First Time in Paris? 7 Tips from PCA Students!

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Artwork by Foundation 16-17 student Natalie Kolega

Studying in a foreign country is a rewarding and enriching experience. You meet new people and are exposed to new cultures. It pushes you to try new things and you grow as a person, but this does not mean it is easy. It can be difficult. You have to pack up all of your belongings and say goodbye to family and friends and begin your adventure in a new country.

Paris is notorious for being a tough city to move to, but with some perseverance it is a very rewarding place to be. After speaking to a variety of students from PCA, we came up with a list of 7 useful tips to help you settle into your Paris life.

BEFORE ARRIVING

Before you arrive, you should have your student visa (if necessary) ready. If you have never lived in a Francophone country before, PCA students suggest taking some French lessons before arriving to Paris. This can be done through your local Alliance Français or language schools offering French classes. If that is slightly out of your budget, then work with a free app. Many students suggest Duolingo as a great resource. Once your bags are packed, you have some basic French phrases, and your plane ticket, you are set to go!

You will either arrive at Charles de Gaulle or Orly airport. There is free wifi at both and you should login and navigate your trip to your housing. Check out our article on how to get to central Paris here.

HOUSING

Finding accommodation in Paris can be a daunting task for students. You have a variety of options but it can get rather stressful. But do not be discouraged, as it is tough for everyone. You just have to keep trying and eventually you will find somewhere decent to stay.

There are various independent student dormitories and student flatshare schemes you can apply for. You can apply for these before you come to Paris so it can ease the stress of arriving in a new city without permanent accommodation. Make sure you use a reputable source (you can find these through the PCA Housing Guide.)

If you want to rent an apartment through an individual landlord or sublet, it is advisable to go view the apartment before putting any payment down. There are scams online (notably French Craigslist) so it is important to do this. Agency fees tend to be exorbitant but agencies can make the process of finding an apartment to rent easier. As well, you will be certain there are no scams. If you’re accepted to PCA, you’ll be invited to join the closed PCA Facebook community where students post flat share offers. If you go through an agency that isn’t used to dealing with expats, do note that you must have a French guarantor with a French bank account and proof that you can pay for the apartment. All the partnered agencies and individual landlords listed in the PCA Housing Guide accept foreign garantors! Make sure you sign a lease agreement too. This is to protect you and the landlord.

NAVIGATING PARIS

There are three primary modes of public transport in Paris: metro/rail, bus, and bicycle. To use the metro, simply go to your closest metro stop and you can purchase a single ticket to your desired location or you can buy a 10 ticket booklet if you are planning on doing a bit more travel. Better yet, get yourself a Navigo card. You can top this up, weekly, monthly or yearly depending on your needs. Most students get a student travel pass and top it up for a year. This gives you unlimited trips around Paris and the suburbs (Zones 1-5) on the metro, RER, bus, tramway and train. This is called the Imagine R student travel pass. It costs 342 euros per year and you can apply for one of these passes at a ticket desk at a larger metro stop once you arrive (as you need a French bank account.) Just remember that this is only valid for students under the age of 26 years old. For students who are older, the price is 75 euros per month.

While the weather is warmer, it can be a lot more practical and fun to ride a bicycle. If purchasing one is out of the question, then you can use the Paris Velib. You can pay for a daily or a weekly pass. If you feel braver and want to ride all year round, then you can get a yearly subscription. This gives you the first 30 minutes free before you pay per 30 minutes after that. You can use your Navigo card to rent out bicycles or you simply pay at the ticket machine to receive your daily or weekly pass. There are other alternative bicycle sharing services available in Paris such as Moobike and Ofo.

Google Maps and Citymapper are reliable sources of navigation but it is best to download the RATP (public transport) application to your mobile device as well. This will give you metro and train times reliably. You can use this to navigate around Paris.

EMBRACING FRENCH CULTURE

Be sure to greet anyone you encounter along the way with a bonjour first and generally you will find that people are helpful. Try to speak as much French as possible from when you arrive. The only way to improve is to throw yourself in the deep-end and practice, even if the person you are speaking to reverts to English.

You will spend most of your time at PCA but it is important to embrace French and Parisian culture. Take your student card with you wherever you go. This can provide you discounts at various shops and museums. Go for a picnic in the park during the warmer months to socialize with your new classmates. This can be particularly soothing after a long day at school.

French bureaucracy is a draining process, especially as everything is in French. The best advice is to follow the instructions of the Student Life Office at PCA. Make sure you have all your documents ready and it will be a slow but smooth process.

LIFE AT PCA

Life at PCA is full of different experiences and there are many interesting people from around the world for you to meet. Pay attention to all the presentations and talks during Orientation week. This will set you up for the rest of your time at PCA. It is a great time to meet your fellow classmates and professors.

Once you deposit to secure your spot, join the official PCA Facebook community (if you don’t have an account, create one!) You will find various posts from students, alumni and staff that are of interest to PCA students.

Outside of PCA, the 10th arrondissement houses many great restaurants and cafes for you to visit with your new classmates. Download the PCA Neighborhood Guide as it lists interesting things to check out in each neighborhood, as well as Paris’ surrounding suburbs.

SOCIALIZING IN PARIS

Paris is renowned as a difficult city to make friends in. But, there are certain steps you can take towards making friends. PCA is the most obvious place where you will meet people.

Outside of school, try a language exchange program like Franglish. You can go with your newly-made PCA friends. Joining a local expat organization is another great way of meeting like-minded people. This can be particularly helpful, if you are feeling homesick as well. Most embassy’s create support groups so you can meet people from back home in Paris.

HOMESICKNESS

Some students dive right in and feel straight at home, however for some this can be a difficult feeling to deal with. After the initial honeymoon phase, it can sometimes be difficult to settle into life in Paris. Students have various strategies to deal with homesickness.

Keep busy and throw yourself into life at PCA: join the Student Coucil, go to the Drawing is Free events, participate in PCA Talks, sign up for the Paris Inside/Out cultural immersion class, join the conversational French class, learn new skills at the free PCA digital lab sessions.

School work will keep you busy but plan to do things outside of campus to keep your mind off thinking about home. As much as you may miss home, try not to compare Paris to it. Embrace the good, the bad and the ugly. It is all part of the experience!

Just remember that it’s tough for everyone who is arriving in a new country for the first time – and especially if you don’t speak the language. Your time will fly by faster than you think, so make the most of your experience in Paris.

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