Student Journals: AIFS in Paris, France

Pedro Villa
Babson College
University of Paris, France

September 12

So far the trip has been a blast!

Cannes was unbelievable! Crazy things happened there…anyway. I met everyone in my group so that was good. The French class was great too; my teacher Martine was brilliant and funny. I think she prepared me well for the placement exam in Paris. The other people in my class have terrible accents and they were starting to affect mine but over time I have been getting better at my French.

Cannes is beautiful, and the school is pretty cool too. Studying at the College International was like studying in a resort by the Mediterranean. Everyday after class I went to downtown Cannes, to a nearby town, or to the beach. It was VERY nice. The scenery was constantly stunning.

In two weeks I was able to visit Cannes, Nice, St. Tropez, Monaco, Antibes, Juan Les Pins, the Island of St. Marguerite, a small Provencal town named Caillou, the lake St. Casien which feeds fresh water to the south of France, and a cool art gallery named the Fondation Maeght, which is dedicated to modern art, particularly Matisse’s work.

With my girlfriend Patricia I had an excellent time. I got to meet her parents more, and had the opportunity to meet her grandparents, Patricia and Oke. Lovely people, they were very cute and warmhearted. I stayed in her studio for the time that she was in Cannes before parting to Milan to start school in Bocconi. It was very nice to get to see her world and what is her home.

The voyage to Paris was by TGV and I arrived at the Gare de Lyon with my fellow 54 Americans without delays. I was given the address of my host lady and together with Jake, my roommate; we took a cab to our new home. I am currently living in the 16th arrondissement, which is the richest neighborhood in Paris. I like the apartment, it certainly exceeded my expectations. I have a room to myself, I share the shower with Jake, and we have everything we need in a three minute walk radius. Madame Boyer is nice; she has a strong character because she has hosted young students for 19 years and knows all the ins and outs of having two young guys living in her apartment. This bothers Jake because he expected Madame to open her home to him, he does not seem to get it that we are only renting a room. Anyhow, despite the obstacles, I like where I am living and Madame is very nice to me. I try to speak in French to her all the time but it is hard at times.

So far in Paris I have been trying to do things that are not so touristy because I have already been here previously. Nonetheless, I did go to the Musee d’Orsay with my three Russian friends Alia, Masha, and Alina (They are very cool and crazy!). At the museum I visited my old impressionist friends including Monet’s Venus, who I have to visit every time I go to Paris.

I went to La Tour Montparnasse and it was awesome. I got a beautiful panoramic view of Paris with the Tour Eiffel, the Arc de Triomphe, and Montmartre, which are the other key panoramic spots in the city. I also went to the Luxembourg gardens, which are very cool. I have walked through St. Germain des Pres and the Quartier Latin quite a lot but I still have some more exploration to do.

October 2

Today I went on my first daytrip train ride in France with a friend named Alexi. We went to Chartres. We saw the Cathedral there and it was quite a sight! We entered the church and it was full of the most beautiful stained glass. The church resembles very much Notre Dame de Paris but this one is even gloomier. We saw a weeding and I felt strange because for the first time I really realized how important that ceremony is and how much it changes one’s life. Anyhow! Then we went to the top of the Northern tower. I felt like the Hunchback of Notre Dame because we stood next to the bells and the gargoyles while we enjoyed the beautiful view.

