Tag Archives: paris study abroad problem


Outside Class Learning Tips

(photo by: www.flickr.com)

No matter what kind of study abroad program you’re a part of, or if you go abroad for other reasons, it can be really hard to stay motivated in learning the local language. As Andrea explained in her books, she was able to get by in her first semester with almost no work at all. So if you’re in a program where there’s not 100% accountability, you’ll need to keep some self-motivation so that you don’t regret your time spent abroad because of not improving your language skills. This means working on it even in your free time, but finding an enjoyable way to do so. Here are two tips that will help you see the most improvement outside of actual studying for classes.

Don’t spend all your time with other Americans. Even if you pick a living option away from other Americans (which is definitely advisable since it’s obvious you’ll speak English with them), you can still easily end up spending all your free time with other Americans and therefore speaking English. It can definitely be scary to try and befriend locals since you don’t know their customs and slang, etc. But it’s also extremely likely that there will be other international students in your area who are equally as anxious about fitting in, and they will become equally great friends. It’s doubly rewarding because French can be the common language you speak and you’ll have friends from around the world at the same time. But also, you can meet locals and practice your French with them by doing an exchange. Plan a meeting where you spend thirty minutes talking in French, then thirty in English, etc. Since lots of people are trying to learn English these days, it’s a win-win situation. Just do some searching in both languages and you will probably find some websites where people post exchange requests; couchsurfing.org is a great start. And if you’re more of the skype-chat person, sites like italki.com can help you get connected with people around the world. But despite how important it is to not spend a lot of time speaking English, it’s ok to keep a few American friends- for your sanity! There will be times when you just need to vent in English and speak in your own way, and it’s refreshing to hear other people’s stories in your native language. Just don’t get so comfortable with the escape that you give up on having other friends!

Don’t spend your free time watching TV shows and movies in English. There are some fantastic French films out there which deserve to be watched, and you can learn both new vocabulary and interesting culture tidbits. The actors tend to speak more quickly in comedies, so just find a version with subtitles and you’re good to go! When I watch a French film and understand what’s going on, I automatically feel more connected to the culture and it motivates me to do the same thing again, so it’s a great domino effect. Some of my favorites (which were all made recently) have been: L’équipier, Les saveurs du palais, Populaire, Nous York, La belle et la bête (2014), Les intouchables, 9 mois ferme, and Qu’est qu’on a fait au bon dieu?. Unfortunately for us, there’s not a plethora of great French TV series to get addicted to, so I personally stick to movies, but the news is always a great daily watch. It’s important to know what’s going on in the country you’re studying abroad in, so you’re working two skills at once. But there are also some decent game shows in French in which you’ll also learn some interesting trivia. And as with keeping American friends, just watch American TV shows and films when your brain is hurting from too much French or you’re having an “I hate France” day. Those will come and go:)

abBasique(photo of French tv stations by: www.vitamine.ch)

I have had friends who left from their time abroad without much improvement in French, saying it was the fault of their host family not speaking to them enough or their classes being awful, etc. But the bottom line is that it’s up to you to learn the language. There are hundreds of free resources online simply for practicing grammar and vocabulary, and all kinds of strategies to learn and have fun (like what I’ve already mentioned), so there are no excuses! You can’t hold other people responsible for your lack of determination. And no matter how hard it may seem, it is possible! So just hold on and have fun!



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.


A note on illegal immigration when studying abroad in France

(Keeping warm or being a clandestin? photo by: reptiles.zoo.com)

In light of American Attorney General, Eric Holder’s, statement last Thursday on how undocumented immigrant (that’s PC code for illegal) children have the right to attend public schools / get an education in America, I thought I would remind you about immigration expectations as a student going abroad to France. No matter what your stance is on this issue on the US front, it is important to understand that our French friends do not view immigration the same way, especially for college students. It is important to understand that even though you are going to France to study, you still have to follow immigration laws and procedures. Let’s take a quick look at some key areas that you need to know to be a legal French immigrant.


As a legal immigrant student to France, you are required to obtain approval from the French government in order to stay there legally beyond the 3 months your passport allows. Here’s a breakdown of the French visas for foreign study abroad students.

