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Courses and Housing: what most people figured out in April

FRANCE | Thursday, 27 August 2015 | Views [382]

he day began with a quick breakfast from the nearest boulangerie (perk of being in Paris) and a two hour description of French higher education.  Mainly focusing on universities, especially the ones we'd be studying at. It was a mixture of practical information like abbreviations and background information.

When I was first looking at the schedule, I didn't think they actually meant to talk about French universities for two hours. (Looking at the schedule, it seemed like they were trying to find ways to keep if occupied for large portions of our first week. Especially Thursday. Thursday looks like Stephanie and Erin were looking at their schedule and went "you know, I can't really think of anything else for us to talk about."

"We can't just not meet at 10 on Thursday."

"I know, I know... What if we brought in someone else to talk to them?"


"What about... The police!"

That's definitely the way that conversation went. Only, you know, in French.) But it did. We got lots of good, general information about French higher education and the Sorbonne. Then we did a twenty minute personal reflection on our goals for the semester, and Stephanie talked a bit about the pro-seminar. In essence, pro-seminar is there to help us acclimate to France via an individual project and group activities and an 8 page paper at the end of the semester. I'm still a little vague on some of the details, like how exactly we're supposed to choose a topic, but most people here are, so at least I'm not alone.

We had lunch by ordering at a different nearby bakery, and then finding a park to enjoy it at. We ate and continued the slow process of letting it sink in that we were really here.

At 14:30 I had my course advising meeting with Stephanie. It went much the way most of my meetings with advisors go: I came in with a list of courses I'd already picked and grown attached to, and my advisor listens and inserts comments. Sometimes those comments are even relevant.

Most of Stephanie's comments had a general theme of "seriously? Only math classes?" (She was not very happy with my response that History of Math was a history class, so I wasn't only studying science.) Although she was willing to grant that there would be benefits to only studying at one university (more like the French students increases chance of connection, presumably simpler from an administrative perspective, less time commuting, etc.) She was also clearly thrown by that decision. Which, after talking with the Brown students on the program, I get. I'm pretty sure everyone else has classes at two universities.

It's strange. I'm not sure I've ever before been told "you need to broaden your interests. You're too focused on one thing right now." And, although Stephanie didn't quite say that, it was kind of implied. "What do you take when you aren't taking math or language courses?"

"Umm... I don't?" I mean, mandatory class for Carthage freshman or religion, but neither of those are my idea of a class that's worth repeating.

Disappointed face from Stephanie. I suppose I shouldn't expect someone with a PhD in literature to understand why I'd consider math courses more interesting than anything else I could take.

We concluded the meeting, and each promised to think about points that had been brought up. Stephanie also said she'd do further research, like seeing if she could find a literature class at Paris 6, because that was my major condition.

During the meeting with Christine, we read an article on fast food and some of the recent trends with that. We were given homework, too. The other class had been given homework for today, and we hadn't. This was either because she liked us better, or she didn't have any confidence in our ability to do the other group's assignment. I'm really hoping it's the former.

After that, I started walking to my first apartment viewing. It was in the sixth arrondissement (about an hour's walk) in approximately an hour. So I did not have the time to stop at a bookshop (tragedy!) But I did have time to take a few pictures on the walk.

Location wise, I was pretty sure that my top choices would be the lodgings I was visiting the first day. Which was rough, since I didn't yet know what I was looking for, what to expect, or what questions to ask.

The first place I visited was a studio apartment about a 15 minute walk from UPMC. (Good ☺) It was also the most expensive place I visited. (bad 😬) And, before actually visiting it, that was all I could say.

After visiting, I can say slightly more. As one might expect from a studio apartment which, while expensive, is still within the range of budget for a college student, it was small. But not claustrophobically so. The bed was lofted, which increases space at the cost of alienating renters who are afraid of heights. (I had no fears about my own safety, though I was a little worried that my phone could fall. My phone is much better at slipping through rails than I am.)

Back "downstairs" (read: where you go when you don't literally feel like lying in bed all day) was a kitchen and living room. They were both small, but liveable. I wouldn't want to invite a dozen of my closest friends to a cooking party there, (though in all honesty, it could probably fit everyone who I invited. Paris is a really long way for most people to come for a cooking party) but I could certainly see myself managing the space very well. The kitchen came with everything I could imagine using except a dishwasher and a personal chef, (fridge, stove, tea kettle, plates, etc.) so settling in wouldn't be too difficult.

The living room felt exactly like how I'd want a living room to feel. There was a large window (to the street), a couch, a bookshelf, a table, and a TV. (Not that I have any plans to use the TV, but I'd always feel like something was missing if there was no TV.

