Follow the news to stay safe during your Paris study abroad

(Inside the RER. Photo by

Playing with my new favorite Smarter Paris app has got me back in the groove of following French news. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve been slacking off a little. It’s not as official as Le Monde or Le Parisian, but I like Yahoo! France because it covers gossip, news, politics, and its comments are just as wild and obscene as those of Yahoo!. The very first news story was about a rape on the RER A line in Paris yesterday. A twenty-one year old woman says she fell asleep on the RER train when she was awoken by two men accosting her; one was raping her and the other was stealing stuff out of her purse. This happened at 8 o’clock on a Monday morning. I did a quick check on American Yahoo! to confirm if this story had made US news- it hadn’t. One of the reasons I recommend students to always follow French news is so that you can know what is going on in France. How would you know to avoid the RER train in Paris early in the morning if you weren’t reading stories like this?


(Always a useful skill to have when living in a big city. Photo by

Reading this article jogged my memory of the few times I took the RER and the things I’d hear about it. When I was in Paris, a young woman was murdered on one of the lines. I believe this was also a real early in the morning attack. My experiences on this Parisian train were thankfully uneventful, but I do remember not liking it as much as the bus or the metro. In fact, Parisian public transportation is gross. It’s one of my least favorite things about the City of Light. It’s very efficient (when there’s not a strike), but the safety factor for the metro and train are serious cons. Another con to this otherwise great method of transportation is the yuk factor. The yuk factor is the graffiti, smelly people, noisy people, and the pervs that can be found on the RER and metro. They seem to not use the bus as much. Yep, there are pervs. It is not uncommon to see a man masturbating, or at the very least, inappropriately touching his genitals on the metro. I wouldn’t be surprised if this has happened on the RER train a few times, too.

 rer3(Loving these ads by RATP which showcase other bad public transportation behaviors.

Why do these crimes and perversions occur? Well, it’s a major city with lots of different people who have varying degrees of mental health stability, moral values, and respect for women. Public transportation is still the best way to get around Paris and I still recommend every student to take it. But you also need to know that crappy things can happen to you or someone else when riding the metro or RER train. I don’t think that you need to go out and stock up on mace for your time in Paris. Just be aware of your surroundings; don’t get into empty metro / train cars if you can get in one with at least one other person; and don’t be afraid to call a perv out. I have heard a couple of stories from American female students who have witnessed men touching themselves on the metro. Naturally, they felt uncomfortable and didn’t say anything. Although silence is a natural response when we’re uncomfortable, it also gives the perv confidence that he (or she) can do what they want in public as no one is objecting. You don’t have to go crazy and confront them, but a “Eh, fais ça chez toi!” might do the trick. I also ok using tu in those situations. When someone is going to be gross and disrespectful like that, no need to hold them to the same formalities as others.

There’s no need to cancel your Paris study abroad (or pack your bags if you’re already in Paris), but it’s important to stay smart and sharp when traveling with public transportation.


Here’s the article from Yahoo! France

Bonne chance!

I Love Smarter Paris

Bonjour à tous,

I’m sorry that I’ve been away for a while. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes at the Twenty in Paris headquarters that have been keeping me away from posting (lame excuse, I know, but a true one). Anyhoo, in between house shopping (again), brainstorming the future of Twenty in Paris, and working on some awesome collabs (that’s short for collaborations), I’ve been playing with an app…and really loving it. I’m new to the iPhone or any smart phone for that matter. In the year that I’ve had a smart phone, I have never played with one app. Not one! And I had no intentions to play with any, until I stumbled across something called Smarter Paris when randomly perusing my phone’s app store. With a name like that I was intrigued. I downloaded it and within a matter of minutes, I was hooked! What’s nice is this app works offline and it breaks down everything you ever wanted to know about Paris – history and highlights of everything to see and do in Paris, a map of restaurants complete with pricing and review, tips of French culture and emergency info, a French- English dictionary, and a cheat sheet of common things to say in French.

