Université de Paris VI- Pierre et Marie Curie
I’m writing an account of my own experiences having studied for a year in Paris in hope that it will motivate others into undertaking a similar challenge, and help inform on certain aspects of Parisian life.
Finding a place to stay
This is a very different beast to the system in the U.K. Most landlords insist that their tenants include a guarantor (who must live in France) as back up in case of a default on payment, so unless you have French family or someone to support you I wouldn’t recommend searching for private rooms to rent. It is possible to take this route, but you will need to make sure you have a decent amount of cash to hand to persuade the landlord with a large enough deposit, I myself had an offer of a room but would have needed to front £2000-3000 ( the first 6 months). Instead I recommend searching for a room in more social accommodation such as Cité Universitaire, or one of the many Foyers dotted throughout the city. For most these you do not need a guarantor. I stayed in a Foyer called Anne-Marie-Veder and the residents were literally from all over the world. Not only did I get a taste of French culture but I made friends from Algeria, Spain, Sweden, Germany, Hungary and many more places, in the process gaining a truly worldly experience. On top of this most Foyers are registered with CAF, an organisation created to help students with costs of accommodation, and as such can help you fill out these forms to gain the maximum amount of financial support available.
There is also the very attractive option of going au pair, essentially gaining free accommodation in someone's private home in exchange for services rendered such as babysitting, walking the dog, house cleaning etc. If you're tight for cash (as Paris in extremely expensive), this could be a very viable option, but if you can afford to live somewhere more social such as a Foyer I really would recommend it since it's quite easy to get isolated in Paris, and as such miss out on a wealth of experience.
For most of you the city will take some time getting used to. The people at first appear to be cold and unhelpful and there are many people in difficult situations living in the Metro who are often completely ignored. The pace of life is very quick and everyone is in a hurry to get somewhere. The general sense of humour is different to the one in the U.K and the drinking is much more refined. When all this hits at once it can be quite a shock, but also such a liberating experience. After a while the general attitude of perceived insensitivity gives way to appreciation for this way of life. There is something to be said about knowing what you want and being confident about getting it.
The buildings are stunning, the museums full of culture and the city is vibrant and universal. There is nowhere quite like it and you will need to explore and find your favourite places for yourselves. Besides the standard Louvre exhibitions and trips to the surrounding area (such as Versailles) there are many special nights out in Paris including 'la nuit blanche', an all night celebration of arts and culture and 'Fête de la musique', a countrywide celebration of music where artists of varying ability take to the streets to perform. During the warmer months groups of people meet along the Seine at night to drink, play music and have a laugh, and there are many bars situated in St Michel and Châtelet open till 4 or 5 in the morning. If you intend to go out clubbing be advised that doormen will only let groups in that contain enough women, usually a ratio of 50%. When you go out to visit paris at night there are also many creperies open, (which I loved) and there are also all-night buses which operate once the metro has closed (1am on weekends).
When you visit a doctor it will cost you around 23 Euros, and it is imperative that you ask for a 'feuille de soins' otherwise you can't be reimbursed on the European health insurance. It would also be a good idea to note down a Hospital who would be open all night in case of an emergency, since I found myself in such a situation and had no idea who to call or where to go.
For those of you thinking of doing sports or similar activities most clubs require you to have undergone a medical before being able to join. Luckily L'Université de Pierre et Marie Curie owns a medical centre, and as such offer free medicals to all students, so definitely take advantage of this.
The style of learning is completely different to Warwick's. It is akin to having a job; you will go in a 9 in the morning and finish at 5 or 6 pretty much every day. The contact hours are heavier and the general outside support less. The exams are difficult, especially with the language barrier, and there is only a small amount of revision time before exams (one week if you take the Master level courses). The best way of dealing with this is to do a little bit of work everyday and make sure there is nothing that will surprise you; for instance I came into an exam not realising or expecting that it would be open book and as such was left at a disadvantage.
The campus is not nearly as nice as Warwick's, and there is no SU so all social activities will be done in the local surrounding pubs and bars, but they have a pretty cool 24 floor tower from which you can see a lot of surrounding Paris. They open this at various times to students.
The French attitude also means that everyone is a stickler for detail. You will need your precise papers at the precise time or nothing will move for you, so make sure everything is well organised or you can expect many futile trips to the Erasmus Bureau.
The unexpected challenges
At the same time as wishing to continue your studies in mathematics most of you will also have a keen interest in the language and culture, and are maybe anticipating this to challenge you, which it will, but there are a few ‘hidden’ difficulties. If this is your first time being exposed to such a different environment then you can expect to undergo a lot of personal development. This can add a whole new dimension to the experience and as such I really recommend not overstretching yourself with regards to the Mathematics. I decided to take a lot of Master modules, which would have been fine in the U.K, but had a really difficult time of it in France because I was growing at the same time. I would recommend staying well within your limits in terms of studies, because you will be pushed to the limit in almost every other area. I'm hoping the idea of being stretched excites you, I certainly wouldn't change my experience for the world. Paris was one of the most fantastic periods of my life so far, and right now I'm learning another language and have an Italian girlfriend whom I met in Paris.