Throughout the apartment, there were a number of cubbies and other small places to squirrel things. Which would give me a sense of being able to spread out, even in such a small space. And, although I recognize that it's pretty tiny, it manages not to feel cramped. Spacious in a confined way, if that makes any sense.

Final verdict: best place I've seen so far! (Better than living in Les Citadines with two other people. Even if I did somehow manage to score the only real bed, and the private bedroom that goes with it. Ruby and Clara each have a twin in the living room that folds info half a sofa.) I could definitely see myself living here.

After that apartment, I started meandering my way over to my next appointment. I'd kind of intended to stop at a cafe or restaurant to relax, eat something, probably look up directions..  Three bookstores later that plan was shot and I needed to hurry just to make it in time. (Still had time to walk past Notre Dame and take a few pictures, though.)

The next place was a host family with a mother and adult daughter. (All of my host families were selected with the intention of it being more a family I'm renting space from than a traditional family.) It was about 40 minutes from UPMC, with 30 of those minutes being directly along the Seine. Which, as I learned on my way over, doesn't necessarily mean it's scenic. But I'm sure that within two weeks, I would have found a route that doesn't bring me through construction and strand me in the middle of highways.

As I approached the building, it became obvious that, location-wise, this housing was going to be the best. By far. There was nothing wrong with the studio's neighborhood (there was a Chinese bookstore next door that sold books in French and books about Japan and Japanese, so that was cool) but the penultimate street I'd walked on before finding the apartment was a street. For this homestay, it was a lane through a park. A large, impressive park, with a fountain and everything.

I entered the building and got as far in the instructions as "take the elevator." I missed the part where it said "take the elevator at the back." The building was split into three parts, A, B, and C, and none of them connected on the upper floors.

While I was stranded on the fifth floor of part A waiting for clearer instructions, (I had to call twice before I realized I was supposed to get back in the elevator and go all the way down, not just one floor) I had plenty of time to look around. I saw five doors and no stairs. And, although for fire safety reasons, it seemed like there would have to be some, that didn't mean they are accessible. So that ruled this one out.

Finally, I succeeded in meeting up with Gabriela (the daughter) and we went back up to the correct fifth floor. It was a shame that the elevators made this one impossible, because it was a really nice place. There was a terrace that looked out into the park. (That lovely park I'd so admired on the way up.) The house as a whole was spacious. I'd have a private bathroom on the ground floor and a bedroom on the first. The bedroom was small, but had windows on two sides. Windows with views from six fights up and blinds just like Carthage. (I'm in Paris and missing the blinds in my college dorm. And it sounds ridiculous when I put it like that.) The kitchen was sufficient for a family, and I'd have several shelves in the fridge to store things. (Food, presumably. Not yarn that I ran out of space for.)

When Gabriela asked me if I had any questions, I did. I asked if there were stairs. Once I explained that I didn't like elevators, she brought me outside to show the discrete door that opened into the stairs. We went back to the apartment and she offered me a glass of water. I drank it while we made light conversation. I couldn't think of any other questions. Once I was done, I went back down, using the stairs this time. Though they'd been hidden, they were well kept and nice. I started heading back, and wished I'd been paying more attention. Although I could remember the parts I'd liked, I didn't remember what appliances were in the kitchen, if there would be room for everything in my bed, or if we'd discussed use of common space. I should have begun by asking about the stairs...

I grabbed a crepe and headed to the nearest metro station. I bought a pack of tickets (we'd been told to put money on our pass for this week, but given the weather is so nice, I hadn't thought I'd get my money's worth) and descended. And immediately got on the wrong train. Or rather, the right train going the wrong direction. Silently grateful that the Paris metro is so much easier and friendlier than the Tokyo train conglomerate, I got off one stop later and switched to the right train. When I got back to the original station, someone got on with a portable CD player and informed us he was going to sing. He had a lot of passion, if not a great voice, and I couldn't tell if he was singing in Italian or just over pronouncing French. He sang one song, then got off the stop after new was done. It was an experience, but not one that anyone else in the train seemed to take note of. No cheering or booing or even deliberate attempts to pretend not to notice him. Merely ambivalent. (Totally worth getting on the wrong train earlier.)

A few stops later, I got off to transfer to a different line, and from there made it back to the hotel. All for the price of one ticket. (Technically all that plus 9 tickets for the price of 10.) Although I don't agree with the friend who said the thing he was most looking forward to in Paris was the metro, it's just soared to be my favorite short distance train system, and is up there on favorite trains in general. (I can't even imagine how Japanese businessmen would react to someone singing in the middle of their commute...)

Tags: apartment, classes, metro, transportation, universities

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