Do you dream of attending classes in France? French tutor Carol Beth L. has done just that! Here, she shares how to study abroad in France, and the questions you must answer before you go…
1) What kind of program are you searching for?
Many students study abroad for a semester or for a year as an undergraduate. If this is your situation, your college or university will likely have one or more approved programs to which you can apply.
While some programs may be best suited for French majors and minors, if you are studying another subject, look for a program with that subject in mind, and present your suitability for the course. For example, perhaps you have an interest in art. The program, the city, or France itself is a particularly notable opportunity to expand your studies in the subject.
That said, sometimes, these college or university programs can be difficult to fit into your college program. They will have certain requirements and/or a limit to the numbers of students to be admitted, and so they can also be competitive.
Finally, perhaps you are not currently in college, but still want the experience of studying and living abroad. In any of these cases, consider attending an independent summer or semester-long program. Some students take a semester off and adjust their graduation schedule to accommodate such international learning opportunities.
Though it becomes more difficult after college to maintain a sufficiently flexible schedule to accommodate such trips, some people are able to do it, either by saving vacation time, taking leave or sabbatical time, using the opportunity for professional development, or finding time between jobs. You may even be able to do an exchange as part of your job, or teach there for a year.
2) Does your language level fit the program you are seeking to attend?
College and university programs will basically want to be able to verify that you are capable of completing college-level work in French. If your proficiency in French is not very high (or even non-existent), other independent programs are often more flexible.
3) Where will your program be?
If you are setting up your program through your college or university, they should be able to tell you which cities are available to study abroad in. Depending on your institution, it may be more difficult or impossible to go to a city that is not pre-approved, but some institutions do allow it.
If you are studying independent of a university, you may have greater range of geographic options. Many, if not most, of France’s major cities (as well as some in Belgium, Switzerland, and other French-speaking countries) host or have hosted foreign students at one time or another.
4) What will your housing be like?
International students in France usually have a couple of options when it comes to finding housing. Some rent an apartment on their own or with classmates or friends. Others find homestays. Often, your study abroad program can help you find housing, but you may need to finalize it on your own.
In Paris, international students are also eligible to apply for housing in the Cité Universitaire, student dormitories just south of the city. From there, it is a quick ride to the Latin Quarter, where many students have their classes.
5) What will you use for transportation?
Hint: The answer most likely will not be “a car.” Bringing a car trans-Atlantic is impractical, and buying one there is probably more expensive than it’s worth, especially if you’re not there for very long. Additionally, though you wouldn’t necessarily need to pass the notoriously difficult French driving test, you would need to obtain and carry a notarized translation of your driving license.
As an alternative, consider taking public transportation. In many cities, public transportation is very good. For example, Paris is home to one of the best subway systems in the world, and even many locals don’t bother with a car unless they’re leaving the city. Buying a monthly pass is, for many, the best option available. Even if you decide to leave the city where you are studying, the European train system is more developed than the United States’ system, and flying is also an option for longer distances.
6) What are your plans for food?
Dining out in France is wonderful, but be prepared to make your own food from time to time. Many French cities, like Paris, have open-air markets with fruits and vegetables on a regular basis. Local grocery stores can supply you with some basics; chains like Monoprix can also help.
Though many chains have started providing bags, French stores have traditionally required customers to bring their own. Even at the stores that do provide bags, you may see many people bring their own reusable ones. You may wish to get in the habit of bringing a bag just in case, especially if you will be visiting smaller, locally-run stores.
Nonetheless, be sure to set aside part of your budget for eating out and having drinks with friends. This is a relatively common way to catch up with people outside of work and school.
7) How do you plan to meet the locals?
If you want to improve your conversation skills in French (as most students studying abroad in France do), finding local French friends is a huge help. One easy way to do this is to take your interests to your new city. Play a musical instrument? Try to locate a local amateur or college orchestra, or other music-related opportunities. Like to play sports? Keep an eye out for a local rugby or soccer team.
And if you regularly attend church, mosque, synagogue, or temple, try to find one that will also allow you to connect with French-speaking locals. France has become increasingly international, so even topics that don’t originate in France, such as manga or swing dance, will still have some fans.
8) How will you handle cultural differences?Are local customs different than what you are used to?
If the locals think a little differently on some topics, appreciate those differences. If you encounter a difference that you would consider to be ridiculous or extreme, don’t take it personally. Either side could be right, wrong, or neither.
The Paris subway, for example, is usually fabulous compared to U.S. public transit, and drivers’ license tests are very expensive and difficult to pass. As a result, teenagers don’t put as much of a priority as their American counterparts on obtaining a license, and many people don’t have or don’t use their cars. The exception is when the subway workers decide to go on strike. And when they do, Parisian professors and employers know that people are going to have transportation issues, so tardiness is often treated a bit more lightly during that time.
In more general terms, the French also like to discuss things a bit more than Americans do. Sometimes it may seem that everyone has an opinion on everything, and that they like to add the how’s and why’s into their discussion. To someone like myself, who had always lived in the more laid-back Southern California, this can sometimes come across as argumentative.
9) What cultural and historic sites will you be near?
In Paris alone, there are many historic sites and museums. Even Versailles is only a short train ride outside the city. Near Toulouse, you can find the castle of Carcassonne. Take note of what is nearby, and consider taking a weekend or two to visit different sites. (Editor’s Note: Weekend Student Adventures offers great guided tours in Paris!)
10) Will you have resources and days off to allow you to visit other notable areas of France and/or Europe?
Sometimes, students have the opportunity to travel Europe during the summer before or after their semester abroad. During my semester abroad, we had several weeks of classes in Paris after winter break, and for many students, it was less expensive to stay in France than to buy an extra round-trip ticket home for the holidays.
A classmate and I took the opportunity to visit some sites in northwestern France, including several castles of the Loire Valley and Mont Saint-Michel. While not everyone can do this, know your schedule and resources so that you can create plans if the opportunity arises.
Most of all, enjoy and learn from your stay abroad, and bring back your experiences to share with your American classmates and colleagues.
Are you planning to study abroad in France, or have you been before? Share your plans or experiences in the comments below!