Studying Abroad in Paris on the Cheap

(Reading in the park is a great free and fun activity. Photo by www.bettertravelphotos.com/)

As a foreign student in Paris, I was able to get reimbursed hundreds of dollars for my flight home to the US, avoid bank transfer and conversion fees and get paid to eat free French meals. How did I do it? It all comes down to a three-step approach:

1. Think like a journalist

As tourists, we often allow ourselves little luxuries that are not a part of our everyday routines. But if you’ll be in Paris for more than a few days, eating in restaurants everyday and attending paid exhibits all the time can add up. At the same time, no one wants to spend their stay in Paris eating pasta at home. The trick is to find a balance between the quick-spending habits of a tourist and the monotony of a budgeted routine. That’s why thinking like a journalist may be the best approach.

When you take the perspective of a journalist, you can spend your time in Paris looking for the latest “scoop” and by “scoop,” I mean a free or inexpensive activity to try. Did you know that in September many of the most expensive restaurants in Paris offer extremely reduced rates as part of a national food festival? Or that you can sign up to take a free cooking class at many of Paris’ outdoor Sunday markets? If you think like a journalist, it’s your job to be in the know and to uncover the best free activities Paris has to offer. Plus, you’ll have some fun in the process.

2. Get connected

One of my biggest regrets from my study abroad experience in Paris is spending so much of my time with other American students from my program. Not only did I miss out on a rare chance to truly immerse myself in another culture and improve my French, I also ended up spending more money.

Parisians who have spent years in the city know a thing or two about how to save money. Of course, making local connections—especially when you don’t speak French well—is easier said than done. To speed up the process, I would recommend the Cité Universitaire in the 14th district. It’s basically an international community everything a broke student could want: relatively inexpensive housing, access to cheap (although admittedly not always so flavorful) food at the university restaurant, free and inexpensive activities (everything from theater shows to free resume building workshops) and free language discussion groups.

3. Ask about special discounts

One advantage of living in France is that cultural activities are often cheaper for students and young people. Those under 26 can get free entry into the Louvre on Friday nights and pay less for local travel on the metro with the Carte Imagine R. While some discounts have age restrictions (usually 26), there are still a number of discounts available to students of all ages, from discounted meals to free movie tickets. Since the availability of these discounts can differ greatly, as a student in Paris, you should always have your student ID card with you and always be prepared to ask if there is a tarif étudiant (student rate) when paying an entry fee.

Investigating deals, connecting with others and asking questions have served me well since I moved to Paris. As a student, the biggest payoff came when I did an internship with a major French company. I wanted to learn all I could about working in France and my research led me to discover the concept of a comité d’entreprise (CE), a group put in place to represent employees in large French companies. Speaking with a French intern, I learned that our company’s CE offered discount movie tickets and gym memberships and could even cover part of our travel expenses. I went to the CE to see how I could benefit from these reductions and they offered to refund a third of my $900 plane ticket home to the US for a friend’s wedding.  Investigate, connect and ask; it was as simple as that!

Studying abroad in Paris can be a whirlwind experience. You’ve got the city to explore, food to try and historical monuments to discover. If you’re not careful, you could end up spending much more than you planned and come crashing down hard from your Paris adventure once you’re back home in the “real world.” Luckily, with a little effort, studying abroad in Paris can be a rewarding experience without completely breaking your budget.



Stefanie Talley

Stefanie runs freeinparis.com, a website dedicated to exploring the best of Paris for free (or as close as possible). Having spent time as a study abroad student and then master's student in Paris, she has first-hand experience with living in Paris on a student's budget. She has been living in France since 2009.