“ If you are studying abroad for a summer you do not need a visa but you do need a valid and current passport. If you are studying abroad in Paris for one semester or an academic year, you must have a visa. If you are studying abroad for one semester, you need to obtain a visa de court séjour étudiant which lasts from one to ninety days. If you are studying abroad for an academic year (two semesters), you need to obtain a visa de long séjour étudiant which is for more than ninety days and for students who are eighteen years of age or older. After ninety days, you must file for the carte de séjour with the préfecture de police (the police station) in Paris to obtain a residency card.” (from Chapter 2: The Visa from Twenty in Paris: A Young American Perspective of Studying Abroad in Paris)

The visa allows the French government to confirm that you are a safe person with no criminal history to whom they will allow access into their country. If you have any criminal background, please talk this over with your study abroad office to find out what your options are. Please do NOT go abroad only on a passport and try to sign up for classes either directly at a French university or with your university’s program. Also please do NOT stay in France past your visa’s expiration date. Doing any of these actions (or anything similar) puts you in the category of illegal immigration which is against the law and is subject to deportation, detention or some cases imprisonment in France.


Studying abroad (especially in Paris) can be expensive so it’s natural to want to get a job abroad to help pay for things. However, as a foreign student and non European Union citizen (for Americans) you do not have the right to work in France. The reason is that France has been suffering from really high unemployment rates (it’s like 11%) for years and they want French citizens to have first priority for jobs. In order to work in France, you must have a work visa from a French company before you go. Switching jobs would be difficult as you would have to start the whole process over again. What about internships? Many American/ Anglophone students are lured by the prospect of teaching English while a student in France. Often these opportunities are internships which means that you do not get paid for your work. This is not breaking any laws so please feel free to do this. But one thing I caution you is if the internship opportunity says they will pay you. Again if you don’t have a work visa, you cannot get legally paid which means that you are most likely being paid cash. Please understand that this is illegal as it is untaxed income. As an immigrant, this would be highly unwise to accept payment as it could cost you your visa and get you an early ticket home.

un-clandestin-39673(photo by: melusinefee.wordpress.com)

Attitudes on clandestins

Clandestin is the French word for illegal immigrant and you do not want to be one. America and France share many similar culture traits but not when it comes to dealing with this issue. Whereas the United States has been very lenient on illegal immigration for the past 30 years, France has been cracking down. When I was in Paris, I recall seeing images of people being deported back on planes to their native country at least once a week on TV. It was a message that rang clear- illegal immigration is not tolerated. There are many levels of illegal immigration. As an American, British or Australian student who stays past their visa or works under the table, your level of illegal immigration is at the bottom of the list. But that doesn’t mean that you should disregard immigration laws because you will have to pay the price if and when you’re caught.

The point is this- illegal immigration abroad can cause a boat load of troubles that are easy to avoid in the first place. When planning your study abroad, think about the possibility of working/ internships and research your legal obligations to make those opportunities happen.


I Like College but Love Study Abroad

(This is the closet thing I could find to someone saying I LOVE college. Photo by: www.communicatingideas.com)

On Twitter yesterday, I came across a university study abroad office tweet that said “What do you LOVE about #studyabroad?” with love written just like that in capital letters. Now as a former study abroad student whose sole mission is to debunk this romantic, perfection fantasy of studying abroad, this really flipped my noodle. That tweet got me thinking that maybe at 5 o’clock in the morning without any breakfast yet I may be a little cranky and overreacting. So I looked at a few universities’ general Twitter accounts to see if I could find something familiar. Guess what? I couldn’t find one that said “What do you LOVE about #college?”. So why was my proverbial noodle flipped?

Because I was once sold on this dream that studying abroad somehow transcends normal life and is a picture perfect experience and this university was trying to sell it to unsuspecting students. If you’re new to the Twenty in Paris blog/ books, I was super disappointed how the Paris study abroad experience was not magical but rather filled with real life ups and downs heightened by cultural differences and language ineptitude. Anyhoo, here is a university whose study abroad professionals are promoting a myth when they know better! Studying abroad is a more challenging version, not an easier one, of college. It tests you in ways that college in your home country has never challenged you before. Now this does not mean to say that studying abroad is not a rewarding experience whose benefits, I feel, far outweigh the challenge. Just simply means that like going to college in your home country, it is complex with the added bonus of a foreign school system, country, language, and living arrangement all while being away from your loved ones. Sounds easy enough, right?

So why isn’t college marketed this way? How come colleges aren’t tweeting about how much you’ll LOVE their university? Why is that you’ll like college but love study abroad? When I was in high school, I knew that college was not easy- that there are things like papers (lots of them), mid-terms and finals, presentations, internships, staying up late, crazy tuition costs, high student loans, etc… Was I or other high school students deterred from going to college? Nooooo. And why? I believe it is because we knew that the hard work that is college will give us a better edge with employers to get a job one day. We were provided a realistic picture of college but also advised of its benefits and determined that the pros outweighed the cons.

sa marketing

(Example of study abroad marketing- doubt you’ll see the whole experience covered. Photo by: passport.gwu.edu)

So why don’t we do this with studying abroad? I started thinking that maybe college is not portrayed as this dream experience because many of us know at least 1 person, often in our family, who went and told us all about it so no one would buy that college is a perfect dream experience. But how many of you know someone who studied abroad? I was the first and only person in my family/friends and the same may be true for many students. So in that respect, it’s easier to sell the study abroad dream because who is going to refute it?

