Anne's Adventure

Tales from my Semester in Paris


Now that I’m back in the US, I would like to reflect on my semester abroad. I do not always reflect on what I have experienced, but I started to do this more often while in Paris. As a part of my literature class at EDUCO, I observed a few French classes for seekers of asylum in France and helped some of the students with activities. After each class, I had to write a reflection about my experience. These written assignments made me confront some of the discomfort I felt during the classes and attempt to understand it, instead of just trying to ignore it. I now realize that thinking and writing about my experiences is incredibly important and something I should engage in more often. In that vein, I will discuss what I learned this semester and offer advice for students who will study abroad in the future.

First of all, I learned that I have to be vulnerable sometimes. For example, one day during my history class at Paris Diderot University, I responded in French to my instructor’s question and she looked confused. She did not understand what I said, so I repeated myself. She then understood and agreed with me. My friend sitting next to me then corrected my pronunciation of a word, and I felt embarrassed. In hindsight, I realize this was not a big deal, but at the time, I felt uncomfortable and out of place. Nevertheless, I am happy I tried to answer the question because there will be moments in life where I will do something wrong in public, and I should get more accustomed to it. However, in a different class at Paris Diderot, I rarely participated because I was afraid my classmates or professor would judge me, so I still need to become more confident in my French.

Secondly, I learned that trials are just as important to the study abroad experience as successes. Before I moved to Paris, my friend Meriel (who had studied in Spain the year before) told me that it’s okay if I don’t enjoy every moment of my time abroad. I now realize that she was right. Sometimes I was homesick in Paris and missed Cornell greatly. I have a close-knit group of friends at Cornell, so I missed being around my strong support network. I even longed for Cornell’s dining hall food, because it was superior to the Restaurant Universitaire I frequented in Paris. Other times, I was very frustrated after making a mistake in French and felt like I was not making any progress in the language. So I did not always have a good time in France, but that is okay. I think dealing with my homesickness and frustration made me become more independent, and I’m now more ready for life after college and also for life in a city.

Lastly, I learned to take advantage of “free” opportunities. My exchange program, EDUCO, offered various cultural activities that we did not have to pay for because our tuition covered them. One example was trips to different cities in France. All students were allowed to go on trips to Normandy, Chartres and one additional city, which for me, was Reims. However, I was also able to visit Lyon, because some students decided to drop out of the trip a few days before it happened. I had always wanted to visit Lyon, so I was thrilled. I strolled around the brick streets of the city, ate a praline tart and gazed at a Roman amphitheater. My advice to students planning to study abroad is to seize as many of these opportunities as possible. Go to plays, visits old towns, learn how to make madeleines— just try new activities that you would not normally do at Cornell.

It’s all over now, but I will continue to bother my friends and family with comments about my time in Paris. Thank you for reading my blog this semester.

Me, as I observe the city from the Eiffel Tower in September. Photo Credit: Biobele Braide.

My abode this semester

This semester I have lived in a village of international students called la Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris. I have loved living here because it has allowed me to talk with people from around the world. The Cité is made up of houses that each represent a different country or region. There is la Fondation Biermans-Lapôtre (for Belgian and Luxembourgish students), la Fondation des États-Unis (United States), la Maison du Maroc (Morocco), and many other houses. The buildings are primarily made up of students from the respective country, but they also house some students from other countries. The houses host various cultural activities that I unfortunately have not taken enough advantage of. For example, the Swedish house hosted a celebration of St. Lucy’s day at La Maison Internationale, which is the headquarters of all houses. After studying in La Maison Internationale’s library one evening, I happened to run into this gathering. I bought a delicious Swedish pastry that tasted like seafood.

My building is called Le Collège Franco-Britannique. It was created in the 1930’s as a symbol of friendship between the United Kingdom and France after World War I. Originally, only students from France and the UK could live in the house, but now it houses students from all over the world. The best way to meet people in the building is to cook in one of the communal kitchens. I have met Chinese students while cooking, and tried their food a few times— like dumplings and fried vegetables. I also made a Belgian friend who I practiced French with. We both study literature, but her specialty is Dutch while mine is English.

Dining halls are another good place to meet people in the Cité. I recently visited a dining hall in the German house. The food was quite good: I feasted on duck, green beans and soup. I conversed with two students while eating. One is from West Africa, and at first we spoke English to each other, but then I asked him if I could practice French with him. He said he earned two Master’s in London, which I thought was cool. The other student is from Lorraine, a region in the east of France, and she studies Spanish literature. She said people in Paris work all the time and that she does not like that style of life. I had never thought that people in Paris work too much, but then again I’m from the US. Where a person is from really influences how they view new places. Even though I already know some international students at Cornell, I hope to talk to more of them next semester.

