Two weeks behind and 4 months ahead!
How does a student exchange start? How do you meet new people when you go abroad? These are a couple of the questions I wish to shine some light on right here, as I remember being so nervous during my first exchange. But the first two weeks in Paris have just been filled with a whole bunch of great experiences. Sightseeing, friends, picnics, museums, cruises and what so ever. The exchange is soon to begin lecture-wise, as the first class for me begins on Wednesday the 5th of September with the topic: Product Management & Agile Marketing. If these first two weeks are at all in line with what’s to come, this end of the year will be at the top of my personal list!
Arrival to Paris
Everything went so smooth, oh my god. Afterwards I was just simply amazed at how well the whole journey from Lappeenranta to Paris went. But this just proves how valuable good planning is in everything:
Prepare for the difficult by managing the easy.
The process was as follows: 2 hours in a train, 2 hours at the airport, 3 hours flying. As soon as we landed to Paris Orly airport, it was time to go grab the taxi. I had received information beforehand from my French buddy that the ride should cost around 40€ so I was prepared not to be screwed over. Sure it sounds like a lot for a car ride, but the trip was also quite a long one. Besides, we really didn’t feel like carrying all the suitcases, backpacks and laptop bags with us during an hour long metro ride. Sometimes you just want to go for the easy and more costly option, right? We went outside, followed the taxi signs, told the old guys standing in front that we wanted a taxi and there it was. Now it was just time to tell where we’re headed and follow the taxi driver’s route from my own Google Maps app on the backseat. Yeah, I always double check. We got our first sense of the city by driving through it and easily got to our home door, 35€ thank you.
Next we needed to wait for the house owner’s friend to bring us the key to the apartment. She arrived only 5 minutes after us, as I was discussing with her about our schedule throughout the trip. Open the door, welcome to your home for the next 11 nights and welcome to Paris. At this time I also experienced the first “big” surprise for me regarding this city: you can actually drink the tap-water! Such a freaking big relief. I remember drinking a whole year out of a bottle in Shanghai, which you either bought from the store or filled from the suspicious water filterers that the university had. Just horrible.
First Week in Paris
You know how it begins. Of course we went for the Eiffel tower first, as that’s the real landmark and pride of France. The “Iron Lady” is a really unique construction and one of the rare tall buildings around Paris. The 1 kilometer long and couple hundred meter wide Champs de Mars park in front of the Eiffel tower is just filled with people enjoying their wine & snacks in the sun. It’s nice that everyone is open to enjoy sitting on the grass and enjoy their afternoons, but the ground is also pretty messed up because of this. You’ll find bottle caps everywhere and other trash littered all around the park. During this same day after our visit to the Eiffel Tower was also the first meeting of the international students at a pub downtown. It was great to finally meet most of the current exchange buddies although briefly, since the next morning I had a pretty important meeting at 7 am. But hey, always look on the bright side – I got to meet people quickly, leaving more to discuss for later on!
The third day in Paris marked the time for Sacre Coeur, so far the most beautiful place that I’ve experienced in Paris. It’s a huge church located in the northern part of the city, built high up so that you need to take a couple sets of long stairs in order to get there. But it’s totally worth the muscle work, believe me. You can pretty much see the whole of Paris, as this is the highest platform in the city. One minus though. You can’t see Eiffel Tower or Arc de Triomphe from there because of the trees that block that western part of the city out. I bet this is one of the rare places where you actually can’t see them, which might even be a good change of scenery. But besides just the view, you are also free to check the church out from the inside if you’re into that kind of a thing. In the afternoon people just seem to flow there to enjoy the scenery over drinks and snacks, just like in front of the Eiffel tower. If you forgot your own, no worries. There’s a lot of merchants roaming around, trying to make you buy a bottle of Heineken for one or two euros.
Special price only for you!!- kind of deals, you know.