 (With a motto like that, you can’t go wrong!)SP1

I even learned a thing or two about Paris that I didn’t previously know! I also found myself using it to start planning my next trip to Paris. You know how I’m always encouraging you to find out more about French culture from a native French person? This app is created by native Parisians so you can learn and discover Paris before you go abroad from actual French people as well as an Anglophone expat who’s been living in Paris for some time. The best of both worlds. So I’m off to go back to planning my next Paris excursion and learning a little bit more about the amazing City of Light. So what are you waiting for? Become Smarter about Paris today!

(Love all these super fun yet practical blurbs!)



Study Abroad Tip: Find a Conversation Partner. Improve Your French, Help Someone Else Improve their English


When you study abroad you want to make sure you’re doing everything you can to take full advantage of the experience, especially when it comes to improving your language skills. One way to do this is to find a conversation partner in your host country. A conversation partner should be someone who a) is a native speaker and b) wants to practice his or her English, so that the relationship is mutual, and you’re helping one another.

Now you may be thinking, But I’m already practicing my French. Every day, everywhere, all the time, and I don’t doubt that you are. Ask yourself these questions though… and the answers might surprise you. Are the people I talk to in my day to day interactions correcting me? Are they helping me understand my mistakes? Are they teaching me the vocabulary words that I’m lacking? Chances are, the answer to at least one, if not more, of these is no.

Practice pinned on noticeboard

(photo by

As far as your classmates are concerned, they’re in school to learn too, so teaching probably isn’t on their minds. Outside school, depending on your level of French, others may need to concentrate a little more to understand what you’re saying, just because they’re used to hearing native speakers. It isn’t likely they’ll be correcting you on the spot either with grammatical explanations or the proper etiquette of French linguistics.

Finally, there’s the unfortunate reality of people figuring out that English is your first language and switching to English in conversation simply because it’s faster and they’re impatient- obviously disappointing when you’ve travelled to France to practice your French. This is where the benefits of having a conversation partner come in.

What to look for in a conversation partner

Some study abroad programs offer their students conversation partners as an extracurricular activity, while others have been known to set up exchanges for students when requested. Ask your program. If need be you can set out in search of your own conversation partner.


(A language partner can be anyone. Photo by

Choose carefully. A classmate, friend, relative of your host family, etc., who’s a native French speaker and wants to practice his or her English is an ideal choice, and preferably someone with language goals of their own- aspiring to speak a certain number of hours in English per month, increasing their overall level of fluency, or preparing for an upcoming trip to the U.S for example.

Recommended tips for a successful exchange

*Discuss your goals upfront with one another.

*Share your strengths and weakness, so you’ll each have an understanding of where the other may need extra help or practice. Be specific (maybe there’s one tense in particular that you don’t have a firm grasp of, or you’d like to expand your vocabulary relating to a particular theme or context.)

* Plan to meet regularly and at a minimum of once a week.

*Spend half the time speaking in English and half speaking in French.

*Bring a notebook and jot things down as you learn. You can study/ look back at your notes later.

*Meet in a public place, like the library or a café, etc. Please remember that above all, safety should be your number one concern when you are a student abroad.

(This notebook / calendar is perfect for convo meetups. Photo by

By nature, practicing your French with a native speaker who wants to improve his or her English is less intimidating that talking to other native speakers. You’ll be on the same level when it comes to language, so you’ll also be comfortable asking questions and learning from your mistakes. Be attentive when the tables are turned and you find yourself explaining all those idiomatic expressions we use in America and the rules of English grammar. As time goes by you’ll gain the confidence necessary to start speaking French more freely and more often with others, too, until eventually… you might just start sounding like a native speaker yourself.





Julie Kemeklis

Julie Kemeklis is a freelance writer and language teacher from West Windsor, NJ who writes on a range of topics including travel & culture, and family & parenting. She studied abroad in Costa Rica as an undergraduate student, and received her MA from the University of Georgia’s Department of Romance Languages with a concentration in Spanish literature.


No go zones in Paris?

(Is this what has become of Paris?

After Charlie Hebdo, are there dangerous “no go” zones in Paris? My favorite resident Parisian, Emy, takes on a tour on what is considered a very dangerous part of Paris by American news sources (it happens to be where she lives) to dispel this fear. As I always say, you need to hear it from a native’s mouth. Thanks for taking this one on Emy!