I’ve now been back in Paris for three weeks and I’ve been trying to adapt to the world of work. Although the internship is going well (surprising, I know), I do miss the more lax lifestyle of studying. But that too had its own adjustment struggles. My friend recently started her semester at the same Parisian university I was at and when she asked for help with the enrolment process I was forced to relive some of the traumas of higher education in a new country. University in France is certainly different. Stepping into my seminar classroom on my first day genuinely felt like being transported back to secondary school – rows of more than thirty tired and disinterested students facing the whiteboard waiting for the teacher to show up. The campuses are actually set up to look like a secondary school, with a canteen, library and corridors of classrooms. During the World Cup season most of the students would watch entire football matches as they sat through the three hour seminars. Yep, that’s right. Three hours. Probably one of the more painful aspects of French university is that their standard ‘seminar’ is three hours with one or two (if you’re lucky) five minute breaks that often end at 8pm. I put ‘seminar’ in quotation marks because the French definitely have their own interpretation of it – it’s more like a monotonous three hour lecture in which the students (myself included) are genuinely asleep by the end.
So, when my friend asked me to tell her what it was like I felt like an experienced veteran of the French university process – one infamous amongst other foreign students in Paris, one designed to beat you down until you are literally begging anyone vaguely associated with the university to tell you what you’re supposed to be doing. The university I attended, one of the first established universities in Europe, was also unsurprising quite averse to technology or indeed any form of online enrolment which meant we had to trek back and forth across the city to the various university campuses to find the illusive secretariats, (magical offices which supposedly contain the right person who would finally be able to help you.) I am doubtful these places actually exist and are just designed to keep foreign students hoping that they will eventually sort everything out. On reflection, the key problem with the university’s backwardness was that they assumed that the foreign students, people who had probably stepped on French soil for the first time a week before, would just know how it all worked. But despite all that, the semester was really good fun and its differences with Oxford were actually somewhat refreshing.
The internship I’m currently doing is also proving to have its own startling moments – I was in my local cafe (working from home) and staring at the stream of emails flooding in when I looked up and saw two twins with memorable blonde quiffs wearing matching bright blue berets and combat boots. It was none other than Jedward themselves. On a random Tuesday morning sitting in a coffee shop in Paris I was face to face with my childhood cultural icons. Needless to say I immediately told everyone I knew, with the most common reaction being: what the fuck? and sort of sat there in a surprised daze. Another moment to add to the fever dream this Year Abroad has been so far.
To finish off a long week at work, I was looking forward to going out on Friday night to a techno event with friends at a well-known Parisian club. I had done my prep for it during the day, secured my drinks for pres and consumed an increased amount of caffeine to help me make it through until roughly 6am when I would inevitably crash and drag myself home on the early morning metro, probably sat across from some wide-eyed corporate Joe, looking half-alive. Oxford nightlife certainly did not prepare me for what I was to face in Paris – a standard night out in Oxford has me walking back from Bridge with a kebab in hand at a healthy 3am. Parisians, on the other hand, go hard – they take their music seriously and commit fully to the night – there are even dedicated Afters clubs in Paris which stay open until 4pm (!). I haven’t made it to an Afters in Paris yet but I have made it my mission – whether I remember any of the night is another story.
Illustration credits: Yii-Jen Deng