Goodbye Paris, Goodbye EU

Two weeks ago my parents drove to Paris to take me home. We had chosen the worst day and worst hour to move out as France were playing against the Republic of Ireland and the fan zone in the Eiffel Tower Park was crowded with hundreds of football fans. Nevertheless, we eventually finished carrying all of my boxes and bags down the seven flights of stairs, I said goodbye to my lovely landlords and to the small chambre de bonne in which I had been staying in for the past nine months and finally, goodbye to Paris.

I’ve had an amazing year. Paris is expensive and working part time as an au pair and having the Erasmus grant gave me some breathing space. It’s also meant that I’ve had privilege to travel to Ireland, Bordeaux, Valencia, Brussels, Germany and Italy from Paris.

IWP_20160207_21_00_22_Rich‘m going to miss a lot of things; seeing Parisians carrying and already eating their baguettes on the streets (back home they call them French sticks…?), the fresh bread, pain au chocolat, art museums, sitting by the Seine, the French brasseries, the crêperies, the tiny, but very chic Parisian bars where my and friends and I often ended up drinking over-expensive glasses of wine on the terrasse, being in the fan zone for the free David Guetta and Zara Larsson concert, the two girls I looked after, the Versailles gardens… even just having to constantly try to speak French. I think my brain will miss the extra challenge! But most of all I’m going to miss, walking down Avenue de Suffren in the evening, after a long day and seeing the Eiffel Tower light up and sparkle on the hour.

It was strange seeing many of my friends who chose not to do a year abroad post on Facebook results of their degrees and how they are relieved their dissertations are over. I still have to go back to Warwick for my final year and yet I know choosing to do a year abroad was the right decision for me. It wasn’t always easy, being in Paris when the attacks happened and my friends and I have had our fair share of disagreements with how some of the ways things are done at Paris-Sorbonne. But it has always been a learning experience, through the highs and lows.

For anyone considering doing an Erasmus year; if you’re looking for a bit of an adventure, a time when for once your studies do not have to be your priority, the chance to travel, to experience a new culture and meet people all over the world then I cannot recommend this experience enough.

We live in an increasingly globalised world where unlike hundreds of years ago, it is much easier for some people to jump on a plane and cross continents in a matter of hours instead of months. Growing up in an international school at Eindhoven has definitely shaped my perspective on how I view the world, but I think it was the first time that I travelled without my parents to Spain, for a volunteering camp where I helped Spanish students with English, that I first really caught the travelling bug.

I was devastated to find out on the morning of 24th June that the UK had voted to leave the EU. Two days before officially ending my Erasmus year it was very sad to know that in the future, other UK students may not have the chance to be part of the Erasmus programme anymore. In such an increasingly globalised world it seemed shocking that the UK were taking steps away from unifying with other European countries in terms of valuable trade and services, instead it feels like we are taking fatal steps back into our past stances of isolationism.

I don’t want to go on a political rant, however I felt that I could not write my goodbye post to Paris without mentioning the referendum. I of course voted Remain, and it seemed that most people in my social circle, young people, students and English expats voted the same.

Because I am:

  • An ex-English expat,
  • A student at Warwick University where a large portion of the students and staff are EU and international students,
  • An Erasmus student
  • And the grandchild of grandparents who moved from Jamaica to London in the ’60s in the hopes of a better life,

I voted Remain. I stand by that vote after Boris and Farage suddenly left their posts as head leaders of the leave campaign and several of their promises have revealed to be lies. I stand by that vote after hate crimes against immigrants have been seen to be on the rise in the UK.

I don’t think the EU is perfect and I’m aware that serious changes need to be made in the EU and in the UK; with the NHS and poorer areas of our country where unemployment is leading people to desperation.

I don’t think that leaving the EU was the right change we needed to make. And so I will head back to the UK in October, slightly scared and worried about the divided country I will return to. Hopefully we are only going through the worst of it now, and things will pick up politically and economically for the UK. Now that the deciding vote has been cast we can only wait and see. I am just thankful that I will have my many, warm memories of ‘Pah-ree’ to look back on when I return.

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Pray for Peace

Recently Paris was hit with a multitude of unspeakable attacks of terror. Unspeakable acts that have left me, and I’m sure many other people around the world reeling. Many of us were left not knowing where to turn for answers while others are left to mourn dead relatives and friends.