On a side note, here are some photos of Paris during the Holiday Season.


My classes in Paris

The classes I’m taking here are on captivating subjects, but they are taught in a different format than my courses in the US. In this blog entry, I will illustrate the highlights and the difficulties of two of my classes.

Lecture du théâtre

This literature class, taught at Paris 7 University, meets on Monday afternoons for three hours. This may sound daunting, but I have adapted to it. Our professor lectures for most of the class, and then usually one or two students give a presentation called an exposé. I can survive through these long classes because there is also a break in the middle called “la pause” that allows me to eat a snack, visit the restroom, or just take a mental break.

For the class, we have to read two plays that are quite different in style, but both of which were written at the beginning of the 20th century. The first one, Occupe-Toi d’Amèlie by Georges Feydeau, is a vaudeville play about a flirtatious woman who pretends to marry her friend so that he will receive a financial gift from his relative. The second play, Les Trois Soeurs by Anton Chekhov, is a drama about a family that lives in Eastern Russia, but yearns to return to their childhood days in Moscow. I preferred the second one because in general, I like dramas more than comedies, but also because Tchekhov’s characters had long dialogue that discussed suffering, love and lack of fulfillment. The class also allowed us to see modern interpretations of these plays performed in Paris. The characters talked quickly in the plays, so unfortunately I could not process all of the dialogue, but I stilled enjoyed seeing these works adapted to our 21st century society.

Introduction à l’histoire de l’Afrique, de l’Asie et de l’Amérique

As the name for this course implies, it is about the history of all parts of the world, except for the Europe. I love the class because it has challenged my often-Eurocentric perspective and taught me about societies that I have not studied sufficiently in the past. For example, I learned about the structure of the Incan empire, and how people called curaca were intermediaries between local farmers and the Incan state. I also have read fascinating historical documents like one about the travels of Ibn Battuta (an explorer from Morocco) to the Empire of Mali in the 14th century. However, the documents often have complex vocabulary, so they can be challenging to read.

We had a midterm for the class that involved writing a “plan détaillé,” which is an extremely detailed outline for an essay. I had to come up with the titles of each of the main parts of my essay, briefly explain those parts, and also point out examples that demonstrate my argument. Of course I made French grammar mistakes, but I think I had some good ideas and Cornell prepared me for the level of thinking that was required in the exam. I am currently working on another assignment for the class, which is an oral presentation or “exposé” on the Mughal Empire. I am doing the presentation with a French student, which I am happy about because she is very familiar with the French educational system, and can correct my grammar errors. I am nervous to present my “exposé,” but I have to face it with courage.

A weekend in Italy

In early November, I traveled to Italy for a long weekend. Traveling internationally proved to be occasionally stressful, and I wish I had know more of the language ahead of time, as my Italian vocabulary is limited to “Gratzi”, “Buongiorno” and “Prego.” However, I enjoyed my trip and would like to tell a few stories about my voyage.

Me standing in front of the Duomo in Milan. Photo credit: Biobele Braide

My friends and I spent our first day in Milan. After eating lunch at a chic restaurant, I managed to lock myself into one of the business’ bathroom stalls. These stalls were not like those in the US; instead, each one was a small individual room. A rusty, old-fashioned key was used to lock the stall. When I wanted to leave, I tried unlocking the door, but with no success. I turned the key one way, and then another, and kept moving it in haphazard movements. My friend realized I was struggling, and tried opening the door for me from the outside. I became more and more desperate and was worried we would have to call the Italian police or firemen to rescue me. My friend eventually sought the aid of a restaurant employee. The waitress instructed me to slip the key under the door, which I did, and then she unlocked the door from the outside.

As I exited the stall, I was relieved to see the outside world again. However, the waitress started accusing my friend of damaging the doorframe. A large, ugly scrape was visible on the wooden frame. She thought that while my friend was trying to open the door, she caused the mark. My friend stood up for herself and said that the mark was already there. I started to get very nervous and tried to justify our actions. The Italian server then looked at me and said, “You think I can speak English like you?” I then explained our situation more slowly and clearly. We eventually came to a consensus and my friends and I were able to leave in peace. The language barrier between us made solving the problem difficult, but I now know that speaking slowly can make these kind of conservations go more smoothly.