Later in the evening I went with my friends Myriam, Katie, Ashley, and Alexi to wander around Paris because there was a particular night celebration named La Nuit Blanche. Paris was basically turned into an art gallery that night. Most of the monuments were illuminated, most of the museums opened until late, there were concerts everywhere, and interesting videos played on building facades. I went to the Opera Garnier where a woman was singing opera on a high stand in front of a multitude. Then we walked to Les Halles to a concert with fake snow and to see a building on whose façade played a video with ants. Later we went to the Centre Georges Pompidou but when we got there (at 2am) they were closing. Later I went with Alexi to the Hotel de Ville because there was a particular exhibition with curtains, lighting, and music inside the building

October 5

During the past two days I have explored the world of Monet. Yesterday I visited the Marmottan Monet Museum, which is a small private museum located very close to where I live on the 16th. The museum is dedicated to Impressionism and the basement is dedicated completely to Monet’s works, including a round room full of water lilies. I think this is one of my favorite museums in the world. The museum owns more than 100 Monet paintings, and it owns a lot of other cool stuff like one of Monet’s palettes, one pair of his eyeglasses, some of his sketchbooks, photographs, and original brochures to his shows. I loved it there.

Today I completed my Monet experience by traveling to Giverny with 4 friends: Teresa, Lauren, Alina, and Alexis. It was absolutely phenomenal! The water lily pond is gorgeous, the Japanese bridge very cute, and the garden itself absolutely spectacular. It is very well kept and full of a great variety of flowers. The day was sunny and warm too so it was a perfect day to have decided to go. The water lily pond is very peaceful and it only takes a little time in silence to understand Monet’s passion for light and movement and to begin to see through his eyes by admiring this constant changing place. Lastly, local ice cream sweetened my friends and my afternoon, and it was simply a perfect moment in my life.

October 8

Today I finished my first week of school in Paris. It is quite different from Babson because I am not studying any business at all; all my classes are in French. The overall experience is good though. In my regular French class there are 26 of us in which there are 16 nationalities represented, mostly Asian. My teacher is a sweet old lady who seems to know exactly where we have problems because in two days she has hit exactly where I am having problems with my French. The other classes are good too (and) rather enjoyable. I continue to practice my French and I feel that it has improved. Today I went to register for phonetics classes and the lady who interviewed me did not know what to do with me because my pronunciation was very good. It was only until I told her that I had problems with r’s and u’s that she figured out where to place me. Anyway, I ended up being exempted on Thursdays because my phonetics class interferes with another course I’m taking at the same time.

Tomorrow I leave to Normandy with AIFS. I am very excited because it has been about six to seven years since I last saw Mont Saint Michel and St. Malo, and because I have never been to the D-day beaches.

October 11

Yesterday I got back from Normandy. It was a phenomenal weekend! On Saturday we went to the D-Day beaches and learned about WWII and how the allied forced managed to end with the Nazis. I almost cried about 10 times because the scenery is shocking. We went to the American cemetery where about 9,000 to 10,000 American soldiers are buried. I made calculations, it’s almost 4 Babsons. HORRIBLE. Then I also realized that these men were all my age. THAT SCARED ME and it also made me sad because at this stage of my life I have a milliard dreams that I want to achieve. I was also shocked when I saw their death dates because they are all very close to each other. I would hate to die like that.

Anyhow, that part of the trip was impressive. I finalized my Saturday by arriving to a hotel in St. Malo and eating seafood at a local restaurant.

On Sunday we went to Mont St. Michel. It was beautiful and I tried some of the famous omelets that they make there. Our tour guide of the monastery was very interesting and I think I learned a thing or two that I will remember.

Today I finally had my first class of History and Architecture of Paris. I think it will be a great class; I am very excited because there is a lot of outdoor learning.

October 13

Today I went to the Centre Georges Pompidou to visit its modern art museum. I ran into some of my old friends including Giacometti, Magritte, Dali, Picasso, Tamara de Lempicka, Matisse, Miro and three new ones who are Tanguy, Klein, and Cesar. Tanguy is a Surrealist, Klein does paintings with fire and others with blue paint and uses real people as his brushes, and Cesar makes art out of squished automobiles. The museum was very big and I liked the display of the art.

It has been raining a lot in Paris and the temperature has gone down substantially. I still like Paris nonetheless. I tried getting an Italian visa to visit Patricia but I was denied because I have to apply from my country of residence. I guess my trip to Milan will have to wait until I get my Carte de Sejour. Lastly, Madame Boyer has been in Italy since Friday, it has been awesome to have the apartment to myself.

