I have six days left of the Arizona in Paris program, but I’ve experienced enough to make an accurate evaluation of the program as a whole.
The Benefits of Arizona in Paris
The university sends twenty UA students and two UA professors to Paris for six weeks. If you decide to do the program, you’ll step into another country with an immediate sense of comfort. You’ll travel everywhere with people you know, and you’ll automatically have a group of friends to go out with.
The education is slightly easier, mostly because you’ll only have two classes which don’t (theoretically) require computer/internet access.
Most study abroad programs don’t put credits toward the student’s GPA. Arizona in Paris not only gives you 6 units, but it also allows the grade to transfer over to your university transcript. It’s nice having the grades in addition to academic credit, but only when the grades are good.
You’ll see a lot of places. My host father said he thinks I know Paris better than he does. I’ve seen so many museums and famous spots, and I can imagine it’s nearly impossible to see all of this without this kind of intense academic program. If you love art and history, you’ll really appreciate the opportunities of this program.
The Downsides of Arizona in Paris
This program is a double-edged sword. You travel around the city with people you’re already acquainted with. This is comforting until you want to break away from the group and meet French natives. You won’t really be given this chance because the director plans so many group activities. It’s kind of impossible to meet anyone outside the Arizona in Paris program. You can always talk to people at bars and such, but you’ll rarely have the time to get to know anyone in another environment. In a nutshell, you don’t have time to get to know other people/French natives, so there’s no inter-cultural mingling of any sort.
There’s also the rigorous itinerary. You have classes from 10 a.m. to noon, an hour for lunch, and then activities until about 4 p.m. You’ll walk around in extreme weather.
It’ll either be really cold or disgustingly humid in Paris. After activities, you’ll go back to your host family’s house and still have homework to complete. You’ll have to make a decision early on: Do you want to be sleep deprived and go out every night, or do you want to enjoy the city on your own terms? I had more of a balance in the beginning, but I go out a lot less now, mostly because I’ve always found alcohol kind of boring after a while.
There are definitely benefits of going out every single night. Just ask some of the people in my program. One guy got really close to a bar manager, and that relationship has been ultimately rewarding.
If you choose to partake in this program, you have to be ready to walk and walk and walk. I love to walk and move around, but my comfort is dependent on weather conditions. When it’s humid, you have to endure the heat, and you also need lots of water in your system. Then again, you can’t have too much water, which leads to necessary bathroom trips, and those aren’t guaranteed.
What I Wish I’d Known Going Into this Program
School is School Regardless of Location
Never forget that you’re in a STUDY abroad program. You’re going to have homework, and you can’t blow off assignments. Treat it like any university class, because that’s what it is. Never trick yourself into believing that you’re just traveling for fun. Prioritize school above all else, and you’ll find ways to manage your time to do other things.
Paris has Unpredictable Weather Patterns
It will rain while you’re in Paris. Bring an umbrella with you whenever you’re going out for an entire day. In the humidity, bring sunblock and dress down. You may even want to invest in a paper fan. This country doesn’t believe in air conditioning, so you’re on your own to stay cool.
Other Countries are Conservative about Resources
I got dehydrated and threw up my first week because I wasn’t drinking enough water. The French drink less water than Americans, and I thought I could survive on the French water intake. It didn’t work out so well. I started drinking water out of my host family’s tap, and I stashed extra water bottles in my bedroom. Be prepared to drink water whenever you have the opportunity. In order to partake in all the walking and required activity, you’re going to need to be constantly hydrated. It’s worth risking annoying your teacher over. Yes, he may be upset about your amount of bathroom breaks, but at least you won’t be fainting or puking.
Ignore Weird Strangers
I was shocked that there are more creepers and weirdos in France than in Santa Cruz, where I’m from. There are tons of crazy guys who will approach girls and say some of the most offensive, vulgar things imaginable, and I truly believe all these men should be castrated and hung.
One of the Arizona in Paris girls was spanked by a large muscular man, and she was too intimidated by his size to strike him back. I was physically assaulted on the metro and followed on countless occasions. I’ve gotten so mad at these perverts, I wanted to tear their throats out, but I just ignored them and turned my head. If you suspect some guy is looking at you in a suggestive way, avoid absolutely all eye contact. Unless he’s touching you, don’t give him the time of day. In the instance that he should assault you, study his physical attributes so you can write out a description in a police report.