French Expressions You Don’t Learn in Class: Lost in Translation

(Photo by en.wikipedia.org)

Every French student has heard of the expression franglais or Franglish as a way to identify the use of English words in the French language. Where did this phenomena of language swapping between French and English come from? It’s a little hard to trace each word, but the mixing of French and English has two origins. The first is back in 1066 when Norman France conquered and ruled over England. French trickled down from the courts into the Germanic language that was spoken by the citizens of the country to form English. So first we can say that French influenced English, but the tables did turn about nine hundred years later in the 1960s. It was a time of the British invasion. Beatles music was heard throughout the globe and English started to trickle down into other languages, including French. The influence of English into French didn’t stop with the Beatles; it only continued from there. As popularity of American movies soared as well as Anglophone countries developing new technologies at lightning speed, the only natural thing was for English words / phrases to become a part of the French language, much to the chagrin of the Académie Française. But even though franglais exists, it doesn’t mean that there is a perfect flow between the French and English languages. Many things still get lost in translation. Let’s take a look at my top 3 lost in translation expressions- where’s franglais when you need it?!

1- I’m pulling your leg. This super common English expression is used to say you’re joking. An exact translation in French is je tire ta jambe. The only problem is that this doesn’t mean I’m pulling your leg in French; it means that I’m shooting your leg. Tirer is an interesting French verb in that it means to pull, but pull can be used in a few different meanings. You’ll see “Tirez” on doors in France when you need to pull and you’ll also hear “tirez” when watching un film policier for a scene where the bad guy gets shot. Why? Because tirer is also the verb to shoot. So when you want to tell your French friend that you’re just joking, say je blague instead.

DS2_4751(Is he expressing an undying lust or that he’s too warm in that sweater? Photo by http://www.bettertravelphotos.com/)

2- I’m hot. A natural part of conversation if you want to express that the air temperature is too warm. For us Anglophones, we’re used to using the verb to be to express all our wants, needs, desires, and current state of comfort. However, it is not the same in French. To express discomfort with the warm temperature in French, we say j’ai chaud. To use être in this scenario works linguistically in French, but what you’re saying is something completely different. Je suis chaud / chaude (for women) means that you’re horny. Now, this may work if you’re trying to seduce that cute French classmate, but not if you’re trying to ask your host family to turn down the heat because you’re too warm.

i miss you(photo by www.imagesbuddy.com)

3- I miss you. What I love about this saying in English is that I don’t have to think about it. It’s simple and to the point- I (Andrea) miss you (loved one). In French, if you translate this expression exactly by saying je te manque you’re not saying that you miss that special someone, but rather, that he/she is missing you! If you want to express that you are the person who is doing the emotional suffering because of your loved one’s absence, we say tu me manques or you are missing/lacking me. This is one that takes getting used to. My best tip is to remember that it’s the opposite of what you’re used to.

As you can see, even with the advent of franglais and the many similarities between the French and English languages, there are still many things that are lost in translation. The best way to learn them is by speaking with a native and immersing yourself into French via French news sites, TV shows/movies, and books/magazines.

Bonne chance!




Alexa’s Study Abroad Journal: Midterm Swim

All photos are my own.

(Cluny Abbey is a former Benedictine monastery built around the year 910. It is located in the Saône-et-Loire department of France.)


For 21-year-old expats, study abroad is more often written as “study” abroad. I admit, it’s hard to write a midterm paper when you’re romping around the Bourguignon countryside for the weekend (and not just because the secluded hostel has no wi-fi). For three days, my classmates and I ate fresh farm-to-table sandwiches, fawned over some horses, and explored the stomping ground of 12th century monks. I even went to my first degustation! Still, I finished that paper, plus two exams, last week. By Thursday, I was done and more than ready to let off some steam.

One thing that might not pop into your brain when you think of the typical “study” abroad experience is mental and/or physical health. Believe me, my undergrad friends and I are stressed, too. Paris can be a beautiful tease when you’re up to your eyeballs in schoolwork. So, what do we do? We exercise, we drink red wine, and we repeat.

