Paris jour après jour…

I’ve been in Paris for two months now and am already scheming about how I can extend my time here.

Paris is an incredible city with much to offer to everyone in all walks of life.  It is special in that it offers all the accessibility of a big city, but at the same time, possesses a certain quaintness and way of life which large cities in the U.S. lack.

A big part of what has made my experiences here so amazing is being a student at the American University of Paris.  AUP is a very small school (under 1,000 students in total- undergraduate and graduate students) and consists of a very self-selective student body.  The school is about 38% Americans and 20% French.  The rest of the students come from all over world- from Europe to the Middle East, Africa, and South America.  There are about 82 different languages spoken on campus between students and faculty.

A big reason why European students love AUP is because it offers an American education in Paris.  In France (and in many other European countries), higher education is extremely formal.  Classes are massive and there is very little contact (if any) between professors and students- it’s basically a “sink or swim” mentality if you end up needing help in a course.  At AUP, the classes are usually no more than 15 or 20 students.  Discussion is greatly encouraged by all professors and I have found that because of the vast cultural differences, discussion can often lead to exciting intellectual disputes among students (especially in classes like Foundations of Modern Politics).

Though AUP is small, they do offer students a surprising number of extracurricular activities.  And when I say “extracurricular activities” I don’t mean lame on-campus clubs or movie nights.  The school has everything from organized day trips and long weekend getaways around Europe, sports teams, and the occasional cocktail night for students to mingle with classmates and staff (no, AUP is not a dry campus).  At the beginning of the semester, I joined the equestrian team, which has been one of the most awesome experiences I’ve had here.  Every Friday, the team takes the RER C train out to Versailles to practice at Haras de Jardy, a beautiful equestrian center about an hour outside of Paris.  I have not participated in an extracurricular activity at AUP I did not enjoy.

Taking the above ground 6 metro line each morning over the Seine from my apartment in the bourgeois 16th Arrondissement to the beautiful and historic 7th Arrondissement each morning for class is just plain incredible.  But this all didn’t just suddenly fall from the sky one day.  It was a lot of work getting here and there is never a dull day mingling with the French system.  There is a lot of logistical work to be done between coordinating with FIT, getting a visa, finding an apartment, getting cell phone service, opening a bank account etc etc.  AUP classes are much more academically rigorous than at FIT, so don’t be surprised if you only sign up for 3 or 4 of them… you will definitely be busy.  Courses here, however, are incredibly interesting because of the international perspective brought from the faculty and students and I feel like I am learning a great deal that goes beyond the scope of the classroom.

So, to wrap up, here are a few words of wisdom for anyone interested in AUP:

-Stay on top of all the logistics between FIT, AUP and getting your visa at the French Consulate.  Try not to loose ANY paperwork… it will be a major pain if you do.

-Get a bank account once you’re here.  It’s just so much easier.  Even if you are here for only a semester.  Much of the time, American credit cards don’t work in French machines and you’ll be charged crazy high foreign transaction rates.

-Trust AUP with figuring out your housing situation.  They do it for over 500 students each semester and are really good at it.  I could not be more thrilled with where I am living right now.  Most students live alone in “chambre de bonne” apartments, which are located on the top floors of the traditional 7-floor Parisian apartment buildings.  You can opt to have your own bathroom, an elevator in your building, etc.  Right now, I am living in an “au pair” apartment in a French family’s home, which is great because I have my own private space, but I often get the chance to practice my French and interact with the family.

-Learn at least some French.  It is just all around incredibly helpful.

AUP is an amazing study abroad experience.  It is definitely more expensive than other options, but it is that way for a reason.  Between the culturally diverse student body, the incredible professors, and the fact that the university is located in one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Paris, I feel like I am definitely getting my money’s worth from this experience.

And one more piece of advice: when the French consulate asks if you plan on extending your visa while you are in France, just say yes. You will understand once you are here.