Sunday, 18 July 2010

Going on a year abroad...

The first things that come to mind when I think of Paris are lights, the Eiffel tower, the Impressionists of the Belle Époque, fashion, art, good food and wine …so when I found out that would be the destination of my year abroad I was justifiably delighted.

A real gamble-gone-well, I landed an assistantship in the suburbs of Paris (an “undesirable” area if any of you are familiar with La Haine, the banlieue riots of 2005 and everything else they teach you on the rigid A level French syllabus). After a thrice-weekly 25-minute train journey to the outskirts of Paris, I find myself in a ‘new town’ housing development in Ile-de-France; a mere scattering of lemon yellow tower blocks, a couple of local shops and a distinct absence of the ‘Parisian’ people-watching cafés I’ve grown accustomed to. Yet, despite the initial “what am I doing here…” and a somewhat disorderly start to my work as an English assistant in three of the local schools, I have become very fond of the kids I teach and am beginning to find the work extremely rewarding. Some of the kids barely speak French let alone English, as many of the families only moved to France in recent years. Stereotypes of the Parisian banlieue having been shattered, each day is different and I am pushed to use my French at all opportunities with pupils and teachers.

Come evening, my profession changes from primary school teacher to nounou (or nanny) for a French family in the Latin Quarter, in the heart of Paris, a delightfully charming arrondissement boasting the historical Pantheon, the Sorbonne and the magical Luxembourg Gardens. I’ve found working with kids to be an excellent way of rapidly improving the fluidity of speaking a foreign language, despite it being kiddie French and consisting mostly of imperatives and comforting phrases. The family, who have a 3 year old boy and 5 year old girl, welcomed me with open arms from day one and I’m paid extremely well for what is, to me, essentially pleasant and painless work.

Yet the track I’ve chosen to take on my year abroad is by no means the only one. I have friends here studying French at the world-famous Université de la Sorbonne and others working at a fashion magazine, a fashion head-hunting business, a language company, a wine production company, a law firm, in television production; the list goes on. Cohabitation and collocation are very popular and successful in Paris, some with French people, others with friends from Durham. Either way works well. It is important, for any city in France or year abroad country, not to panic when looking for accommodation for the year. Paris is apparently one of the hardest places to find a studio or apartment and we’ve ended up with a cosy 3-person studio three streets from the Louvre, only a stone’s throw from all the major tourist attractions (and bars/clubs). It will also be helpful to use linguists who have been on a year abroad for their advice, pointers or knowledge of where to go out, which agencies to use in the hunt for housing or which companies welcome foreign workers.

Biased as I am, if you’re studying French, choose Paris. It’s the kind of place you can stumble across and watch a show mid-Paris Fashion Week, casually meet Audrey Tautou in a restaurant, watch the whole of Paris rollerblade at midnight, have a night-time wine picnic on a bridge with hundreds of students… The art galleries and museums are free for under-26s, the shopping is sensational, each arrondissement has its own charming personality and the nightlife is pretty tough to match. Oh, and allegedly it’s the city of love…

(written by me, December 2009)