Paris—the city of lights, chocolate, baguettes, art…love. What isn’t Paris known for?

During my junior year of studies at Cornell, I decided to study abroad in Paris. I had fallen in love with the French language through an elective and switched majors during my sophomore year. Although I did not meet the minimum language requirements to study in France (at least 4 semesters of the language plus a writing course), I set up an appointment with the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and promised him that I would try my hardest and not disappoint, insisting that French is a Romance Language just like the others—Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian—that I already speak. How hard could studying French literature in France with minimal grasp of the language be? I was about to find out.

As soon as I stepped foot on Parisian soil, I felt as if I were transported to a land of my “wildest dreams,” to quote the great Western philosopher Taylor Swift. I will never forget walking to the study abroad office—a joint-run Cornell, Emory, Duke, and Harvard program—on my first day in France. The mid-August sun shone upon the hundreds of year old architecture, giving the city an ethereal feel. My steps felt like floating, and I was completely high off of being in what all Parisians proudly and justifiably call “la plus belle ville du monde.”

The thirty other study abroad students and I congregated in the study abroad office—a small, three-room space in a charming, cobblestone street in St. Michel and were introduced to our advisors and then introduced ourselves to each other. 28 of the other students in the program were only staying for one semester—a short three months—and they were assigned to either live with a host family or in their own private apartments. However, a Harvard girl and I were to stay the entire academic year, so we were to live in a francophone dorm in Cite Universitaire, a foundation with over 40 dormitories each representing a different country, as in most of Europe colleges do not have their own campuses, let alone dorms. Although the French House, Monaco House or Canada House would fulfill the francophone requirement, to my surprise I was told we would live in the West African dormitory, as many on the Ivory Coast speak French as their mother tongue.

Another surprise that our advisor told us was that classes would not start for an entire five weeks! In the interim, the study abroad students were to attend daily French grammar classes and had the option to go on scheduled activities and field trips to famous museums and cities outside of Paris. This overall relaxed attitude—five weeks until class began?—set the tone for how life in France is stereotypically (and accurately so) perceived: a little bit too relaxed, yet with artistic and cultural appreciation trumping work or academics.

By: Andrea Schiralli

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