NYU Paris is, as expected, a little NYU enclave in the midst of a giant French metropolitan city. At NYU Paris, everyone speaks English and talks about where they can get delivery pizza and sushi. They share stories of meeting other Americans in the city and of at which restaurants, banks, and stores the employees speak good English. If this is what you want out of your study abroad experience, cool. Go for it, there’s not much explaining to do. Here are my tips for trying to get the most French out of your French abroad experience—this is especially aimed towards students in Program II at NYUP, the program for students taking only classes in French.
1) Get to know your professors—they actually want so badly to get to know their students. All of my professors have been extremely willing to meet with me wherever and whenever to develop an outside-of-class relationship. My language professor is practically my best friend—we go out to dinner and spend hours talking and it’s the best because we only speak French and he helps me out a lot!
2) Take a class at a local university. The process of finding the course listings and figuring out how to register for one is impossibly complicated and NYUP is extremely unsupportive and unwilling to help, but the students who do take classes elsewhere really do feel more of a connection with the local culture. Do it.
3) Don’t be scared to use your French. The first half of the semester, I constantly avoided unnecessary human contact so I wouldn’t accidentally lead myself into a linguistic dead end but I eventually got over it and now I’m the annoying girl who asks way too many questions at stores and restaurants just because I want to talk. On several occasions, people have told my good friend and I that they thought we were French until they heard us speaking English amongst ourselves. Cha-ching.
4) Baguette sandwiches are awesome, but diversify. The Paris restaurant scene is extremely disappointing and way overpriced for the quality of the food, but that shouldn’t stop you! Especially for lunch, each restaurant has super cheap fixed price menus that you can get to stay or to go. For a while, I’d just pick up a baguette sandwich on my way to class because it was cheap-ish and easy, but after I got tired of bread, I’ve had some really amazing noodles, curries, burritos, pho, sushi, and more. And Lebanese sandwiches! Get them! They’re probably the only thing I’ll miss about Paris! Also, non-French food is absolutely always cheaper than the boring French food you can get at every café and bistro.
5) Explore your own city! It’s super easy to be bored with Paris after a few weeks and then book a bunch of trips elsewhere just because you can, but why are you even here then? Yes, Paris is boring when you stay in your neighborhood all the time, but try to go exploring other neighborhoods in the city! Paris’s neighborhoods are so crazily distinct that your bourgeois, Haussmann, residential neighborhood will seem like a completely different galaxy when you start to explore La Goutte d’Or, La Chapelle, or Belleville.
6) That being said, stay in France for your weekends away. I’ve spent a total of 4 weekends outside of France, and while it was fun, it was really not worth it. It’s exhausting to try to pack a trip to Portugal into one tiny weekend and each time I came back from a trip, I was behind on my schoolwork and I felt like I had taken 3 steps back in French since I was speaking English all weekend. Travelling within France is unfortunately not much cheaper than leaving France (my Ryan Air flight to Portugal cost the same as my train ticket to Strasbourg), but France is a huge country that has tons of different things to see. Go to Strasbourg to see German influences, go to Toulouse to see Occitan and Basque influences, go to the south for some sun and seafood. You’re here to learn French, aren’t you? The French accent is also surprisingly VERY different in different regions in France, which you don’t realize when you spend all of your time speaking, hearing, and learning the Parisian dialect.
7) Take advantage of Paris’s cultural scene. Books in France are super cheap and I’ve definitely bought over 30 books while I’ve been here (how am I going to get them home?). French magazines are also awesome. They do have tabloids and news magazines like we do in the US, but I’ve found that the French magazine scene is much more centered on our age group. There are tons of magazines about young culture, music, fashion, etc. that we don’t really have in the US. Think Nylon but cooler, more relevant, and that comes in lots of different focuses. My favorite French magazine is Neon. There are also tons of small concerts and plays and live music all over the city that you shouldn’t miss.
8) GO TO ALL OF THE MUSEUMS. I hate museums and I think they’re so boring and I’ve never been to a museum that I actually liked until I came to Paris. Paris has something like over 40 museums, and I haven’t been to one that wasn’t amazing. They are so perfectly curated and always have super awesome temporary exhibitions. Most of them are also free for students. My favorites are: Musée de la chasse et de la nature (this is a real MUST SEE. Think ‘Wes Anderson’s hunting lodge’), Musée de l’Armée, Musée du Quai Branly, Muséum nationale d’histoire naturelle, Musée Rodin, Musée de l’Orangérie, Musée Carnavalet, and l’Institut du monde arabe.
9) Stop going to the boulangerie and only buying baguettes, croissants, and pain au chocolat. EVERYTHING IS AMAZING. Try different kinds of brioche, chouquettes, éclairs, torsades, lunettes, etc. Your mouth will thank you.
Voilà my French to-do list. I’ll admit it, there are lots of amazing things to see in Paris. But you really have to hunt hard for them, and it will always ALWAYS involve at least 30 minutes on the metro.