It is 14:20 on a Friday, the last of my first week of classes and we’re starting late because half of the class struggled to find the room in the Latin area of Paris-Sorbonne University. Nevertheless it’s a beautiful room and a reminder that we’re in a university that is hundreds of years old. The back wall is made up almost entirely of large square windows that look out to the rooftops of the Sorbonne and central Paris. It’s a warm day so the classroom is filled with bright sunlight that filters in through the windows. The tutor begins the session with a hopeful smile on her face but is quickly interrupted by a loud SKREEEECCH that goes on and on. All of the students’ head swivel to the windows that once seemed so great as windows of light that have now become windows of noise to some building works that is going on nearby.
I start with this story because I think it pretty much sums up how my first two weeks at the Sorbonne have gone. This Monday marks my first month in Paris and while I continue to settle into my new home there have been many obstacles and challenges. And when I say obstacles and challenges I mean dealing with French administrative matters!
I knew it was going to be difficult leaving one university in one country and transferring temporarily to another in France and I had heard the stories about French bureaucracy. Nevertheless after having two weeks of practically a mini extra holiday in Paris, the first week of classes was a sharp contrast of intense paper-work drama.
Some things that I have learnt:
- The French love their queues.
- Check and check again forms that you send off because when filling in pages of paperwork you’re apparently almost always guaranteed to miss a section or two and have to start again.
- If there’s something you want to get straight in French, numbers is definitely a good way to start so as to avoid any mistakes when making appointments.
- While the Sorbonne is a beautiful building it is a MAZE inside.
- No matter how much you try and prepare for things sometimes the best thing you can prepare for is to expect for things to go wrong.
Looking back on the ups and downs I know that no difficulty was really worth stressing over and when I say that sometimes you have to prepare for things to go wrong, I mean it in the best way. Saying goodbye to my average six hour schedule at home to change it for the 20 hour schedule I have in Paris has been hard but also an opportunity to try out new academic experiences which I’m already beginning to enjoy.
I like the French system of having the choice to be graded for sports. I love LOVE being able to stop at a boulangerie in between classes and pick up a croissant or baguette for later. I love walking through the streets and goggling the beautiful Parisian apartment buildings. In addition, while I spend much more of my time travelling on the metro than I’m used to, I love the fact that every arrondissement in Paris is different. There is almost always something going on and twice now I have stumbled out of the metro to find myself in the midst of some exuberant parade.
When I was younger the image I had of Paris was of city full of romantic, chic people and painters wearing berets and black and white striped shirts or musicians playing melancholy tunes on the corner of every boulevard. In some ways it is like that. My friends and I can’t help but comment on Top Ten Things you’ll never see Parisian Girls Doing, and walking down Rue du Faubourg Saint Honore in the 8th quarter with all of the high end fashion shops does make me feel a bit like I’m in one of the later episodes of ‘Sex and the City’. However for the most part Paris is a city just like any other with its grit and noise and angry drivers.
The most ‘real’ experience I’ve had so far was when attending a party for a new-born baby in Vincenne. In one of my first weeks I found myself in a house, (which was strange as Paris seems to be full of apartment buildings) amongst many French people. We drank champagne and ate some strong cheese that I wasn’t sure if I was in love with or if it was going to make me sick. It was intimidating but for some strange reason it made me feel more settled and less of an outsider/tourist than when my friends and I had taken selfies eating macarons in front of the Eiffel Tower. Instead it was being surrounded by French people and understanding only around fifty percent of what was going on, but in knowing that one day I might be just as fluent and chic, made me think; yes, I can do this!
*Site à voir: Mussée de L’Orangerie*
Famous for showcasing Monet’s ‘Waterlilies’, which are amazing. What I didn’t expect was the other numerous collection of paintings from other French impressionists such as Henry Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Auguste Renoir and Marie Laurencin downstairs! Definitely a great art museum.
Pictures: ‘Nympheas’, Claude Monet; ‘Femmes au chien’, Marie Laurencin; ‘Paul Guillaume, Novo Pilota’, Amedeo Modigliani