Packing: Less is More.
Before your trip abroad, pack as little as you can. You can always buy more clothing when you arrive in your new country. I was very conservative with my packing of clothes, and I ended up buying more stuff in Paris. You’re going to make purchases anyway, so just be conservative with what you bring. From this trip, I’ve learned that my wardrobes in Tucson and Santa Cruz are useless.
I’ve spent the past eight weeks (after leaving Tucson) wearing the same three pairs of pants, the same 9 shirts, and the same jacket. I’ve done lots of laundry, but I’ve learned how few articles of clothing I really need.
You have many phone options when going abroad, but the most practical option by far is to have a cell phone, especially in this day and age. Jerris brought his iphone, which he uses to make phone calls and go online. Two other girls brought their Blackberry World Edition cell phones. Everyone else bought an international phone or a SIM card for their regular cell phones. I went to Orange and purchased a temporary cell phone. Ava went to SFR for the same service. One guy uses calling cards.
Skype is also the greatest invention of all time, if you have internet access, of course. I, unfortunately, had to go to McDonalds to use the internet in France. Most of the French host families aren’t really with the times. Some don’t even have email addresses. My host family of six has one computer and dial-up internet, but the American students have never been allowed to use it (I didn’t even ask).
If you won’t have internet access at your house, you should still download Skype and buy a mircophone. If you know for sure that you will have internet acces at your house, you may not need a cell phone. Just use Skype. Then again, you may want phone access in the instance of an emergency. It’s all about how often you call home and want to go out with other people.
With Skype, you can make free or ridiculously cheap phone calls to anyone in the world as long as you can get online. Go to a restaurant or cafe with wireless internet access, and you’ll be set. I’ve made tons of Skype calls, and I avoid using my cell phone when I have the chance to call from Skype.
In the long run, you’re better off having a cell phone, at least for emergencies. What else are you going to do if you’re stranded in the middle of the city at 3 a.m., or if you’re locked out of your apartment? We’ve become so dependent on technology that cell phone possession is necessary while abroad. It’s convenient, too. I can’t believe I went the first three days of my trip without internet or phone access. Pay phones are complicated to use and require a telecarte, and they have so many hidden fees if you pay with a credit card.
When all else fails, buy a phone.
What to Keep in Mind When Living with a Host Family
You’re staying at someone’s home, not a hotel. Whenever you do anything at the house, you have to take the family into consideration.
For example, I lived with a family of six. There were four children and two insanely busy parents. My roommate and I were very careful not to be too loud when we’d come home after a night out in Paris. The kids had school and a schedule, so we had to make sure we weren’t being noisy. It’s not like coming home to your own college apartment after a night of too much partying. You can’t turn on a million lights, and you can’t spend ten minutes cleaning up in the bathroom. You’ll inevitably wake someone up, and you don’t want this to happen.
The French are very conservative about shower usage. The host mom actually told my roommate to stop taking such long showers. One morning, she kicked her out of the bathroom even though no one else needed to use it. The host families want to make sure the students know that there’s not an unlimited amount of water usage in the house. In Europe, an appropriate amount of time in the shower is about ten minutes at most. If you’re using the bathroom, only stay in long enough to wash your hands and do your business. Don’t dilly-dally, especially since there’s probably someone else waiting to use the toilet.
Don’t assume you can use all the host family’s toiletries, either. They’ll obviously allow you to use toilet paper, but never assume that you can take their q-tips, tampons, handkerchiefs, toothpastes, etc. I brought all of my own stuff, but if I needed anything, I always first asked the host parents if I could borrow something. Luckily, I never really had to ask for anything. They removed the box of sanitary napkins when my roommate took a handful (she asked if it was all right, and they said yes). They don’t want you to feel like your things are interchangeable. They’re willing to share, but they don’t want to be taken advantage of.
When it comes to meals/food, NEVER ASSUME ANYTHING AT ALL WHATSOEVER. Don’t take food from the fridge unless you’re told that it’s okay to do so (and it almost always is permitted). Don’t assume you’re permitted to leave your own food in their fridge (ask first, and they’ll probably say that it’s fine).
