Studying Abroad in Paris

By Autumn Palen

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[3 minute read]

Prior to 2020, during one of my spring semesters at USC as an undergraduate student, I studied abroad in Paris and it was a fully immersive experience. All of my classes were in French, the family I lived with was French, and wouldn’t you know it, quite a lot of people I passed on the streets were keen on speaking French. Those handful of months were wonderful. My teachers were all angels, the city was gorgeous, and although I had a relationship dynamic with my host family akin to Harry Potter’s relationship with the Dursleys, I’d say that overall I enjoyed my experience.

First of all, the city is gorgeous. Ridiculously so. I remember my first night there—awake since 5 am, taking a post-dinner trip to the Louvre, walking from the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower, and stopping mid-journey for wine and cheese. The mix of sleep deprivation, jet-lag, numbness from the cold, and walking nearly all day culminated into the sensation that I was drifting through a dream. I couldn’t have actually been there; it was all too much. I thought there was no way this tiny, ovular, romantic city was going to be my home for the next fifteen weeks.

Wine and cheese from a local cafe in Paris, taken from @autumn.palen on Instagram

But it was my home. Every weekday, I took the metro to class. Although admitting my adoration for the Paris Metro garnered weird looks from actual Parisians (mainly because of the general odor permeating the trains/platforms, as well as the occasional muzak cover of Ne Me Quitte Pas), I held strong that I loved the public transportation system. It was so efficient, arriving every 3 minutes, maybe 6 in the worst-case scenario (I understand that Los Angeles is a much larger, more car-based city, but I couldn’t help but notice how much more efficient the Paris Metro was than the LA one).

Photo of the Paris Metro taken by @autumn.palen on Instagram

Aside from in-class discussions, one of the ways I improved my verbal and listening skills in Paris was through conversation groups. I know this makes me sound like a walking advertisement for conversation groups here at ALI, but I promise it’s true. French people are in general pretty cool people, and that can be intimidating. Personally, I don’t possess a ton of confidence, so approaching French youths with no grounds to do so was a no-go. Thankfully, my particular abroad program allowed us to chat with the interns at the program for one hour on a weekly basis. I have to say, it was really interesting to attend conversation groups as the participant instead of the leader. Initially, I was preoccupied with how I sounded to native speakers— which words I was mispronouncing, what an equivalent-sounding accent in English would be—but after a while, discussing common interests and getting to know each other made my progress skyrocket.

All in all, I’m thankful for conversation groups, whether I’m a participant or a leader. And while Paris was beautiful and easily traversable, I’m glad to be back. As I am writing this, I know my time at USC is soon coming to an end, along with my time conversing with students on ALI’s behalf. It’s been an unbelievably great experience, and I already know that I will greatly miss all the people I got to meet in Paris and through ALI.

Featured Image by Léonard Cotte on Unsplash

Autumn is a recent USC graduate who majored in Film & TV Production, with a minor in French. She is from San Diego, California and enjoys listening to music, watching TV, traveling outside of her usual parameters whenever she can, and drawing incessantly. She also loves learning about languages and lifestyles from all around the world.