Studying abroad is like an adventure- personal/spiritual as well as cultural. If you budget correctly, you can travel around the host country and to neighboring countries; you can see historical sites, world class museums; expand your palette and improve your linguistic skills; and discover who you are. It is with studying abroad where you will really find out what are your strengths and weaknesses; what you can and cannot do (you’ll be surprised at how much you can do); how you have to be self-reliant and independent. These are all wonderful things but to disregard their accompanying challenging aspects will only be a disservice to you.

Don’t get me wrong- your university study abroad office is doing a great job and they are there for you as they want you to succeed. But I put each student and study abroad advisor up to this test- every time study abroad is mentioned, count how many times the idea / romantic notion of study abroad is hinted at or out-right said versus how many times the challenging aspects and how to deal with them abroad is mentioned. If you hear/ observe that the trials of living and studying abroad are not being discussed, bring them up! The only way to know how to prepare for them is to identify the challenges and talk about how to get past them. And then maybe, just maybe, you’ll like studying abroad just like you like college.


Have you only been told about all the great things you are going to do abroad but aren’t quite buying? Are you someone who is looking for the truth? Answer all of your questions about what the experience of living and going to college abroad to avoid any surprises with book The Paris Diaries: The Study Abroad Experience Uncensored. Looking for something more technical like exactly how many and which documents do you need to get your French visa? Check out Twenty in Paris: A Young American Perspective of Studying Abroad in Paris.


Regretting Going Abroad

(photo by: www.gapyear.com)

Last week, Andrea talked about how it’s important to prepare in many ways before studying abroad so that you don’t run the risk of regretting your time abroad for one reason or another. It can be because of lack of finances, dreams not matching reality, language failures, etc. She assures that with preparation, there should be no reason to regret your experience. I am in agreement, and I would like to share why.

It’s true that my experience was a bit different from the typical study abroad, as I was going to work for a French family and only take four hours of French classes per week. However, they are the same experience for the most important aspects: living with a host family, learning a new language, living in a new culture and environment, etc. I was definitely outside of my element, and my fellow au pairs (nannies) were as well- no matter where in the world they were from! That was certainly a comforting notion- that even girls from other places in Europe had difficulty adapting to life in this region. The U.S. just happens to be farther away!

Learning French was a challenge and always frustrating no matter how much I improved, but not impossible. The same thing for the region; one just has to adapt to a new way of life. The most difficult part for me in my first year was my host family. To live with them was, pardon my French, absolute shit. I could never relax because I felt like I was always at work while living with them. They didn’t treat me like a friend or even an equal; it was clear that I was the hired help, and they thought very little of me. They only did the minimum necessary to help me adapt- the rest was for me to learn on my own. Everything started ok at the beginning, but I soon learned that I couldn’t count on them for very much.


(photo by: brightdrops.com)

Two of my closest friends were Americans who had similar problems with their own families, and their experiences were sour enough that they were extremely happy to return home and swear off ever living with a host family abroad again. But for me, no matter how awful my host family experience was, I decided to try again and hope that the second time around would be better. I applied to a regular university and moved directly to Geneva. However, the family I then went to work for in the fall of 2013 was worse than the first! So after a month and a half, I started with a third family, who I’ve just finished working for in another fail.
I have had some awful experiences in terms of host families, but I still have not let those experiences ruin my entire time abroad. I have improved my French enormously, I’ve learned about new ways of doing things in daily life, and I have met some truly incredible people. It’s primarily the people who have got me through all the hard times, and it’s for such people that I stay. I refuse to let greedy and selfish families prevent me from learning, growing, and discovering new things. There are definitely realities that need to be faced in order to prepare to go abroad, but no matter what, there’s no reason you should totally regret the time spent. There’s always an important lesson to learn, and always people you have met that have changed you for the better.


Did you attend all your university’s study abroad info sessions but still have questions about Paris? See exactly what the experience of living and going to college is like before you go abroad to avoid any surprises with book The Paris Diaries: The Study Abroad Experience Uncensored. Looking for something more technical like exactly how many and which documents do you need to get your French visa? Check out Twenty in Paris: A Young American Perspective of Studying Abroad in Paris.


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.