On Friday 13th I was babysitting for a French family in Billancourt-Boulogne, safely outside of Paris. That morning I had accepted a last minute request to babysit and cancelled my plans to visit a friend for drinks, who lives on the street leading off from Place de la Republique. It is easy to lose myself in ‘what ifs’; what if I had not been asked to babysit that night, what if one of my other friends had decided to join my friend near Place de la Republique and had got caught up in the shootings? What if one of the ugly threats from the extremists are true and Paris is hit with another attacks? It’s easy to lose one self in ridiculous what ifs and eventually I have to settle with the present reality. My friends and I are all safe. The increased police presence in Paris is for our safety and they can be regarded as a symbol of security and assurance rather than a sign for continued fear.

The following Monday I spent the minute’s silence with friends and fellow students at the Paris-Sorbonne University which was also attended by a couple Ministers and President Hollande. The sound of the French joining in union to sing the Marseillaise and applaud while shouting ‘Vive France!’ was extremely touching.

I can not help but feel that instead of turning to further acts of war in times such as these we need to dig deeper and respond with something more than reflexive acts of violence. I can’t agree with President Hollande’s response to bomb Syria and David Cameron’s demands for Brits to invoke the spirit of the Blitz so that the UK can ‘protect themselves’ by joining the war in Syria with military aggression.

Since Friday 13th, there have been similar acts of terror in Mali and Nigeria and prejudiced acts of backlash against Muslims.  Therefore I found myself, at the Place de la Republique memorial praying for Paris and for peace. As many have pointed out, the awful attacks in Paris occurred at a similar time of bombings in Beirut and multiple other tragedies around the world. As one of the victim’s husbands put so well in a heart breaking open letter to his wife’s killers, “I will not give you the gift of hating you” and by continuing on with our lives we defy those who seek to instill constant fear and paranoia into our worlds.

And go on we shall.


When thinking of the attackers I immediately thought of a poem an anonymous Dutch writer placed on the gates of the Concentration Camp Vught. The poet was writing to some hateful Nazi enthusiasts who had attempted to ruin a memorial wall at the museum by splashing tar on the names of those who had died at the camp. He or she is writing about a different kind of hateful attack on innocents and yet I think his words ring true for Friday 13th victims too.

Kon je teer smeren

Over steen, namen, verleden?

Dwaze stumper, zulke namen

Zijn nooit uit te wissen!

Ze staan gegrift in talloze

Mensenzielen, onaantastbaar

Voor jouw verziekte haat.

Ze staan met vuur geschreven

Aan de hemel, welks licht

Jou ondraaglijk is


Je hebt niets bereikt


Je hebt voor alles alleen

Je eigen naam besmeurd

Niet die van hen:

Zij glimlach om jouw woede

Badend in het licht,

Wiegend op Gods adem

En zingen heel zacht en stil

Voor wie het wil horen:



*National Momument outside Concentratie Kamp Vught, The Netherlands


See below my rough translation of the poem in English:

Could you smear tar

Over stone, names, and the past?

Foolish idiot, such names

Can never be erased!

They are engraved in countless

Of people’s souls, untouchable

For your sick hatred.

They are written with fire

In the sky, whose light

Is unbearable for you.


You have achieved nothing

You have only

Smeared your own name

Not theirs:

They smile at your rage

Bathed in light,

Swaying on the breath of God

And singing very softly and quietly

For those who want to hear it:



One Month in and I’m Learning

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

Touring the Tourist Traps of Paris

It has now almost been a week since I moved into Paris and passed a traumatic night of driving blindly around the Arc d’Triomphe and carrying all my luggage up seven flights of stairs. The change from being a slightly clueless tourist to an actual resident happened so quickly, or not at all depending on how you look at it, (I still get lost on the metro!).

But there are some changes. Now when I walk past the Eiffel Tower I like to look at the funny faces people pull when trying to get the perfect selfie. The Tower itself will never cease to amaze me but now that it is officially my neighbour I feel myself slowly moving further from the frantic crowds. And it’s a lovely reassuring feeling to know that the new city panic won’t remain forever.

Only a month ago I was in Paris for a week, very much part of those bustling crowds and very much a tourist trying to fit in all the major sites within the five days my family and I were in town. I think we did quite well.

Cruising through the waters of the Seine…

On our first day we decided that instead of walking around gaping at the grand buildings lining Paris’ beautiful river we could gape at them from the comfortable seats of one of Paris’ many boats. It’s a good idea to buy a day ticket and use the boat as your mode of transport for the day, or as we did spend the hour and a half travelling the full circuit without getting on and off.

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Exploring the Louvre…

I knew the Louvre was popular and yet I couldn’t help wondering if we were overdoing it by waking up extra early to get into this museum. Turns out we were right. Fifteen minutes before opening and the Louvre had already attracted a half hour queue.