On a different note, my friends and I explored Venice the next day. We traversed thin alleyways and bridges suspended over aquamarine water. We rode on a waterbus, which is a boat used as a form of public transportation. And we visited the Venice Academy Gallery of Art, which I loved. This art museum houses paintings and sculptures made by Italian artists in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The gallery had stunning romantic art, which appealed to me as I like romantic literature. The work pictured above, for example, shows a soldier with his wife and child before he heads to battle. I think it’s interesting that the women in the painting appear sorrowful and distressed, while the man appears reserved and does not present much emotion. I recommend visiting this art gallery and also wandering the streets of the city if your travels take you to Venetzia one day.

Speaking French

I have studied French since middle school, but I still manage to make mistakes when speaking French. One such example happened this past Monday. I ate dinner with a French family and explained how one of the staff members of my exchange program reads applications to the program. I kept using the word “application” to describe this idea, and then the daughter in the family asked me in French, “What is an application?” It turns out this is not the appropriate word to use when describing materials that allow a person to be admitted to a program. English words are often similar to a French word, like “liberty” and “la liberté.” However, in this case, “application” does not have the same meaning in both languages. According to the father in the family, I should actually use the word “dossier” or another phrase that I unfortunately forgot.

Another problem I run into is people responding to me in English. This bothers me because I am trying hard to speak French, and sometimes the person does not speak English very well anyway. I then respond to the person in French, and they usually look confused. Sometimes they continue speaking English or they switch back to French. Today, for example, I started speaking to a woman and made a grammar mistake. I tried to fix it, which probably made me look even more awkward. She then spoke to me in English. I responded back to her in French, “Je comprends,” which means, “I understand.” She then said spoke to me in French and said that she hadn’t known what languages I speak. I’m learning that the people who speak to me in English mean well, and that my language slips-ups are not the end of the world, even though they may feel like they are when they occur.

I’m taking a French Phonetics class this semester, and we have learned about how the Parisian accent is different from the accent in the South of France. People in the South usually pronounce each syllable of a phrase, while Parisians do not do this. For example, the phrase “Je serai” is pronounced like “Schrai” in Paris. People in the South would pronounce both “Je” and “serai,” and not combine the words in the way Parisians do. The Parisian accent can be confusing sometimes, so I’m happy I’m taking a phonetics class that teaches me more about it.

This is street art that I saw in Belleville, a neighborhood in Paris, in early October. The sentence translates to, “You have to be suspicious of words.”

Reflections on my experience so far

In this blog post, I would like to illustrate how my life in Paris differs from my life in Ithaca.


The dining hall near my dorm in Paris has decent, but sometimes bland food. The meal includes a protein (like chicken or fish), a vegetable, and a grain. I miss Cornell’s dining halls, as they serve a much greater variety of food, and the food itself is of higher quality. The milk at Cornell is also wonderful, and I have yet to see milk at a dining hall here. However, the cafeteria meals here are cheaper than at Cornell, as they are only 3.25 euros.

Outside of student food though, I have enjoyed meals a lot. A little more than a week ago, I attended a cooking workshop run by EDUCO. I am not talented at cooking, but our instructor told us very clearly how to make the food. For the entrée (which is the French word for appetizer), we put figs and blue cheese on bread and then cooked it so that the blue cheese melted. For the plat (or main dish), we made chicken that contained Comte cheese and was surrounded by bacon. We also cooked zucchini. For the dessert, we made a plum tart. The meal was delicious, and while we were eating, my fellow students and I engaged in fascinating conversations with our instructor. French meals are longer than American meals, as French people tend to take more time to talk and enjoy themselves at lunch or dinner.


In Ithaca, nature was a critical part of my daily life as a student. In my freshman year, I walked by a waterfall everyday on my way to class. I also participated in a Cornell Outdoor Education PE class that allowed me to backpack in the Finger Lakes region. The summer after my sophomore year, I swam by the waterfalls in two state parks, which was amazing. The nature in Ithaca is a calming force when a tide of academic stress hits you at Cornell.

A tree in the forest of the Jardin des Plantes.

In Paris, I cannot swim at state parks or walk by immense waterfalls. I do sometimes miss being surrounded by nature. However, I have found a good alternative: parks. One of my favorite parks is the Jardin des Plantes. The first time I visited the jardin, I entered the area of the park that contains a forest, and subsequently got lost. I wandered around the trails and eventually decided to walk on a circular path that led to a gazebo. The path was very secluded, and sure enough, I ran into a couple kissing. I kept on walking, and found that the gazebo was not accessible to the public. It seemed that the gazebo only served an aesthetic purpose, but I would have liked to sit inside it. Nevertheless, I eventually exited the forest, and visited the central area of the park, which contained a beautiful array of flowering plants.

