Alexa’s Study Abroad Journal: Application nation (sans motivation)

(Photo by Alexa: featured image is my passport a few days before I left for Morocco, one year ago)

Sciences Po emailed me! I read the entire email in French before I realized there was an English translation attached. I was really proud of myself for understanding it, though, so I figured hey, might as well complete this application in French! I got about halfway through when I struggled with the phrase “lettre de motivation”. I discerned, from a bit of Googling, that this was the French version of a cover letter. But I still wasn’t sure if I should let a little creativity show, or if I should keep it strictly professional. I found some middle ground, uploaded a photo, answered some questions, self-evaluated my French level, and sent off my application for some faraway Parisian to approve. I hope. The deadline for the Sciences Po application is May 2. Maybe I’ll get bonus points for being early. That’s my usual line of thinking, anyway.

This week, I need to stop by the Center for Global Education office at Rutgers and drop off some more documents: a copy of my completed Sciences Po application, a copy of the identification page of my passport (already done), my current CV (that’s my resume, but doesn’t CV sound so much cooler?), and a passport-sized photo (also done).

campus france-01 image

(photo by: www.southafrica.campusfrance.org)

I still need to carve out time to meet with someone from the Journalism department to talk credit transfers. I also still need to send in my program deposit. But I’m a little less enthusiastic about that one. And, there’s something called an ISIC (international student identity card) that I need to apply for online. Perks include discounts to museums, concerts, restaurants, and transportation. Fine with me. It’s also an extra layer of traveler’s insurance.

So with that application out of the way, I embarked on yet another journey (such joy): applying for a student visa. I knew this would be the most annoying step, so I really didn’t even want to start. Campus France’s website is a mess. A vast, text-heavy one. I sifted through pages of help guides and even a video (yes, a visual aid for filling out an application) and finally started to understand. Students who want to study in France for more than 90 days must first register with Campus France in order to, eventually, obtain this elusive visa. According to one guide, I should do this as soon as I receive a copy of my official host university acceptance letter. It warns me: this fun little visa process “can take up to 5 weeks!” and “the Campus France application process can be confusing!” They also want $100 in the form of a money order for their time and my subsequent confusion. Lovely.


(photo by: blog.studylink.com)

Well. Considering I can’t actually be accepted by Sciences Po until after the deadline of May 2 (I’m assuming) and the Campus France application process takes 5 weeks, that brings us to around June 9. So much for getting things done early. But, I may never understand why it is such a dang hassle to study abroad in France. I think I need another chat with Lauren. ASAP.

So long, spring break.


Alexa Wybraniec

Alexa studies journalism, media and French at Rutgers University. She is abroad at Sciences Po for her third year of college. Check back every other Monday for a new post and connect on Twitter.


Ten Tips for Being Twenty in Paris

(all photos by Dinara- featured photo is Opéra in Paris)

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a movable feast.” These are famous words by Ernest Hemingway and they are so true for the writer and anyone else who has been lucky to visit this breathtaking city. I visited Paris last summer for a language school. So, I want to share some practical tips if you want to make your dream true and learn French in France, feel the magic of Paris and the stylish life. It is also a little story of our trip.

1. Keep dreaming. I started learning French in September. The beauty of the language, magnificent images, texts you read… Then I came up with the idea that I could go to Paris and hear not only the authentic language, but also be a part of the lifestyle, the culture. I even forgot about this dream but by summer and it felt like a miracle when I got the chance. As Walt Disney said “Many of the things that seem impossible now will become realities tomorrow.”

2. Do everything yourself. When I started searching for a language school, I turned to education consultancies. They calculated that two weeks in France would cost me around $1,800 just for the school. So, you can imagine, why it sounded to me almost impossible first. I started googling, e-mailing and comparing the prices. Then, I found a school for just 80€ a week.

3. Visa and flights. This was the most complicated part for me, but I hope I was an exception. If you are going to Paris to study and you need a visa, the best way is to apply for student visa. But most of the schools do not provide visa support unless you buy a course longer than three months. If this is not a case you can always apply for tourist visa, follow the instructions on the French Embassy’s web page and cross your fingers.