Last year, I found mental solace in a strict diet combined with high-intensity exercise. But, I haven’t been able to properly run since October. The thing about runners is that they love to lie to themselves. The other thing about runners is that they’re often pretty tuned-in to their bodies’ various health signals and warnings. And yet, they’ll run on their screwed up muscles and chipping bones until their legs detach from their hips. I’m barely exaggerating.

I went to the American Hospital in Paris a few weeks ago. My x-rays proved that I was generally healthy and simply suffering from an extreme bout of shin splints. The doctor prescribed rest. It’s been a lazy few weeks, but I’ve gotten to do a lot of things with my newfound free time. Namely, I’ve eaten croissants, crepes, and nutella like they’re going out of style. Plus, I rediscovered Buttes Chaumont and La Villette, the two biggest parks in Paris that are conveniently located in my arrondissement. I’ve bought some spring staples and books at pop-up flea markets. I’ve volunteered my leftover time at a middle school and a youth organization.

photo 2

(The Parc des Buttes Chaumont is my favorite public park in Paris. It was built in 1867 during Napoleon III’s regime. This is my view from the top in late August.)


Perhaps my favorite thing so far, though, was the pool. Espace Sportif Pailleron is a pretty big gym at the bottom of Buttes Chaumont. While regular gyms (think exercise bikes, ellipticals, and weight machines) are extremely expensive in Paris, the pools are nicely priced and much more popular. I recruited Ale to check it out with me on Saturday afternoon. Incidentally, the trip doubled as an excuse to get out of the dirty Parisian air for a while.

We walked into the glass-roofed brick building, just a bit hungover, and bought our tickets. (Jumping into chilled water is something I wasn’t completely ready to do in my right mind.) Students with proof of residence in the city enter for 1.80 euros (and for 3.10, otherwise). The first confusing thing I saw was the ice-skating rink.

As we entered the pre-pool arena (for lack of a better description), I was immediately so grateful for Ale’s presence. The place is half maze, half cultural adventure. We stood in the corner and tried to figure out what to do. Drying machines slide up and down on the walls. If you enter one changing booth, you exit into a different corridor. The bathrooms do not have toilet paper. Lockers are electronic and require memorizing numbers and codes. It is mandatory to take off your shoes, unless they are flip flops. You must shower and wash your feet before swimming. And, if you start swimming without a bathing cap, you get kicked out.

We learned some of these things the hard way, others by watching people, and still others thanks to a helpful cartoon instruction manual painted onto a wall. My workout, though, was amazing. I kept thinking of that one Vonnegut quote: “In the water I am beautiful”. And, you know, I felt pretty beautiful. Even though my goggles left me with red raccoon-like marks around my eyes and my cap was too tight for my head, I had fun. I got to blend in with the Parisians for a couple of hours. I saw bodies of all shapes, sizes, and colors, and didn’t feel too self-conscious about my own. I soaked my tired, achy muscles in a jacuzzi.

I am quite full of love and appreciation, and looking forward to more misadventures of the everyday French variety.

P.S. Sorry for the lack of pool photos, but that’d be a bit strange.


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.

degree 1

Combine your Liberal Arts Major with Another Degree – Your Future Self will Thank You!

(photo by www.smudailycampus.com)

Every once in a while, I like to sit back and reflect on what I’ve done with my life since graduating from college six years ago. It’s a way for me to gauge if I’ve made the most of my twenties (whatever that expression truly means) and if I’m reaching my full potential. This most recent trip down memory lane, I found myself thinking about liberal arts majors, of which I was during my college career. I have a Bachelors of Arts in French degree. The whole point of Twenty in Paris is to better prepare students for the Paris study abroad experience.

One part of this experience that I like to talk about often is the difference between French and American universities. Compared to our French friends, the American college experience is a pricey one, literally. Did you know the average college education debt in the USA was $28,400 in 2013 according to the Institute for College Access and Success? That’s a lot of money and it’s expected to only go up. Why am I mentioning this? Because with an increasing student loan debt, it’s important that students choose majors that are going to give them the most bang for their buck. American students don’t have the luxury of going to college only to increase their education; college is an investment in our future. And in this former liberal arts major’s humble opinion, not a liberal arts degree. Well, at least not a stand alone liberal arts (LA) degree.

