip for a very long time. The wannabe Parisian in me has been lusting after the culture of the city of lights since I first saw the opportunity to apply to the summer school. The nerd in me has been eager to take the opportunity to study a subject I love in such a prestigious university.
For those of you who haven’t been subject to my ‘child-before-christmas’ like enthusiasm, let me tell you a little about what it is exactly I am doing here. At Cardiff University we have something called the ‘Global Opportunity Centre’. It does pretty much what the name suggests, offering students opportunities to either work, study or volunteer abroad. There are a number of organisations they have links with but are equally supportive of opportunities you have found on your own. They offer generous bursaries enabling any student to take advantage of these opportunities. I decided to apply to Sciences Po Summer school.
The summer school is a month long and there are multiple courses to choose, taught either in French or in English. I am studying Gender Equality and Society which is about how economic and social organisations rely on the sexual division of labour.
The summer school provided choices for accommodation, you could either stay in halls of residence (which didn’t look dissimilar to Taly) or apply through an organisation called ‘Comforts of Home’ to be allocated an apartment in a residential area.
The First 24 hours
Although Paris is so close, the journey felt surprisingly long. I probably only have myself to blame for this because of the gigantic backpack I trekked from home, across London and then to Paris! ( top tip number 1, suitcases on four wheels are the way forward!). I was equally weighed down by nerves as I was by my luggage!
I am in a small apartment, sharing with one other girl from the summer school named Karla who is from Mexico. It’s a very quirky apartment, on the third and a half floor, split over 2 and a half levels (I wasn’t aware that was architecturally viable… apparently in Paris it is). It is small but we have everything we need and it felt like home straight away.
Having been up since 6 am and had about 2 hours sleep I was of course, shattered! We unpacked and went to a local restaurant for dinner. We then walked down the the Notre Dame which was truly breathtaking and then strolled back home. The neighbourhood is probably exactly what you expect of Paris! Busy by day with lots of people wandering around and heaving by night with locals pouring out of cafes with cigarettes and wine. Walking back to the apartment after dinner was like a page out of a Hemingway book.
That moment where you are in bed waiting to fall asleep is the moment where you realise what has come of the day. At home that would be what you’ve done that day, what you need to do
tomorrow. What you enjoyed, what are you anxious about… you know the feeling. Getting into bed on the first day of arriving in an unfamiliar city, where you don’t speak the language is quite surreal.
The following day I had the task of venturing across the city to fill out paperwork for the accommodation. This would involve navigating the metro, a fairly daunting task. Furthermore, karla had joined her parents who were staying in Paris for the day so I was on my own. All in all, it was a very unsuccessful trip! I got lost (shocker!) and after trying to find my way for about two hours I had got myself into a bit of a panic. I tried to get back to the apartment but again, got lost and just wound up more lost and quite upset by this point. I eventually got back and decided that this would be a much more successful trip with company so asked Karla to join me later on! I texted my mum and sister who had some lovely words of support and advice which quickly got me out of the panic I had plunged into.
So there we have it, the first 24 hours are always the hardest when embarking on anything new! They were nerve wracking, exciting but thankfully out of the way and I am looking forward to growing more confident and becoming slightly more settled in this beautiful city.
For Future Students
( this section follows on from the previous )
I don’t have to tell you what an exciting and fantastic opportunity this is because we already know that! What I can tell you is my personal experience and share a few lessons I learn along the way.
At the first GOC meeting it was wonderful to meet other people going on adventures and find out where people were going. Although it was exciting, I came out feeling slightly as though I was the one ‘playing it safe’. Everyone I spoke to seemed to be doing things further away and further out of their comfort zones. This may be true, however I now realise that it doesn’t make this experience any less valid! You are equally entitled to be nervous. I think I underestimated the scale of the challenge which made these first few 24 hours difficult.
The second piece of advice I have picked up is that if you don’t speak French, people are much more forgiving if you ask them to speak English, in french! So number one phrase ‘parlez-vous anglais?’.
Thirdly write down all of your key addresses somewhere easily accessible. Your phone is good but somewhere paper is preferable as you don’t want to waste your battery or make yourself a target for pick-pockets. This way if you need to ask for directions people are more likely to understand something written. (Unless you speak French, in which case this will be a slightly easier endeavour!)
Best of Luck! Xxx