Inside, the famous art museum did not disappoint with room after room of beautiful paintings, ancient artefacts and stunning statues. Just as grand as the beautiful exterior, the interior of the museum is magnificent with high ceilings often covered in beautiful paintings and marble columns.


The Notre Dame

Located in the historic heart of Paris at ‘Pont Neuf’, the Cathedral of our Lady of Paris the Notre Dame is a beautiful old church. We finally got caught out though by the long queue to climb the towers which was just a bit too much for us.


Le Musée Rodin

All of Auguste Rodin’s sculptures are worth seeing and it was great to see the practice sculptures in his workshop and discover how some of the more well-known sculptures came to be. My favourite bit of trivia was finding out that Rodin’s famous ‘Le Penseur’ (The Thinker) was originally going to be called ‘The Poet’, as it symbolises a figure in poetic philosophical thought!


Shakespeare and Co.

As an English Literature student and book worm we had to visit this well-known bookshop in the Latin quartier, not far from the Notre Dame. Though you do not have to be any of those things to be charmed by this unique bookshop which has made a name for itself by visits from greats in the past such as Ernest Hemingway and appearances in films such as ‘Before Sunset’ and ‘Midnight in Paris’.


Arc d’Triomphe and Champs-Elysées


(Disneyland Paris)

Even though Disney Land Paris is located just outside of Paris at a forty minutes’ drive away, we had to leave a day free to visit the park!


I generally like to keep my holidays balanced with some time for relaxing and some time for energetic cultural exploration. This trip was much more focused on the latter and yet we managed not to ruin any of our trips to the extent that we rushed the experiences. Even now that I am living in Paris its hard not to try and rush off to visit the Catacombs and the Sacre-Coeur. I have to remind myself that my time can now be spent by doing a more relaxed touring of the city; browsing the local shops, practicing my french, comparing supermarket prices and so on – much smaller and yet equally necessary and interesting activities.


How do you like to spend your holidays?

Countdown to Pah-ree!

It has been a couple months now since I found out that I was going to be spending the next year studying at the Sorbonne in Paris and the news is barely sinking in. I feel as if I have gone through most stages of excitement; first the simple euphoria at finding out the news, then the frenzied worry and stress as I went through the exhausting process of finding accommodation and finally, a more practical excitement as I began to make administrative preparations.

For many of my peers the decision to do a year abroad seemed like a difficult one and I’m not denying it is. Even as I tell my family and friends that I will be living in Paris next year and they ask the inevitable question, ‘What will you be doing in Paris?’ I find myself going ‘Aarrgh’ because that proves to be a surprisingly difficult question.

As a student of English literature and Creative Writing, a year in Paris is more of a year for new experiences, learning the language and trying ‘escargots’ instead of a year focused on exams and grades. No, the year does not count towards my final degree and yes, it does add an extra year onto my three year course. But hey, as a former student from the Erasmus program said, ‘When will there ever be a time in your life when you get paid to live in Paris?’ – thanks to the Erasmus programme that is exactly what I hope to do, seize this opportunity even though it was awful saying goodbye to friends that will graduate a year early.

As the start date at the Sorbonne looms closer I enter my final phase of excitement; nervous anticipation for the fresh start that Paris will be. It will almost be like being a fresher all over again, making new friends, getting used to a completely new environment.

Then there’s the question of how to prepare. I’m trying to suck up all the babble and ‘Collins easy learning French’ guides as quickly as I can. But there’s more than the language. I’ve tried to dive into the most famous, accessible literature and films about and set in Paris as possible, ‘Midnight in Paris’, ‘Before Sunset’, ‘Paris J’taime’, The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford…

I’m aware that the list above includes Americans and British perspectives on Paris. Which led me to wonder if an outsider perspective is something one can ever get past if you were not born into the country. After living in the Netherlands for eleven years I still wouldn’t call myself Dutch but I am definitely no longer a foreigner.

What is the right way to experience a city? Are you just a ‘tourist’ – whatever that means, when you stop to take to a snap of the Eiffel tower, or is it really a crime to visit Paris and not climb the Eiffel tower? Can I visit the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe… walk the less well known streets and still advance from status of British tourist to a true Parisian?

I imagine the answer is different to everyone, that we all experience foreign countries and cultures in our own way. And my approach will e to try and do as much as possible in the time I have and in the words of Christopher Isherwood, become, “a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.” ( – through the noble art of blogging instead of by diary of course).

Photo: Wikimedia