This may sound crazy, but don’t assume that they are going to stuff you sick for dinner. Ava and I can eat an entire loaf of bread together, so the family started breaking us up pieces of bread. I’m pretty sure they just don’t want us eating too much, and they have a right to monitor that. They have four other children to feed, so they can’t have us eating all the bread simply because our American stomachs can handle it.
My family did enjoy giving me tons of food, however. They would always ask if I wanted more, and to be polite, I’d respond with “yes please.” Everything is basically on their terms, and in most cases, the families are easy going.
As you’ve read in my entries, it’s not socially acceptable to do the family’s dishes unless given permission. I thought I was being considerate when I cleaned up after myself and the children, but the mom eventually told me not to do her dishes anymore. By cleaning all the plates at the sink, I was invading the family’s territory. From then on, I asked whenever I wondered if I should do the dishes.
What to Do When in a Country with a Different Language
Never be embarrassed to try out the official language. I have absolutely no pride when it comes to speaking French, and I’ve saved myself a lot of trouble because I’ve tried speaking French to so many people. Most French natives will be kind and helpful. You’ll meet the occasional jerk, and I was lucky to only encounter one, but even he apologized for making fun of my American status.
Speak loudly and with pride. You’ll never learn if you don’t try out the language. Avoid speaking your mother tongue if possible. It’ll stunt your immersion process. This blogging has actually worsened my French speaking/writing skills, but because I want to be an English writer, I’ve chosen to let my French suffer. I can never just stop writing.
Make sure you have fun while abroad. Even if nightlight isn’t your thing, at least experience it once. I went out a handful of times, and I definitely have my fix for now. That’s all I wanted out of it, and I’m doing my own thing now. Even if you can’t stand drinking or partying, at least give it a shot just-to-say-you-did-while-in-Europe. Once it’s over, you can decide whether or not you want to go out again.
If you do go out, make sure you plan everything out before hand:
Know the Metro Schedule
Unfortunately, most of us had dinner at 9:00 p.m. most nights, meaning we couldn’t go out until 10:30 on average. We’d stay out for hours. At 12 on weekdays, we had to make a decision: Did we want to stay out late and catch a cab around 4:00 a.m., or did we want to try to get on the metro for its last ride of the night?
In many instances, my roommate and I made one metro and missed the cut off for the second ride to our house, meaning we had to find a cab regardless of our attempt at taking the metro home. On some nights, we spent up to 45 minutes waiting for a cab. When you’re getting harassed by weirdos in the pouring rain at 1:30 a.m., you don’t want to be running around the streets looking for a taxi. Understand the metro schedule so you can take the metro home, and if you want to stay out later than the metro operates, call a cab.
This means that you should have the number of a cab company with you whenever you’re out late at night. You have a pretty good chance of finding a cab by luck, but you never know what traffic will be like.
The exchange rate isn’t great in Europe. To avoid ridiculous transaction fees, exchange money at a bank. I did all my exchanges at ATM’s because I will pay extra for convenience, and our program didn’t mesh well with bank hours of operations. If you can avoid paying extra fees, go to a federal bank and you’ll get the best deal. In Paris, the Banque de France will definitely provide the best rates.
Have at least 20-30 Euro with you at any given time. It’s safe to have cash with you no matter what situation you’re in. When in another country, you’re going to need money. Don’t get yourself in a dangerous situation where you have no money in your pockets.
One More Thing
I listed a lot of things to keep in mind, but sometimes, you just have to have fun and disregard certain rules and regulations. At some point, your grades will suffer a little, and it’ll usually be worth it. Stay out too late once in a while. Half-ass your homework assignment if you have a party to get to. Spend the extra 3 Euro for the world’s greatest Berthillon ice cream, and eat too many Nutella crepes (because you won’t be able to buy them in the States)!
Don’t worry too much about anything. Stay on task, but remember that you’re abroad. You may never again have the opportunity to travel the world. Make the most of it, even if it means receiving a “B” over an “A,” or even a “C” over a “B.” You didn’t fly to Europe to be studious 24/7. Allow yourself to indulge and make a few stupid mistakes. We are, after all, college students.