In my study abroad searches online, I come across what seems like an overwhelming amount of LA study abroaders. I’ve seen study abroad fundraising sites asking for donations to help fund dancing, writing, singing, literature (I wrote an article on this one!), and of course, language in Paris. I have no doubt that these can be amazing study abroads, and I’m happy to know that LA majors understand the numerous benefits of an international education. But I’m still left wondering, if LA degrees are helping or hurting college students after college?

degree 2(Photo by myfootpath.com)

Based on two separate 2011 studies by the Center on Education and Workforce at Georgetown University and the American Community Survey, LA majors found themselves at the head of the unemployment line compared with engineering, computer sciences, and business majors. To me, this isn’t saying that LA majors are unemployable, but rather, that it’s harder for them to find employment, or at least, good employment. I love the French language and loved being a French major, but I had no idea what I wanted to do with it for a career. Right before I graduated, I went to a job fair and ended up getting hired by a car insurance company in its medical claims department. It was absolute hell, but I took it because it was a job with decent pay and benefits. If you aren’t familiar with a claims department (lucky!), being a claims adjuster is like being the weed that is under the base of the totem pole; so low in the company’s and customers’ eyes that there isn’t even a name for it.

After working for six years straight post graduation, I can tell you that I got promoted from the weed beneath the totem pole to the very bottom totem. A step up, but nothing to write home about. However, I make a fairly comfortable salary along with benefits that combined with some super frugal living allowed me to pay off my student loans and save enough money to buy a house. The concern for myself and students like me is that many stand alone LA degrees do not have the power to get you higher on the ol’ t. pole like other ones (example engineering or business). In order for me to move up at any corporation type environment, I’ll have to go back to school and get a science-y or business degree. Why? Because there isn’t a place for BA French degrees in the workplace if it’s not combined with any other degree, not even as a teacher. So what do you do if engineering or business isn’t your thing?

You gotta figure out what you want to do with your life. And it’s hard to do that at 20 years old. So how do you start? Speak with professors of your declared major at your university. For example, if you’re a literature major talk to a literature professor. Send him/her an email along the lines of, “Hi. My name is _______. I’m a 1st year literature student and I’d appreciate the opportunity to ask you about career paths for this major over coffee. Did you have some free time this week?”. Remember professors are busy too so if you don’t get a response back within a few days be sure to follow up with an in person visit. Also, don’t forget that you need to buy the coffee! The goal of this meeting is to find out your viable career paths as a LA major in that field.

degree 3(Photo by www.coca-colacompany.com)

As a LA major in the workforce, I can tell you from first hand experience that single LA degrees are entry level positions. You have to get really creative to find opportunities at your job that you can use to grow new skills to advance to higher positions. But not all is lost if you are a single LA major student. According to an extremely vague report by the Association of American Colleges & Universities, workers who majored as undergraduates in the humanities and social sciences earn about $2,000 more annually than those who majored in professional and pre-professional degrees. That’s great news…until you read the part about how this happens when workers are in the 56-60 years old age bracket. So what does this mean? It means that LA majors have to wait a while to see the financial benefits of their degree. What can you do to start seeing a little more green earlier? Combine that LA degree with something else!

The best advice I can give to LA majors is to pair your LA major with another degree and a career path that is going to give you the return on your investment. For example, if you’re a psychology major, why not pair it with marketing so that you can really understand how to appeal to consumers. Or are you a French major? Why not major in French, minor in business? You can get a job at a French speaking company and more easily move up in the business office than if you only had a French degree. Being a LA major is very rewarding, but it isn’t always the most practical for career advancement. Pairing it up with another major can be a great way to increase your marketability and moveability in the workforce.


Bonne chance!



Resources for this article