Guide to Studying Abroad in France

By Kailey Walters on April 19, 2018

People say all the time, “Travel while you’re young.” As college students, we are definitely dreamers with visions to see the world — although oftentimes we come up against many barriers that hamper our big plans, whether they be financial problems, time-sensitive issues, or what have you. Essentially, many of us simply feel that we don’t have the time or resources to travel abroad, especially when we’re weighed down by so many responsibilities here at home.

However, the wonderful thing about studying abroad with your university is that you kill two birds with one stone: you can still get academic credit while having an amazing time in a foreign country. And while there are certainly many options for where you choose to go, France is definitely a very popular destination.

Why study in France? Of course, it all depends on what you like to do and see when you travel, but France is certainly popular for a reason. From its famous architecture to its mouthwatering food to its breathtaking sights, France is a beautiful country rich with experiences just waiting to be had. The only thing is, there may be so much to do and see there that you can get overwhelmed just thinking about it. Where should you go first? How can you avoid tourist traps?

While it is a lot to process, you can certainly go about planning your trip in an orderly fashion so that you hit all of your desired spots. To make the most of your time studying abroad in France, read on for a comprehensive guide on what to do in this romantic country.

street, France, hill, buildings

The Basics

Before jumping right into the whole study abroad experience, it’s important to educate yourself on the French culture. Sure, the most valuable things you learn from being in a foreign country come with actually experiencing them yourself. However, it’s still a good idea to know at least a little bit about the culture beforehand so as not to offend anyone and so you can have the smoothest possible experience there.

Adopt French manners

As you might expect, the way the French act around each other is sure to be different from the way Americans behave in some instances. While in the U.S. we may sometimes brush off rude or offensive behavior from strangers without giving it much thought, having appropriate manners in France, on the other hand, is really important. For example, when talking or interacting with someone, you should show that you’re being polite by starting off with some kind of greeting or formality, such as a “hello” or “how are you?” Although it’s simple, it can go a long way in showing the French that you’re not just a silly, rude tourist — you’re doing your best to be polite and blend in with the culture! What’s more, if you need to stop someone on the street for directions, it’s a good idea to first apologize for bothering them and then briefly introduce yourself, before asking your questions. That way, hopefully, they’ll think kindly of you and be a little more willing to help you out.

Learn the language

Not saying you have to become fluent in French the week before your trip, but brushing up on the basics of the language is certainly a good idea. As with many other countries, the natives are sure to appreciate your efforts at speaking French with them, even if your skills aren’t so great or they can’t understand you perfectly. Even learning a few simple, basic phrases such as “hello,” “good-bye,” “how are you,” “thank you,” “you’re welcome,” etc., can be very useful in communicating with others and showing that you’re attempting to respect and fit in with the culture.

To jumpstart your French language skills, you might consider using an app like DuoLingo (or any number of other apps out there), or perhaps a guidebook with some useful words and phrases. Of course, when it comes to learning a language, the Internet is at your fingertips — so don’t hesitate to take advantage of all the resources out there!

Protect your stuff

As much as you try to blend in with the culture, sometimes it’s just going to be obvious that you’re a tourist — that is, a tourist with a lot of valuables. As a result, a potential downside to traveling abroad anywhere is the constant possibility that you may be targeted by pick-pocketers.

To ensure that your belongings (wallet, phone, passport, camera, other expensive electronics, etc.) stay safe, you may want to invest in locks for your bags. If you are staying in a hotel with your university while studying abroad, the hotel staff is most likely reputable and trustworthy … but, if you prefer to play it safe, it’s still a good idea to lock up your stuff in your suitcases and any other bags that you leave in the hotel room. Further, if you’re out all day sightseeing and touring, make sure to keep your belongings with you and on your person at all times. Backpacks are a little tricky because thieves can easily unzip them and take out your things without you noticing or turning around; it’s better to have a cross-body bag or purse so that you can keep your eyes and hands on it at all times.

train, platform, subway, waiting

How to get around

So congratulations! You’ve made it to France, you’re excited, and … you don’t know where to go or how to get there.

To avoid getting to that point, you should definitely come up with a game plan before you arrive. An essential thing to know is how you’re going to get around. If studying abroad with your school you’ll probably receive some help with transportation, perhaps in the form of private buses for special trips or pre-paid metro passes. However, that may not cover everything for everywhere you want to go, especially if you plan on making your own side trips at some point — which is why you need to know how the public transportation system operates.

