I’ve been in Paris for a little over a month now and I can safely say that I am officially settled into a groove and routine. Now, of course, that sounds like a long time to get acclimated, but getting used to a whole new city in a whole new country on a whole other continent is quite a large feat. In this post, I’m going to give you all of the things I feel I need to share about getting settled in to your experience.
Study abroad may seem kind of scary because of how far away you will be from home, but I hope these tips can help you get into the groove of things a little bit quicker.
1. Get the touristy things out of the way, like iconic pictures.
Nothing is better than exploring your new city. Wherever you are, there will be a lot for you to do and your schedule will only get busier over time as you fully settle in, make plans with friends, or go on AIFS trips. This is why it’s so important to snag those tourist-heavy moments earlier. You’ll be fresh off the plane, wide-eyed and ready to see as much as possible — not to mention as you feel less like a tourist (because as a student, you aren’t one), you’ll be more willing to tolerate other tourists. Take advantage of this and snap away! My picture of Notre Dame taken just a few days into my trip isn’t it maaagical!
2. Learn to read a map.
This tip is a little more frivolous now that we have GPS technology, but if you don’t know how to read a map, like the one on your phone, you should learn before you go abroad. Worst case scenario: if you get caught in an unfamiliar area, you will need to know how to find where you are before relying on your phone. Sure, you can ask a friend to direct, or ask a local, but becoming self-sufficient is definitely a priority given that this is indeed your own life. Learning to read maps can also be helpful in the long run because you’ll become more familiar with the streets around the city from the visual representation and the actual experience of walking around the area. Also, reading a map is generally very beneficial for life purposes.
3. Keep your eyes wide open.
This is the only real way to experience your new city! A lot of Parisians spend their downtime sitting outside of cafés and doing work or just chatting with friends. This is particularly refreshing and different from life in the US and it’s great for people-watchers like me! Take advantage of the limited time you have and try to absorb as much of the natural beauty happening around you. You can’t truly live through your tiny phone screen, so put in some headphones and get to walkin’!
On another note related to keeping your eyes open: For those worried about pickpockets, that can all be avoided by one massive tip. As you’re walking around heavily touristy areas, keep your pockets and bag zipped. Beware of those that get too close to you, beyond the cultural norm wherever you are. Only take a daily budget if you’re handling cash and try splitting the amounts between pockets or other methods of carrying money. There will be a lot of things happening around you and you will definitely want to know where your valuables are immediately.
4. Be a little more understanding.
One of the biggest shocks for most people studying abroad is, of course, how different the cultures are from back home. This is completely reasonable in that you are immersing yourself in a whole other lifestyle, but don’t forget that you are a guest in your host country. For example, in Paris and most of Europe, personal space isn’t much of a big deal. If you’re reading a menu outside a restaurant, don’t be surprised if someone comes up right next to you or behind you to read it as well. Though this is a small thing on a larger scale of issues, appreciating, respecting, and understanding cultural norms and standards will help you get acclimated in your host city quicker.
This post was contributed by Sabrina Clarke, who is spending her spring semester studying abroad with AIFS in Paris, France.