The central area of the Jardin des Plantes.


Central American art at the Louvre.

In Ithaca, I have not taken enough advantage of the art in the area. This is partially because I have a very rigorous course load, but also because I don’t make engaging in art a priority. I have visited the Johnson Art Museum, but only briefly. I also attended a very engaging play at the Kitchen Theatre Company that was a prequel to Peter Pan. I would like to do similar activities in the future.

In Paris though, I have seen art more regularly, as I have visited a good number of art museums. Awhile ago, I went to the Louvre to see its exhibit on art of Asia, Africa and the Americas. I gazed at art made by the Aztecs and other Pre-Columbian American civilizations that I was learning about in my history class. Paris has allowed me to see real-life examples of what I’m learning about in class.


The Paris Student Life

The French academic system is completely different from the American system. The facilities are not as luxurious and there is less academic guidance than in American universities. However, the system does have its perks and it has made become more independent.

French campuses

My second week in Paris, I went on a tour of three different universities in the city. One is called University of Paris 1. The campus is a tall concrete building that was built in the 1980’s. It is not aesthetically pleasing. The building’s entrance is also surrounded by a large horde of French students smoking.

University of Paris Diderot’s campus

Even though I did not fall in love with that campus, I quite like the university that I decided to take classes at, University of Paris 7 (Diderot). There is a park at the entrance of the main campus, and the two central buildings have interesting architecture because they used to be flour-making factories. Some of Paris 7’s buildings are a few blocks away from the central campus, so you have to walk by restaurants and other businesses on your way to these buildings. This makes me feel like my life as a student is intertwined with my life as an urban resident.


This past school year, my journey to class consisted of hiking up the Slope and then taking a short walk to buildings on central campus. This took 10 minutes or less.

In Paris, I take the tram or the metro to get to class. The voyage takes 25 to 30 minutes. Even though it is time consuming, I have gotten to used to it. The tram I use plays a different tune at each stop it makes, which becomes quite endearing overtime. For example, when the automated speaker says we are at the “Porte d’Ivry,” a recording of a piano riff is played. This has been a good experience for me because I grew up always using cars to get around, and having a good handle of public transportation will come in handy in the future if I live in a city.

Class Enrollment

Students do not enroll in classes four months ahead of time in France like they do in the US. They enroll when the classes start. Students also have to go a secretary’s office to sign up for the courses. Even though this process is not as convenient as enrolling online, I think it was beneficial for me because it made me practice my French with the department secretaries.

I was enrolled in a biology class for one week. I went to two lectures and understood the material decently well. But then I went to the first Travaux Dirigé (which is essentially a discussion section), and I had no idea what was going on. I had a lot of trouble understanding molecular biology in French. I then talked to my academic advisor in EDUCO and learned that I can drop classes in the university. So I immediately went to the biology secretary, Pierre, and dropped the class.

I’m now enrolled in a fascinating history class instead, so it worked out in the end. The process was stressful, but my advice to prospective study abroad students would be to find classes you enjoy and learn how to work the system.

Voyage to Normandy

Two weeks ago, I voyaged to Normandie with my exchange program, EDUCO. I loved the trip and got to learn new facts about Normandy’s history, art and beverage production that might come in handy in a trivia competition one day.

Me surrounded by Monet’s flowers.

We started the trip early on a Saturday morning by riding on a comfortable charter bus to Giverny. This town is home to Claude’s Monet house and garden. I learned some fascinating things about Monet’s life, like how he woke up every morning at 5 am and then took a cold bath.

We visited the two components of Monet’s garden: one is a beautiful collection of flowering plants and the other contains a forest and a pond. Monet recreated this pond in his Water Lily paintings, which I had witnessed a week before in a museum in Paris. One of the best parts about living in Paris is that I can visit the places that shaped famous artists and writers work.

The port at Honfleur.

We visited Honfleur in the afternoon, which is a charming port town near the Atlantic ocean. We went inside a handsome wooden church in the town called St. Catherine’s, and even got to see part of a wedding ceremony. My friend and I loved the bride’s dress.

Our next stop on the road was a cider works. We learned about the process of how cider and calvados are made. Cider is fermented, but calvados requires distillation. I took organic chemistry last year, and even though it was painful at times, it allowed me to understand the process of alcohol distillation fairly well. I tried the cider, and it was quite good.

We spent the night in a Benedictine convent in Bayeux. The sisters were very welcoming and they made a yummy dinner for us. My friends and I shared a bedroom that was simple but comfortable. I’m going to consider staying in a convent again in future European trips.