With an efficient and modern transportation system, France offers public train, bus, and taxi services, all under the authority of the RATP. It is definitely in your best interest to familiarize yourself with these modes of transportation in terms of how much they cost, where they go, which stops are closest to where you’ll be staying, etc. Using a map — whether paper or electronic is up to you — can also be super helpful in plotting out train or bus routes, so that you have a visual representation of whatever city you’re traveling in.

studying abroad in France, where to go, what to eat

Where to go

If you know how to get around on your own, the exciting part comes next: what places you’re going to visit. Undeniably, France is a big place with lots to do and see. Depending on personal preferences, you can either travel around with a tour group or opt to go solo. An advantage to being with a guided tour is that you can learn a lot about the history of the place (whether you’re visiting a monument, museum, etc.) and appreciate it for its significance. However, if you decide to travel on your own, there’s nothing wrong with that either.

The specific city you’re staying in definitely plays a huge role in what kinds of places you’ll be visiting. Paris, for example, is among the most famous cities in France to visit. If you’re planning to sightsee primarily in Paris, there are a number of things you can do.

Of course, pretty much everyone has heard of all the typical famous tourist spots: the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Elysees, the Louvre, the Notre Dame Cathedral … the list goes on and on. With so many different, wonderful sites to visit, you might find yourself running out of time to see absolutely everything … which is okay. Instead of trying to cram everything into the span of several days or weeks, come up with a list of the places you most want to visit and then create a schedule that contains your priority spots. It’s smart to plan around how much time you think you’ll spend at a certain site and how tourist-heavy it is, because many of these spots are strong tourist magnets and will certainly get crowded quickly. What’s more, you should create your schedule based on roughly how far apart the different sites are from one another, so that you don’t waste time traveling unnecessarily long distances.  

If you’re into history, culture, and the arts, visiting some famous museums might be a good option. A few (which you’ve probably heard of) include Musee d’Orsay, housing the world’s largest collection of Impressionist artwork; Musee Rodin, containing more than 6,000 of Rodin’s sculptures; and the Musee Picasso, with the world’s biggest public collection of Picasso’s work.

If you like shopping, there are also many chic shopping neighborhoods you can casually stroll through to get a feel for Parisian life. Some popular places that might pique your interest include Rue Saint-Honore, Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen (the world’s largest and most popular flea market), the Marais, and the Rue des Martyrs.

Besides all of the famous tourist spots, there are still a number of local things you can do and places to visit if you ever need a break from the hustle and bustle of tourist life and want to get an authentic taste of the French culture and lifestyle. While in France, ask around for recommendations on local things to do — perhaps wine tastings, art gallery exhibitions in the neighborhood, and anything else that your heart desires. You may be pleasantly surprised at what lies beyond the surface of France.

What to eat

Of course, a major part of traveling abroad no matter where you go is the food. Whether or not you know anything about French cuisine, you’re sure to be in for a treat.

You may even have had certain French dishes while in the U.S., but most likely, nothing you try in America can match authentic French food. One well-known dish you should try is escargot (snails), a French delicacy served with butter and garlic. Another is coq au vin, a mouthwatering dish in which chicken, vegetables, and garlic are braised in red wine. What’s more, don’t forget about ratatouille (bringing to mind the lovable rat chef in the animated Disney Pixar movie), a rich French stew made with zucchini, mushrooms, and eggplant. And if you happen to be feeling a little adventurous, you might even want to try boudin noir (blood sausage: sausage that contains pig blood), which is a traditional French staple that can be eaten either on its own or with a side of potatoes.

Obviously, you’ll have room for dessert afterward, which means you’ll want to indulge in some authentic creme brulee, profiteroles (puff pastries filled with vanilla ice cream and topped with chocolate sauce), and macarons, just to name a few.

macarons, plate, dessert

Undoubtedly, food is a huge part of French culture — so you should take the opportunity to indulge and experience it to your heart’s desire!

What to study while studying abroad

If you happen to be very interested in studying abroad in France but don’t have a particular university to go with, there are still many ways you can have that study abroad experience! On under the “study abroad” tab, you will find “France Study Abroad,” which will take you to a page with a number of different listings for study abroad programs, hosted by organizations including AIFS (American Institute for Foreign Study) and API. The programs listed there offer a variety of courses you can take and allow you to choose how long you’ll be abroad (e.g. a semester or a full year). That way, you can fulfill your dream of traveling abroad while also studying something you love or are interested in.

Ultimately, if you have the opportunity to study abroad in France, don’t hesitate to do everything you can to make it worth your while. If you plan out what you’re going to do and make sure all the little details are taken care of, you are sure to have an amazing and unforgettable experience.

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