October 14

Today I had a special evening. Thanks to AIFS, I was able to attend an Orchestre de Paris concert avec la Symphonie de Paris. It was spectacular! The concert included music by Mendelssohn (Mer calme et heureux voyage, ouverture en re majeur), Schumann (Concerto pour piano et orchestre en la mineur), and Beethoven (Symphonie n6, en fa majeur, op.68, “Pastorale”). There were about 60 musicians. I counted 8 basses, 10 cellos, 12 violas, about 30 violins, one man on the drums, 2 trumpets, 2 French horns, 3 clarinets, 3 flutes (with one man playing the piccolo), a trombone, two trumpets, two oboes, and two oboes that are not oboes because they are bigger. Oh yes, and for Schumann they brought a pianist who was absolutely fantastic. His name is Lars Vogt. I wanted to be the conductor today because the man looked like he knew he had the best job in the world this evening. I mean, he had the Paris Symphony Orchestra just for himself! His name is Marek Janowski. He’s good!

Anyhow, I felt like in heaven today and I remembered my evenings in Sagamasa (my farm in Colombia) building puzzles next to Bito, my grandfather. It was nice to remember my grandfather.

October 15

I just ended my best weekend in Paris. Patricia came to visit and I finally had the opportunity to live this city with someone I love. On Friday I picked her up at the Charles de Gaulle airport with a dozen red roses. She loved it. Once we were installed in the hotel we began our weekend by going to Notre Dame, to the outside of the Louvre, and then into St. Germain de Pres where we had a very late lunch in a brasserie. We had delicious French onion soup, mussels, and wine. Then I took her to the Eiffel Tower because she had never been there, and I showed her the city from the top. It was a beautiful dark sunset and it was freezing outside! Patricia held close to me to stay warm. I liked that. After descending from the top of the Eiffel Tower we went to two bars near the Champs Elysées and had nice drinks with some of my friends. We ended the night by going out clubbing with more friends to a disco near the Champs Elysées named Les Milliardaires. It was loads of fun.

On Saturday I took Patricia to Montmartre. Le Sacre Coeur Basilica was beautiful because it is finally completely restored in the inside. We walked around the hill but we were disappointed by the tourist trap it has. Even the crepes were overpriced and badly made. That made me take her to the Quartier Latin to end the afternoon in the Jardin de Luxembourg and at bars eating and drinking how it should really be. We had dinner in a cute little cobbled-stoned street and it was very nice.

Today, Sunday, was the best day of the three. We spent all day at Le Marais, also known as the Jewish Quarter. This neighborhood is very cute and full of stores, nice restaurants, and beautiful little streets. It has a lot of charm. We had lunch in a Spanish restaurant and we were both like in heaven there. The food was delicious! We also went to a market in the street in which one can find all sorts of vegetables, cheeses, meats, sea food, books, objects, clothes, etc, etc. It was very exciting! We spent the rest of our time in Paris wandering in the area near the Place de Vosges, going into stores, and falling in love with jewelry, shoes, sunglasses, and clothes. We also made plans to see each other more often this semester…hehehehe.

Anyhow, the weekend is over and now I have to get back on track and think about school. I need to get my French to the same level as my Spanish and my English.

October 20

Today I had my first wine appreciation course and I really liked it. My professor, Madame Melba Allen-Buillard, a sommelier and Oenology professor, is a very interesting woman who is passionate about wine tasting. She is knowledgeable on the subject and thus carries a rich conversation about wine tasting that is very interesting! The two hours or class flew by and I got to taste two white wines (out of four that we had planned to taste but we ran out of time) and I really had the chance to try to describe the tastes and identify their uniqueness. I can’t wait for next Wednesday!