4. Language school. I was lucky to get enrolled into the Campus Langue, which has two buildings. One in La Défense and another one in the 19ème district. It seemed so far away, the 19ème one, but with the metro made it all very easy. The school is very welcoming, enrollment was super easy and we started our first class 20 minutes after enrollment. The best thing about learning French in France is that you have most diverse students and you can make friends and listen to the languages in all the accents.

5. Make friends. The more you talk to new people, the more confident you become in practicing French. I’ve been talking to my classmates, people on the street, serviceman in restaurants and shops. And also if you make friends with Parisians, the city will open totally different sides for you. I’ve been lucky to stay with locals and on weekends have perfect Parisian guides.

6. Be polite. In France people in customer service are easily offended. Make sure you say Merci, Excusez-moi and other polite phrases as much as possible. It was so embarrassing when a lady in supermarket pointed at me when I forgot to even say Bonjour before asking the way out, I was truly lost, though.

7. One place a day. I came to Paris with my friend and luckily we had the same interests and same pace. Some people say that you can walk around Paris in one day. But if you do so, you will not feel the real taste of this city. We decided to visit one area per day. That’s how we watched a concert next to Notre Dame, the parade in Champs-Élysées, sunset from Sacré Cœur, flowers in Jardin de Luxembourg, fountains in Versailles… You feel yourself somehow become a part of this city; a Parisian when you can afford to spend a whole day in one area, enjoying the spirit of it in an idle way.

sacre coeur

(view of Paris from Sacré Coeur)

8. New experience.  We also had a habit of trying new things every day. After classes we usually shared classical French la formule lunches, trying out all the dishes we’ve been learning about at school: Foie Gras de Canard, Cassoulet, Escargots, Ratatouille, Tartines, Crème Brûlée, Mousse ou Chocolat.

9. Do shopping. Shopping in Paris is a dream. My universal tip for shopping anywhere is: don’t miss the chance to buy something when you first see it. Often we thing that we might come back to that street or that shop and buy it later, but it never happens. So, the best way is to buy when you feel a sparkle. My favorite place for shopping was Seine riverbank so far and around Hôtel de Ville.


(Parisians shopping)

10. Take back memories. Travel around. Going to the countryside is always inspiring and gives a totally different angle to the country. France has so many beautiful provinces to discover. This time we visited Mont Saint Michel and a few resorts in Bretagne, including the one called Dinard, which sounds so alike with my name. And if you find trains too expensive, we discovered the Covoiturage web pages so handy to share a car with locals.



Bon Voyage!



Dinara Dultaeva

Dinara Dultaeva is a freelancer based in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. She graduated from Cardiff University, Wales, Great Britain and is passionate about magazines, traveling, photography and gastronomy.


Visiting Geneva, Switzerland

(all photos courtesy of Chelsea- featured photo is Lac Léman in Geneva)

Some people think Geneva is a boring city because it doesn’t have great nightclubs for young people, but there is so much more to the city that you can’t blame it for that one fault. The beauty of Geneva is definitely seen more in the summer, when the city truly comes alive, but there are always things to do and places to go even in winter.

Open all year long are countless museums for every preference: history, art, science, botany, watch-making, Geneva history and culture, Red Cross and Red Crescent, marionettes, ceramic and glass, and in nearby Lausanne, the Olympics. The best part is that all museums are free on the first Sunday of the month (as long as they’re open).I believe this is true across Europe, or at least for neighboring France, as I’ve seen the same discounts there.

Being Europe, and being an extremely diverse international city, there are countless genres of food available in gazillions of restaurants, cafés, and bars. The nightlife is held in bars, with each one having its own personality and typical clientele. Also in being diverse, there’s the possibility for language exchanges for almost anything, if you would like to practice some conversation skills with a native while visiting.


(Lac Léman in Geneva)

The cinemas are great but not necessarily recommended as they are ridiculously expensive, but not so bad in neighboring France if you can swing the bus. For the churchgoers, there are beautiful cathedrals and churches tucked away all over the city, and a hip option at ICF for the contemporary-minded folk.