Thursday and Friday marked the “beginning of school” for me, as we had our first two days of orientation at the ESCE Paris campus. The orientation itself is something that I personally never look forward to. It usually is just all about going through very basic and familiar information regarding security, studies and city information. Just like at my home university or in Shanghai, also this time I attended the orientation and left pretty much with nothing new in hand. But all in all, the orientation was a great place to meet even more people and get to know each other. Maybe even plan a couple of parties.
On Saturday we visited one of the most well-known sites in France and Paris, Louvre. It’s this huge art museum & gallery with four separate wings, taking you hours and hours in order to even walk through the whole complex. As it was our first time, we naturally wanted to see Mona Lisa. The whole trip through this one show that exhibited Mona Lisa among thousands of other famous paintings took us over three hours! It’s truly not a place for people who get tired of walking or art. I wouldn’t take children here to be honest, at least I would’ve been freaking bored. But besides these previously listed things, there were a couple great parties during the first week in Paris! When you go abroad and meet new people, getting a little tipsy is never a bad idea. That’s when the real personalities come out and share their stories.
It’s Monday Again
The second week was a lot about shopping, small events organized by the school and more random adventures. On Monday I was amazed as we entered the Forum Les Halles shopping center in downtown Paris, because I needed a couple pairs of new shoes. That place was just massive! Four huge floors of stores with a train & metro station at the bottom. Went there, visited a bunch of stores and accomplished my task, walking out with three new pairs of shoes. After this we decided to go check out the legendary Notre Dame cathedral nearby, which was truly worth seeing both from the inside and outside. The old cathedral is so vast and the history and art inside is simply breathtaking. During that same day in the afternoon we went over to this great burger place called Shiso Burger. There I ordered one of the best burgers I’ve ever had and I’m still quite unsure about what it had inside! I didn’t believe that I would be eating Japanese-style burgers in Paris, but hey, why not! After that unique experience we just grouped up with some more exchange friends of ours who were enjoying the afternoon by sitting on the riverbanks of Seine, which seems to be quite a common way to spend afternoons here.
On Tuesday we just had a school-organized picnic at a park, which was pretty badly organized. I mean, we started almost 1 hour late, there was nothing to do except for talking with fellow exchange students and then leave. On Wednesday we went on a Seine river boat cruise, which fortunately was free since it’s nothing too special. I wouldn’t really recommend it to anyone unless your feet are killing you and you want to sit for an hour in a boat. Also that same day we visited Ladurée with Christa, which is this quite fancy and expensive bakery franchise here. I wasn’t really into it, until I saw that they had some crazy flavors when it came to their offerings. Rose flavored ice-cream is now high up there in my personal favorites with orange leaf macaron!
Musee de l’Armee was the last place that we visited so far though. It’s this huge complex dedicated to French war history with even the old warhorse of Napoleon Bonaparte inside and his huge memorial grave nearby. There one can find thousands of old muskets, pistols, swords and other equipment among paintings and statues of significant war people. Totally worth paying a visit, no doubt. The funny thing is that some might get tired here, as in order to preserve the hundreds of years old artifacts, they have to keep the lights very dim throughout! After our museum visit we did one of the most Parisian things you can do. Go have a picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower, at Champs de Mars park like I mentioned in the beginning. We picked wine, cheese, crackers and other snacks with us and then just went there for the whole rest of the afternoon to stop, relax & enjoy life.
As of writing this current sentence, it’s Saturday morning. We were supposed to move today, but weird things happened yesterday my friends. We were supposed to go pick up the keys for our new apartment for the rest of the 4 months, but they had managed to lose the keys. We searched, tried, failed, laughed in misery and ultimately gave up after two hours of trying. Now the plan is to move in on Monday, with us staying in our current residence for one more night and spending one night in a hotel nearby the future place. No problems though. When life gives you lemons, throw them in the garbage and fix the damn situation. Luckily today in the afternoon we’re going to have a big party to compensate for the extra hassle! But I can’t wait for what’s to come in the future months and I have to admit here that already in two weeks I’ve fallen in love with this city and truly have nothing bad to say about it right now. Except maybe the streets, they’re kind of messy.
Bring it on, Paris!