Bonjour, je m’appelle Haze!
I am currently living in Edmond, Oklahoma, however from now on (well, until August, that is) I am living in France! To specify, I live in a town (in Provence: outside of Paris) called Bondoufle with my host family. The program I’m with is the Teen Summer Language Camp in France; both Paris and Arcachon.
My host family consists of Madame Martine Guerin, a retired single grandmother, and Chynna Muoa, my roommate from Minnesota. Chynna is only doing the Paris program and then staying with her mother for an extra week after her trip ends.
My favourite part about studying in France so far has definitely been the location and the locals. My town in America is a fairly populated area, but I live in the outskirts, basically the suburbs, where there is absolutely nothing. Here in Bondoufle; however, I know where I am for once in my life!
The town is small, so it’s easily navigable. Every evening, Chynna and I go to ‘le supermarche‘ to pick up some fruit for the walk home, getting to know the locals along the way. We instantly discovered a new way of living; the Parisian way.
I decided to study in France because I knew I could never fly if I continued to clip my wings. All of my life has been me stuck in the same situation throughout different cities. Once I hit a certain point in my life I had an epiphany: I have full control over my actions. So, why not just do what I’ve been longing to do for the entirety of my existence?
When you’re a language student in Paris, there is no doubt you are going to meet a lot of interesting people; whether on the metro, the streets, or even next door. The day after I arrived in France, my roommate and I decided to take a walk to a local park behind our house we noticed when exploring. Since I’m exceptionally obsessed with photography, I took advantage of the sunset’s natural lighting.
Meanwhile, my roommate, who was dancing, attracted a group of children. They hung out with us for the rest of the evening, and I even let them take some photos of their own (although the photobomb above was unexpected). There is a whole variety of people to befriend upon moving to France, so don’t waste your opportunity to broaden your circle!
Unless you’re suspiciously not human, you’re going to be doing a lot of walking – and I mean a lot. Biking is a good way to get around (also a good way to work those calves), but walking is the best way to take in the scenery. It’s also the best route to realize the arches of your feet aren’t supported and you probably should get some new shoes. When you take in the streets of Paris by foot, your brain is more susceptible to memorizing familiar signs and logos. Use this opportunity to make mental landmarks.
It’s typical in French nature to have a delicious myriad of cuisines, and you should never pass up an opportunity to try something new. Discovering little hole-in-the-wall places are always the best experiences, especially if they’re unpopular.
Despite gelato being Italian, Amarino Gelato is one of my favourite (and most frequented) spots in Paris. My friends and I are always stopping whenever we see a vendor to buy a boule or two. When you’re on your evening rendezvous, make sure to keep your eyes peeled for a hidden cafe or dead-end boulangerie. Any time is a good time to go on an impromptu adventure.
In addition to walking exactly everywhere, you also find yourself sweating on the damp and faded metro seats, watching underground graffiti pass by while you zoom from Hôtel de Ville to Bastille. The metro is an effective way of getting places quickly if you need to, and a method of transportation I use every day.
Although it can be a stressful process when your metro card doesn’t allow you to pass or you miss your train, it is no doubt one of the most Parisian necessities. Without the metro, most people would not be able to get to their jobs, or go to their excursions like myself. You might need it to go to school, to the market, or to the bank.
Imagine this: you’re clutching your café au lait in one hand and your baguette in the other, speedily power-walking to the metro. You’re crossing under a tarped area and some metal support beams when a chunk of fifty-year-old debris falls into your cup of coffee. Looking up, you see the (un)apologetic acknowledgement of a harnessed construction worker chiseling off bits of brick.
Sighing, you shake your head and continue on your way with a bit of red clay stuck in your teeth; this is from Parisian construction. Paris is in a constant state of restoration with its buildings being so old, so you’re bound to see at least one crane blocking your perfect shot of the Eiffel Tower. Not to worry! You just tripped over an unmarked pothole and fell, so you can’t see it anyway. France is an old soul, so living with her being patched up is just something you will need to get used to.
It’s 8:15 am and school starts in thirty minutes – I haven’t even packed my tin-foil wrapped lunch! Have no fear, dear reader; you have time. Besides, according to the weather, you’ll just be baking in the classroom anyway, so leaving your favourite jacket behind won’t waste time!