Lastly, I believe that my goal for this class, which is to learn to make educated guesses when selecting wines, will be achieved. I find the topic very interesting and the professor is simply fantastic. Oh yes, and I received a corkscrew and two wine glasses as part of the course materials, isn’t that cool?

October 23

Today was a beautiful day in France. It was a perfect warm and sunny autumn day to go out of the city and explore a little of its nearby countryside. Today I went with my friends Alina, and Lauren to Chantilly, the home of the Chantilly Palace (with the Conte museum) and the home of a lot of equestrian festivals.

The palace was absolutely gorgeous and it was particularly spectacular because it has been a museum since the 19th century; its last owner donated the palace to the state and thus turned it into a museum. The palace holds an amazing collection of important paintings and the cool thing is that they are hung in their original places. That is, that they are all disorganized on the walls which is contrary to modern museums which have their art divided by schools, styles, and ages.

The palace also has its chambers, which are practically identical to when they were last used, and it holds a beautiful library with two floors, the type one sees in movies.

The outside of the palace is spectacular because of its beautiful gardens and fountains. I think that is where I had the most fun because the day was absolute spectacular and it was simply a joy to be walking around these beautiful gardens and woods.

October 29

For the weekend I organized with Patricia an adventure to the south of France. We met on Friday evening in Cannes, at her home, stayed there overnight, and in the morning we drove in her mother’s car to Aix en Provence. We took Patricia’s younger sister, Stephanie, with us for the day. Aix en Provence is a beautiful town and I think that I chose a good weekend to go because it was fresh and sunny. The architecture of the town is beautiful and it has a great street named Le Cours Mirabeau which is a like a type of Champs Elysées type of street, only mini, with lots of beautiful trees, and fountains in the middle of the street thus forming unnecessary roundabouts. Together with Patricia and Stephanie we found our petit hotel, which was extremely well located, about 5 meters away from Cours Mirabeau and a beautiful rotary named after Charles de Gaulle with a gigantic fountain in the center. The hotel was cute, a bit smelly but cute nonetheless, and we set of to walk the town. It was full of cafes, restaurants, shops, boutiques, and other cool stores, so we were very entertained all afternoon while walking through the windy and labyrinth streets that form the old Aix en Provence. Later that day Stephanie returned to Cannes and so Patricia and I decided to tame our hunger by going to a delicious tapas restaurant. It was good. Afterwards, we went bar hopping because Aix en Provence is a student town, so it is full of bars at night.

November 1

On Sunday, Patricia and I woke up early and drove to Avignon, the home of the papacy during the XII and XIII centuries. We walked everywhere despite the unnecessary rain and cold, and went into the Palais des Papes and every single church I could find. It was cool. We also went to the famous Pont d’Avignon, but I found it disappointing because it is simply the remains of a bridge. I had imagined something as impressive as Il Ponto Vecchio in Venice or something around that sort.

For the afternoon, we drove to Arles, the town of Vincent Van Gogh. It also happens that Arles was invaded by the Romans about 2000 years ago so there is a coliseum in the center of town. It is not as imposing as the coliseum in Rome, but it still is impressive. It even serves today as a bull rink! Later we walked around all of Arles, which is quite small, and saw the Hotel de Ville, some churches, Van Gogh’s house (which was simply a small shack with no particular beauty) and finally had a coffee at the original café that he painted in his “Star Night Café”.

That night, Patricia and I returned to Aix en Provence, had a delicious Provencal dinner at a trendy restaurant named “Michel” and later went clubbing to a club named “Mistral” to celebrate Halloween. The club was not fun, so we left two hours later with a frown.

On Monday morning, I checked out with Patricia from our cute hotel in Aix en Provence, and drove back to Cannes. We had dinner with her family (so nice to taste homemade food), and later each caught our own trains back to our respective cities, Milan and Paris.

University of Paris IV, Cours de Civilisation Franšaise de la Sorbonne

Catholic University of Paris, Institut de Langue et de Culture Franšaises