Monday, September 15, 2008

Pointers and Things to Do

Some pointers for surviving the first few weeks of the intense bureaucracy of France and Sciences Po:

1) The first thing that you should do when you get to Sciences Po is to matriculate by completing the inscription at the Acceuil Administratif. They adhere to an alphabetical calendar with last names starting with A-B being able to matriculate on Monday mornings, B-C on Monday afternoons, and so on. In order to do this you will need the form that you can get online, an identity photo of yourself, 195 euros to pay for student social security in France (more on that later), and a copy of your passport.

2) The inscription pédagogique happens during the first week of the Welcome Program at Sciences Po. Hampshire students complain a lot about the Hub and signing up for classes/not getting into the class they wanted. The Hub’s problems are nothing compared to Sciences Po’s. First of all, class times and dates aren’t listed anywhere except for on the website when you click in a very specific place and are only available just before the inscription. This means you can’t really plan your schedule until just before you sign up for classes. Also, all international undergraduates sign up at the same time. Imagine every single Div I and half of the Div IIs signing up at the same time. I was in front of my computer, on the website at 10 to 10. Inscription began at 10. By the time I clicked on the last class I wanted, it was already full. And so was pretty much everything. By 10:20, the only classes that weren’t completely full were those who had no course description.

3) You will need a bank account in Paris. For a number of different reasons, you will seriously need one. Also- who wants to sleep with thousands of dollars or euros hidden under their bed? I recommend the BNP bank that has special deals for students. You will need proof of matriculation in a French school (hence completing the inscription before getting a bank account). You will also need proof of your address in Paris. Most banks will let you give them a temporary address, but you will need a letter from the person/place you are staying confirming that you are actually there. Almost everything in French banks is needed in writing. Make sure to schedule an appointment with the bank to set up an account.

4) You will need to insure your apartment when you find it. Apartment insurance is obligatory by law in France. The national student union in France recommended Matmut to me for apartment insurance because of their student rates. I haven’t actually done this yet. Also- Always sign a contract when renting an apartment or room in Paris. This can allow you to get help from the French state (even if you’re an international student) to pay for your apartment- visit the CAF website. Signing a contract also keeps you safe from getting kicked out of your apartment. French law stipulates that landlords and other people that rent rooms or apartments must give tenants three months warning before forcing them out of their apartment before the end of the contract. Contracts in France are usually for one year, but as a student, you can rent for only nine months if you choose.

5) Get a Carte ImaginR. This is a card for students that allows you to pay either monthly or yearly for public transportation in the Ile-de-France. It is much, much cheaper than buying metro or bus tickets all year. Transportation costs have been rising in Paris, so this is actually pretty necessary. You can get the dossier for the Carte ImaginR from any metro station window. Send it in with the payment and an identity photo. You will probably have to wait three weeks for the card to arrive in the mail, but if you save the metro tickets you use from the time you sent in your dossier, you can get reimbursed.

6) Get the Découverte 12-25 card. This is a card that can get you up to 50% off on all train travel in France including the Eurostar, and some trains to places like Amsterdam. I really hope that you want to see more than only (I know, you’re thinking “only?! It’s Paris!”) Paris and the surrounding areas so get the card and travel around some.

Time for my super interesting anecdote: France requires that all students belong to the French social security system. The only exception to this rule in if you happen to be an EU citizen with the European Health Card. It doesn’t matter how much you are covered by your American (or other international insurance), you will still have to pay 195 euros. I thought, though, that because I am both covered by my American insurance while I’m in France and also an Italian citizen (i.e. an EU citizen) that I could somehow convince Sciences Po that I didn’t have to pay 195 euros. Funny thing though: Italy only gives the European Health Card (or Tassera Sanitaria) to residents of Italy. I reside in the States. So here I am, covered by the States, Italy, and thus the EU, but still required to pay a huge amount of money for more insurance. At least now I can get super sick, right? Anyway, I personally think that Hampshire should pay this fee- maybe not for me, but definitely for future exchange students.

I don’t know how helpful this is, or how interesting, but I thought I’d give it a try. Feel free to comment/question.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Apartments, Apartments

How not to end up out on the curb in Paris:
1) Wake up really, really early on Thursday morning and buy the PAP, a magazine with listings for apartments of all sizes and prices. This entails you calling the people who want to rent their apartments before 8:30 am. Why? Because you must devote the entire day to seeing apartments before someone else gets there. By 8:30 pm, all of the apartments listed will be gone. I promise.
2) Use all manner of websites, like, to find an apartment or colocation. This is a good option, but you will most likely have to be in Paris to actually get something. Remember that when you go see apartments, you will need to have the full amount of first month's rent and the security deposit- either in check form or in cash, because otherwise someone else will have the full amount and they will get the apartment. Colocations are really cool because you get to live with awesome people and pay less for a bigger space (like a bedroom for you and a kitchen and bathroom for the apartment, instead of just have two burners in a room the way you would in a studio).
3) Use an agency. Never give the agency any money before you sign your lease. A lot of agencies are set up in Paris as a ploy to take your money and not give you what you want. I recommend Paris Academic Rentals, an agency that Sarah Lawrence, Columbia University, and Trinity College have contracted to help their students find housing. They charge a month's rent, but all of the places they have are clean, safe, and comfortable. If you want more info, just shoot me an email.
4) Go to Sciences Po's main hall (13, rue Saint Guillaume) and check the bulletin board for people looking for someone to fill their colocation. You could also leave your contact information on the board and hope someone contacts you.
5) Do all of the above in some order that makes sense to you. I ended up using the agency and found it lovely and very helpful. They also take really good care of everything and speak English which is useful if you don't.
Coming soon... The next step- insurance, dossiers, and cheap transportation.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Week One

I am in Paris. In Paris. I ride the métro everyday, watching Africans, Asians, French people, and tourists from all over the world getting on and off, some going about their everyday rituals and some experiencing the City of Lights for the very first time. Two days ago, I went apartment hunting on the Rue Cardinal Lemoine and walked from there to Paris IV, passed l'Institut du Monde Arabe, crossed the river Seine, and headed to the Bastille. I am learning these streets, these stations, these neighborhoods and arrondissements. I can't help but think of L'Auberge Espagnol- the scene where the main character arrives in Barcelona for the first time and speaks about how the streets he sees, with their strange names, are completely foreign, but that in less than a year's time, they will become his streets and his dives. I hope that in less than a year's time, I will know St. Germain des Pres forward and backward. I hope that I can start leaving my metro map at home.

Orientation starts tomorrow. I'm excited and nervous, not sure what to even expect. I have to hand in my registration forms, open a new bank account, sign my rent contract, move into my apartment, and sign up for classes. In French. Which typically is not a huge problem for me, to be honest, but after spending over two months in Italy, I definitely have a huge mess in my brain. Sometimes, I don't even know what I'm speaking. I surprise myself: Italian exclamations coming out of my mouth in the middle of lunch with my French host family (like today) or Spanish infiltrating my conversations with my mom on the telephone. Am I crazy that I want to add German and Arabic to the mix?


Do I care? Definitely not.

The time I spent in Italy, though it was hard, physically and mentally (sorry, I'm not quite ready to delve into all that), taught me some things about myself. For one, I love me. It's taken me too long to learn it, but I have some talents. I'm spontaneous, a hard-worker, open, and inviting. I have the capabilities to find my own job, apartment, and make friends from all over the world. I'm just stubborn enough to succeed. (Testona, a co-worker of mine called me. I answered, "Si, but also adorable.") I can even sing. So, am I scared to start this crazy, new experience of mine? Oh, yeah. But I know that I can do it.