In the winter, multiple ice-skating rinks open up, including a small one in the beautiful Bastions park, which also hosts life-sized chess and checkers games. Geneva is also a great central point for all the skiing in the area, as there are slopes on both neighboring mountain ranges. And not to miss is the winter-staple meals of fondue and raclette, to warm your body and your spirit, in accompaniment with local wines.

The summer is to live for with its countless music festivals, free movies in a lakeside park in the evenings, cheap wine-tastings, and countless lake activities. After winters that are usually quite cold, everyone in the city comes out during the summer and makes the most of it, so there’s a fantastic air of happiness and warmth. Bars and restaurants move their business outdoors, and the entire city spends the summer basking in the deliciously warm sun.

I am perfectly content in this quietly beautiful city, as there is always plenty to do and never-ending gorgeous sites being on a lake in a fantastic valley. Give Geneva a day or two of your time if you’re passing through, especially in the summer, and you won’t be disappointed!


Chelsea Fairless

Chelsea is a home-bred Texan currently living in Geneva, Switzerland and studying French at the University of Geneva, while living and working with a family as a part-time nanny. She has been living in the Geneva area since August 2012. You can follow more of her story on her blog http://parolepassport.blogspot.com/ and other social media sites.


3 Signs You’re Studying Abroad for the Wrong Reasons

(featured photo by: thebuildnetwork.com)

Studying abroad is a serious decision and one that should not be taken lightly. Sometimes students choose to study abroad when they shouldn’t. Let’s look at 3 signs that you’re studying abroad for the wrong reasons.

1) Doesn’t benefit your major: The main goal of studying abroad is to, well, study! If your major’s core course requirements are not going to be fulfilled or even enhanced by takes classes overseas, don’t do it! I have met and read blogs of students who are taking general elective classes overseas because the program they chose does not offer classes for their major. This is a costly mistake. Studying abroad is a lot of time, money and effort- just like the general college experience. If going abroad will not help you fulfill or even finish your major’s course requirements, you will have to take those classes when you return. This means more time in college which means more money. Why prolong your college graduation and have more student loan debt than necessary if you’re not going to ever see the benefits?


Bottom line- Andrea recommends to study abroad only if it will help you finish or enhance you’re major and ultimate career goals.

Backpacking in Europe

(photo by: flyerizer.com)

2) You want to travel: The desire to travel and experience new ways of life is a great thing. Just not to the tune of the cost of college tuition + traveling expenses. One of the main selling points of study abroad is that you’ll get to travel often. This is true only if you budget for travel along with your monthly living expenses. Even with student discounts, traveling abroad can add up pretty quickly. It is also time consuming. As a full time student, you will get breaks, holidays and possible 3 day weekends if you choose your class schedule wisely but traveling often will still be difficult to coordinate. I would encourage you to travel as much as possible while abroad but don’t forget that studying abroad does not equal vacation time. You are there to study and immerse yourself into a new culture. Travel is an option (again, if you budgeted for it) but you will not be spending most of your time traveling. Most of your time will be spent in class not backpacking across the continent.


Bottom line: Travel should not be a main motivator for wanting to study abroad. The majority of your time will be spent in class in the host country. If you want to travel often, make sure you set your class schedule and have a separate budget to accommodate for this.


(photo by: tvrage.com)

3) You want to make the most of your 20s: A few weeks ago, guest blogger R.C. O’Leary shared his regret of never studying abroad. Although I completely understand his sentiment, it’s important to not study abroad simply to fulfill a milestone for your twenties. Yes, studying abroad is a unique opportunity and it’s great in your twenties because you’re not married, have no kids and no bills. However, going just for the hell of going is an expensive milestone. If you don’t study abroad, that doesn’t mean that you can’t go abroad. Save your pennies and go on vacation abroad for a month or the summer with some friends or family. A month or summer abroad for vacation costs exactly the same as it would for a study abroad without the college tuition. This extended vacation will give you the taste for life overseas and allow you to practice foreign language skills as well as immerse into a culture without the added bonus of classes.


Bottom line: Don’t go just because you think future you will regret not going. There are other opportunities to go abroad and experience a new way of life. You just have to make it happen.


College is an investment in your future. Studying abroad is another (albeit unique) slice of the investment pie. When deciding to study abroad, you must really find out why you want to do this experience because going for the wrong reasons will be costly.