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My experience studying abroad in Paris

Written by Bachelor of Film and Television student Anna Pata 

Due to the pandemic closing Australia’s borders for what felt like an eternity, I didn’t initially have the in-person university experience I was hoping for. I completed a few classes online, but after all, you can only get so much out of a film and TV production degree virtually! After a year of waiting to see if and when Australia’s borders would open, I contacted Bond’s Study Abroad & Exchange Office to see if they could help me study in a country that would allow students in. That’s how I stumbled upon Paris.

After several emails, a quick application, and a visa appointment in downtown Los Angeles (coincidentally the day after I attended my postponed high school graduation), I found myself on a one-way flight to France’s capital. At this point, I knew – at most – a few basic words of French. My five years of Spanish classes throughout middle and high school weren’t going to be too helpful. I had left the country before with my family, but this time, I was a 19-year-old with a large backpack and a cheap apartment just outside the city.

Anna Pata smiles in front of the Eiffel Tower with a sunset in the background
My first day in Paris, taken by my French exchange ‘buddy’ 
whose house I stayed at for my first few days.

My first few weeks in Paris started off a bit rocky. I was homesick beyond belief and missed the stability of living somewhere with a house, family, and friends in my back pocket. Figuring out how to navigate the complex metro systems, buy a SIM card, speak French to the local grocery store workers, and avoid being pickpocketed at all hours of the day took time to adjust to. But like with anything, you adapt, so over time I learned how to live like a local.

The rooftop of a building with the Eiffel Tower visible in the background
The view from my classroom. Most of the rooms at this campus had a view of the Eiffel Tower or the Sacre Coeur.

My exchange school, the EFAP International School of Communication, became my haven for the next four months. On the first day of school, the study abroad coordinators took us on a cruise along the Seine, helped us set up our bank accounts, and solidified the final details of our visas. The school I attended has two campuses – one next to the Arc de Triomphe and the other next to Jardin du Luxembourg (my favorite garden ever).

About 80 per cent of my classes were comprised only of other exchange students. Funnily enough, I hardly made friends with French students since they had their own circles already, but I do have a dozen other European friends I’ve stayed in touch with, even a year later. I loved the diversity of my cohort too. Out of the 60 of us, I was one of two native English speakers, and I was also the only one from the Americas. 

Two people stand facing the River Seine at night time. Everything is lit up.
One of my most memorable nights with my friends from Germany and Belgium!

Most of my friends from home who went on exchange attended class with only kids and teachers from their home university. From my perspective, what’s the point of that!? I found it fascinating to learn about my friends’ lives growing up, studying, and working in Belgium, Scandinavia, Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands. My teachers hailed from all throughout Europe and Eastern Asia as well. This was the first time where I didn’t share a similar background with anyone, and it allowed me to immerse myself into a world that I wasn’t familiar with. 

A group of people walk up a cobblestoned street with buildings either side. Sacre Coeur is visible in the background.
My last day of school with my French culture class. Our teacher toured us around Montmartre where we watched the sunset!

From August to December, I got to experience everything Paris had to offer. I had the best friend group I could’ve asked for. We took day trips from the city to Chateau Versailles, Monet’s house in Giverny, and villages like Fontainebleau. I witnessed the trees’ leaves change from bright green in August to golden orange in October and saw them fall off in November. Being from Southern California, I’ve never truly experienced seasons changing.

I explored many nooks and crannies of the Parisian streets, often walking directionless, knowing that if I got tired, a metro station was just a few minutes away. As someone who’s very passionate about art, it was amazing to visit the galleries everyone is familiar with like the Louvre, l’Orangerie, and Pompidou (free for everyone studying in the European Union), but also smaller artist residences like 59 Rivoli, where I fell in love with creating. It’s my dream to, at some point in my life, complete a residency there amongst the most creative, diverse group of individuals.

A woman stands facing away from the camera painting on a multicoloured cloth on the wall. Beautiful colourful paintings are in the foreground.
My favorite artist painting at 59 Rivoli, where I someday hope to do a residency. 

All in all, of course there are ups and downs throughout an exchange semester, but I couldn’t recommend it more to current and future Bondies. Trust me, I had my fair share of problems with apartment rentals, bank accounts, and general French bureaucracy, but even a year later, I still find myself being drawn back to Paris. Whether it is for a holiday, to do my master’s degree, or to complete my dream artist residency, I know I’ll be back soon. 

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