French weather is very touchy; the summers are very hot, especially July, and the winters can be cold, like in January. Every morning you need to re-check the temperatures for the day just to be sure you won’t come home soaked in sweat or chilled to the bone. Always remember to pack an umbrella on cloudy days – you never know!
School. Yay. Everyone’s favourite thing to talk about. Luckily, most French schools allow their students freedom during lunchtime or breaks. If you would like, you could just go home to eat. Or if you’d prefer – just take a nap in between classes. The photo above is of my group at our meeting point before class, waiting for instructions to enter the lycée.
The typical Paris school would have Wednesdays off and Saturdays on, which is very unusual if you are from North America (and many other places). Each day of the week my program meets to study for three to four hours before leaving on an excursion. Your school might have you start at 8:00 am and end at 6:00 pm, but it varies for different districts.
Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.
– Cesar Cruz
The French are very free people, and they’re proud of this. With this freedom, they take time out of their days to create beautiful art to display for anyone who wishes to see it. Paris is one of the top vacation destinations in the world, and Parisian freelance artists take this opportunity to put their work out there.
You will see colour painted on a surface everywhere you turn, whether it be graffiti, a mural, chalk, or otherwise. I saw this man one day when I was exploring the streets of Paris with my friends. He was shading in the collarbone of one of the angels with extreme precision. When someone stopped watching him draw, he would make it very clear he didn’t want them stepping on the piece.
In all of France, it is EXTREMELY common to see graffiti. Many graffiti artists pick spots they know people will be able to see from a mile away, while others prefer their art to be a hidden treasure. Although there are malicious works of vandals, overlooking the harmony of colour under the bridge you take to the bus stop will never open your eyes.
…Until you wake up with seven mosquito bites and a bee in your room because all of the windows and doors are open.
It’s true, yes: screen doors aren’t exactly a thing here.
When I first arrived in France, I was extremely surprised to see everyone had their doors wide open and their windows swung free. Weren’t they afraid of being robbed, or of bugs getting into their house?
No. Absolutely not.
I walk into my room after each day to see a new insect on my wall. French wildlife is very interesting, however. You can spot the most unusually beautiful flowers growing upside a tree, or grape vines crawling across a terrace. Leaves of ivy have moved in on the house across the street, as well as a family of snails on your front porch.
Each day I notice the spiders weaving their webs throughout sunflower patches and new stray cats following me from the bakery. It’s almost as though nature is its own entity here. When I went to the Eiffel Tower for the first time, the first thing I noticed (other than the enormous mass of metal towering above me) was all of the preened flora in its wake.
I had been so blind to not realize the French people don’t depreciate life, they accept it in its fullest. Paris is one place I took note of the many stray animals, but also all of the bowls of water left out for them. Who would have thought that a ladybug-shaped rock could brighten someone’s day?
Architecture in France is so extremely precise I still can’t wrap my mind around it. New Parisian buildings are constructed with such artistic value that the Romans would faint. In fact – most of them aren’t even that new!
Modern architecture in France is remarkable, of course, but seeing old and chipped corner stores always causes me to reach for my camera. Apartments are built on foundations of asymmetrical aesthetics that harmonize so graciously. Adorned with bushes of roses or patches of ivy, each building is always so unique.
Gazing out the window of your train at all of the softly hued complexes in Brétigny will never bore you, nor will you ever regret seeing the distant landmarks as you weave through the crowds. L’Arc de Triomphe is visible from where you’re sitting in a café, and you swear the Notre Dame is calling to you from the supermarché. It makes you wonder how long your condo has been standing and when the local bank was founded.
A word of advice: don’t pass up the opportunity to explore the old and deserted towns – you’ll regret it!
Being a language student in Paris can be difficult at times, naturally, but one must remember that you’re here! You made it to France of all places! Studying in France is a once in a lifetime opportunity you can’t pass up, and despite recent events, you’ll be craving to come back for more. So brush up on your French, pack your bags, et allons-y!
About the Author:
Ever since Haze Johnson was young she has loved art, particularly traditional and digital drawing and photography. Follow Haze on her adventures in France during her teen summer language camp.