Some tips, oriented in the mindset of being at NYUP for program II, but some are generally applicable to all Paris students and students study abroad on the whole:
Learn as much as you can beforehand – Of course you’ll learn a lot from just being in the country itself, but the more you know at the onset the more you’ll be able to appreciate what you’re seeing. Take as many French language courses as you can beforehand! Take a history or culture course! There are options available both in French and English, through the French department in New York.
Challenge yourself – Take classes that push your abilities, or that are in subjects that you aren’t familiar with. If possible, enroll in a course at UP. Your study abroad time is an academic experience first and foremost, and although you want to be able to enjoy yourself, you’ll get the most out of study abroad all around if you maintain a healthy balance between academics and fun. I took some risks this semester like moving up a level in French, but it turned out that I could handle it. I also enrolled in a sociology of immigration in France class at Paris Diderot that was by far the most interesting subject I took this semester!
Be prepared for the emotional side – You’ll feel like you’ve made great strides and then you’ll feel like you don’t get it at all. Frustration, embarrassment, homesickness, and being overwhelmed are things that everyone will feel abroad, regardless of their language skills.
Explore Paris – It’s really easy to travel from Paris to other countries in Europe, but leave yourself time to be a resident of Paris. If you’re gone every weekend you definitely miss out on the local culture. Also, there’s so much to do in Paris itself – go to all the museums, they’re mostly free for students! My favorites so far have been the Musée Carnavalet and the Palais de Tokyo.
Plan your trips in advance – I waited too long to book things, it’s much less expensive to plan everything at the beginning of the semester. I also ended up with five weeks in a row of taking weekend trips which was pretty exhausting!
Check out France – It’s a country with a lot to offer and Paris is a little bubble that’s not representative of all of the different regions. Definitely go on the trips arranged by NYUP, but there’s nothing stopping you from going on your own too. There’s the south of France and the Riviera, the beaches in Normandy, chateaux, picturesque Alsace, and they’re all a train ride away. I had a great time in Burgundy!
Watch French television – I don’t own a TV myself but there’s one in my apartment and I love to flip around the channels. The documentaries are on subjects we’d never see in the States, like the practice of traditional medicine in Cuba, and there are hilarious dubs of American classics like the Simpsons. It’s a great way to work on your listening skills and explore the culture.
Try all the pastries! – This one I mean literally as well as figuratively: I always tried a new pastry at the bakery when I went to figure out which ones I liked (chausson aux pommes!!!), but the same goes for most varieties of food. Cheeses. Coffees. Sandwiches. Lunch specials. It’s a great way to sample, and it gives you incentive to keep coming back.
You’ll make great friends – I was in the situation of knowing no one in the program before I arrived in Paris, but there are plenty of people like me every semester, and it’s nothing to fret about. Everyone leaves with more friends than they had coming in!