A farm in Normandy where we ate lunch.

The next morning, we saw the Bayeux tapestry, which is AMAZING. It’s a very long tapestry that tells the story of the Norman invasion of England. It is more than 1000 years old, so I was surprised that it was still in good shape. I then went to mass in Bayeux cathedral, a grand Gothic church where the Bayeux tapestry used to be put on display once a year on July 14th. This was before the French revolution though, so the date coincidentally happened to be the same as Bastille Day.

We ate lunch that Sunday at a farm with a castle on its property. The farm was peacefully pristine. The meal was the best I have had in France. It was a traditional French meal with duck and beans. This was followed by a cheese course, which was followed by a dessert course featuring chocolate fondant. The food here has been surreal.

Our last stop was the American cemetery in Normandy, which is the resting place of many American troops who died in the Normandy invasion of World War II. It was important to visit this place as an American.

Getting Acclimated

This past week I have been adapting to various cultural practices in France. I learned about one such practice at a grocery store called Carrefour. My friend and I choose some items for our dorm rooms, and then went to check out. I heard the store employee ask me if I had a bag for our groceries, and I said no. I bought everything and then looked at the end of the check out area for grocery bags. Nothing was there. Not one bag, either paper or plastic, was visible. Knowing that carrying Bonne Maman jam, plates, silverware and an assortment of other items unbagged on public transportation was not an option, I looked back at the Carrefour employee. She glared at me and said that she had asked me if I needed a bag. It turns out I had misunderstood her! She looked as if I had caused her a great inconvenience.

I went back into the store and found out that the bags were located at the entrance to the check out counter, which is exactly the opposite of where they are located in the US. I weaved my way through a line of French people at the check out, and then purchased the bags.  This was very embarrassing for my friend and I, because I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. In retrospect though, I’m happy I experienced this because it taught me a thing or two about grocery shopping in France.

I experienced another cultural difference on the metro. My friend and I were sitting calmly on the metro one evening, when I heard loud noises coming from outside the train. Suddenly, dozens of students ran onto the train, shouting and singing at a volume that made it impossible to ignore. These were French high school students, and they were chanting a celebratory song. Some of them carried beer. They filled the metro car so that us mature passengers felt boxed in. At first I was afraid, but then I realized that they were just kids. A friendly french gentleman sitting across from me said that he was using headphones to try to ignore the noise. The students eventually left the train at the same stop we used.

This was an incredibly surprising experience for me because I had never witnessed such a spectacle on public transportation before. My friend told me she thought the students were celebrating winning a sports game. I had recently learned in my exchange program that politeness is crucial in France, and yet the students’ rowdiness seemed to be the antithesis of politeness. I guess everyone lets it loose sometimes though. This event reminded me of students in the US tailgating before football games. The cultural differences fascinate me, but so do the cultural similarities.

Here are some photos of my time here so far.

First Day in Paris

Today my mom and I arrived in Paris in a large Airbus plane operated by Air France. My mom slept soundly on the overnight flight, while I slept for maybe 15 minutes. I usually do not sleep well the night before important events in my life.  I now run the risk of falling asleep while working on this blog entry, but I will continue writing anyway.

After leaving the airport, my mom and I rode a taxi to our hotel. The taxi driver turned on a radio station playing jazz music, and I gazed at my surroundings. I saw various French cars (of brands like Renault and Citroën), road rage among French drivers, and children playing on a small amusement ride, all while listening to Louis Armstrong, La La Land and other artists. The dwellings changed from brick, nondescript houses to gorgeous stone buildings. The jazz made the moment romantic, and I am glad my phone was still on airplane mode and thus did not distract me from my environment.

Me with Notre-Dame in the background.

In the late afternoon, my mom and I visited Notre-Dame. The cathedral has multiple chapels that line the side of the building, and these chapels contain gorgeous paintings and stained glass windows. At one point, my mom and I sat down in an area of the cathedral designated as “prayer only.” We are Catholic, so we wanted our visit to Notre-Dame to not only be historical, but spiritual. However, a few guests walked into the “prayer only” area and started taking selfies. I did not mind this too much, but it shows that cathedrals can be caught in between being places of worship and tourist destinations, and this combination is not always fully harmonious.

We ate dinner at a restaurant called Bistro des Augustins this evening. I ordered a potatoes au gratin dish with ham, eggs and herbs au provence. The dish was delicious but very hot, so I burned my throat in the process. It was worth it though.

À bientôt,


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