Studying abroad has always been a dream for me. During my Masters at Copenhagen Business School, I knew that this would be my last chance to realise this dream. I had always had my heart set on Paris, and looking through the partner universities, I had no doubt about where I wanted to go. When choosing a host university I looked at location and courses, and by reading travel reports from previous students – it was not a difficult choice.
IÈSEG School of Management had a good reputation – the 6th best in France – and they offered a lot of digital marketing courses, a field I always wanted to add to my degree. Therefore, I based my choice of university on the course portfolio. I decided to only apply to IÈSEG, and naturally I was over the moon when I received my acceptance e-mail!
I arrived in Paris two weeks before my first day of school. Paris is a great and lively city that oozes culture. During my first few days, I did the tourist thing and took in all the beauty the city has to offer. I was quite familiar to Paris, as I had visited several times before.
Living in Paris
After getting my acceptance letter from CBS, I started searching for apartments and studios in Paris. IÈSEG offered housing in a residence close to the school. However, the rooms were small, the rent was high and I generally felt the area was unsafe - so I quickly looked elsewhere. I had a difficult time finding something that I was comfortable with, as the prices were very high and, according to my French friends, the locations and neighbourhoods I was looking at were not considered safe. I had heard a bit about the International student city - Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris, and the Danish house located there, and I decided to apply. Luckily, I got a room!
Living in Cité Universitaire was the best decision I ever made. Cité Universitaire is an amazing place - it is located in the 14th arrondissement, which is a bit far from my university, but with RER (public) train it only took around 30 minutes. Cité Universitaire is like a city within a city – just like the American Campuses you see on TV. Each of the 40 houses in the area represents a country where each house is built in the architecture of that specific country. Inside the Cité you find a restaurant, a bank, a post office, and sport facilities; such as a swimming pool, tennis, football and basketball courts, as well as absolutely astonishing surroundings. You meet people from all over the world, and each week there are parties in different houses that you can go to. The only downside to living in the Danish house was that most of the residents were Danes, and you were prone to speak Danish most of the time, unless an international resident was present.
I must warn you, Paris is not all fun and games. Everything in Paris can be difficult. Generally, I found efficiency hard to come by; it does not matter if you are at the bank trying to create a bank account, trying to get a phone number, fix your transportation card or even if you are at the grocery store. Efficiency is not in the French vocabulary. If you don’t speak French you are in for a very hard time. French people follow procedures; their procedures are long, bureaucratic and more difficult than they should be. As one of my Australian friends put it after being in Denmark for just one day; “how did you ever manage to live in Paris, everything in Denmark is just so easy”. After two month of complaining about nothing ever working, I started to look at everything differently. It cannot be changed, this is how things function in France and it is a part of its beauty. My best advice is just to take a deep breath and let things fall into place; normally everything works out in the end.
The study experience
My university was located in the famous business district La Defense, under The Grande Arche. Being in the business district gave a sense of prestige. The feel and look of the university also lived up to my expectations of a French university. Prior to my exchange, I had been told by a friend that the workload would be heavy and that French people are loud in class. But I had no ideas what I was in for!
Studying in Paris is different than Denmark in many ways. First of all the courses are worth less ECTS points; therefore, you need many courses in order achieve the 30 ECTS required. Furthermore, I attended intensive courses, which means that they start on Monday and end Friday with an exam. The way of teaching is also very different from CBS; in France, classes are much more practical and not really theoretical. Participation is very important, as you are evaluated during the entire course. The assessment is usually based on a combination of participation, attendance, assignments, presentations, reports and the final exam. Additionally, the level of teaching varied a lot, some professors were excellent and many were horrible. Besides expecting a higher level from the teachers, I also anticipated more respect for the professor. French students are generally rude and disrespectful and talk through the entire class. Would that ever go unnoticed at any Danish university? I would say no.
Falling in love with Paris
You will fall in love with Paris when you live there. The city in itself is amazing, the way of life, the culture, the possibilities, the nightlife, the parks, the charm, the wine, the chocolate (I could go on and on).
Making friends when abroad is quite easy, especially in France where all foreigners experience the same level of frustration with French bureaucracy. Most of my friends were from the university as well as students I met at Cité Universitaire or at Erasmus parties. On the other hand, I found making French friends quite difficult. Apart from those I met in the International Club, they generally didn’t seem particularly interested.
The International Club at IÈSEG did a lot of activities together, such as going to Erasmus parties, organising the International Gala, and even arranged trips to other countries. Going out was a big thing in the beginning, but when classes started it was difficult to find the time, as the workload for the courses was heavy.
Being in Paris made it easy to travel to other countries, and quite cheap as well. Erasmus in Paris also organise trips to other parts of France and abroad, this is a great way to meet new people and see other parts of the country. Through Erasmus, I travelled to Normandy with friends from the university, visiting Mont Saint Michel, Honfleur, Deauville and Rouen, which was a great trip, as well as a fantastic opportunity to see a different side of France. Furthermore, a friend and I travelled to the French Alps, as well as to Geneva and Berlin.
Being Parisian for four months is an experience that I look back at with great pride. It was a fantastic experience that allowed me to spread my wings and develop on a personal level. Furthermore, it broadened my horizon and gave me a great opportunity to meet many people from all over the world, who today remain some of my closest friends. You can’t but fall in love with this city. Studying abroad in Paris has changed me tremendously, and it will always be the best thing I ever did.
In retrospect: things I would like to have known before
- French bureaucracy is a bitch – Patience is needed
- French students are rude and disrespectful and talk in class
- The workload at university is huge
- All exams are closed book exams