Certain times of the year have different meanings for people at different stages of their life. When we were younger, September usually meant the first day of school, meeting old friends and looking out for the one pretty girl that might have joined your school this year. All this slightly changes when you come to university. The basics are the same, you are still looking for the one pretty girl, only the atmosphere is a little different.
In many countries, the first week of university is glorified by the infamous “freshers” or introductory week. Whether it is a week of organized events or a month of general exploring of your new city, the outcome is the same, a screaming liver and if you’re lucky, promiscuous fornication. In reality, it is all less exciting then it looks at first but fact is, keeping up the hype is part of the tradition.
Then there are Erasmus students, and I happen to be one of them. I am one of the many exchange students roaming through the streets of Paris – magnificent streets at that: streets full of little bistros that serve beef tartar that is to-die-for. These same streets that more often than not, happen to smell of piss. Paris is a city of contrasts, a city of indulgence and a city of clashing life views.
One of the greatest things about being an Erasmus student is the simplicity of making friends. I have started my studies in a very large public university in Vienna and getting to know people was probably one of the hardest social tasks I ever had to face. This task led to me partially wasting my first year of university, but that’s life. On exchange, you are being pampered by the local Erasmus society, which organizes for you everything from pub nights, to free entrance to clubs as well as wonderful wine filled picnics.
Granted, in Paris, if you want to get to know French people and have more than basic superficial conversations with them, knowing French is indispensible. At no cost should you come here expecting that everyone will be speaking English with you. Keep in mind that this is not really due to French arrogance but also because the majority do not speak English that well and simply wont be able to really get to know you or introduce themselves.
Whether you try to take the easiest classes just to get by or the classes that really interest you is your choice, but here is what I learned: I happen to be one of those crazy people who wanted to take interesting subjects, and ended up with four out of five courses in French – three of them being Master’s courses. Am I being a complete geek who is barely leaving his flat? No. However, what I am doing is having very practical courses in consumer behaviour and product politics. Besides the fact that my French vocabulary is increasing exponentially, I happen to be in a class of a 30:4 girl to guy ratio. Not at any point of this month did I regret choosing courses that interested me. Sometimes it’s good to do the “grown-up” thing, those things bear nice surprises.
So, what’s the greatest thing about taking a semester abroad? Honestly, it’s the feeling of curiosity that is ignited in you. When you know that you only have 4 months, it’s almost like you feel that you will die in four months. You set yourself goals of visiting at least two museums per week, you try not to miss any classes or any parties, while trying to practice French grammar at least once a week. It’s a wonderful run against the clock. We should live like that all our lives, but that usually doesn’t work out. The time constraints here are a perfect practice run.