I have been to Paris for almost two months now and this is the first time I have had time to sit down and write a few brief lines. Well, not really. Yes, I have sat down. Yes, I am planning on quickly jotting down a few of my countless observations. However, no, I really do not have the time to do it. Anyway, if I did not launch a new season of your favourite series now, I would most definitely never get around to it. So, here I am, desperately begging inspiration to come soon.
In the meantime, let’s start at the beginning, long before I arrived in the City of Lights. As you might have understood from posts by other year-abroaders (let me just point out that creating new Swedish words works much better and the result is more functional and amusing) accommodation is an issue. When asked, again, at an interview to describe a challenge I have faced and how I have addressed it, alternatively, what I have learnt, I will vividly describe the time-consuming and somewhat tortureful adventures of looking for a ‘coloco’ (for the sake of coherence, I am not a big fan of using foreign words in an English text, but here I just could not resist the temptation) in Paris and highlight, among other things, the improvement of my research and communication skills, the development of an ability to read in between lines, building up my tolerance and patience while strategically omitting to mention the complete failure to find a single acceptable offer what it all led to.
I am not going to go into much detail about the tiring process. Instead, I have decided to outline a couple of interesting points that might help those of you quickly skimming through these lines in desperate hope to find a piece of useful information since I remember very well looking for information on student housing in Paris being very confusing (in fact, this is an underestimation).
Firstly, France is known for its rather generous social policy aimed for equality. A state body called Crous administrates residences offering cheap accommodation to low-income students. However, as an exchange student you are in a difficult and confusing (notice the reoccurrence of this word throughout this post) situation. First and foremost, students wishing to apply need to do so by the end of April preceding the start of the academic year spent abroad. And, to be honest, how many students look for accommodation so early with essay deadlines looming and exams knocking on the door. Well, I did, but… Moreover, it is not very clear whether students on Erasmus exchange are entitled to apply. For your information, I did, just in case, and my application was declined. You might be thinking: ‘Silly girl! A single email/phone call would have saved her plenty of time.’ Let me remind you that it is France we are talking about (and public sector on top of that), so no. I sent several emails to every Crous accommodation email address I could find, repeatedly tried calling to every Crous number their website and google provided me with. Not a single response!
Secondly, an option similar to Crous residences are so-called foyers. These residences are designed to help young workers and/or students to become independent by providing them with an affordable accommodation. Generally, they are run by charity bodies. As far as I can tell from the information available online, they differ considerably in quality and services offered. Single rooms. Double rooms. Ensuite. Shared bathroom. Private kitchen. Shared kitchen. Meals included. Meals included on certain days. No meals. Internet included. Internet not included. Gym yes. Gym no. Visits allowed. Visits allowed before certain hour. Even a mandatory return to the foyer by certain hour! And so on and so forth. Ultimately, some of them are mixed while others are designed exclusively for male or female residents. To improve your chances of getting a place, it is imperative you apply as soon as possible to as many foyers as possible. You have certainly heard a number of terrifying stories about French bureaucracy. With a little bit of exaggeration, I would argue that one of the most commonly used French words is ‘dossier’, ‘an application’. If you decide to apply to a foyer, and I would indeed strongly encourage you to do so, you will be in a desperate need of a patience overdose to gather all the information and supportive documents foyers ask for. A significant drawback is that most of the foyers do not know how many rooms (if any) they are going to have available from the upcoming month more than a week or two in advance. In other words, you might be declined last minute by all foyers and end up with no accommodation arranged a week before your departure.
Thirdly, a more expensive option are private student halls. I have not researched this option in much detail as they were too expensive for me. However, should you find out that they are within your budget, given the shortage of student accommodation in Paris (and all major French cities), do look for them well in advance too.
Are you impatiently biting your nails waiting to find out where I ended up living? Let’s just say that I am a lucky girl! Some universities have a very limited number of places in Crous residences reserved for their exchange students which are allocated based on your (family’s) income. The good news is that you apply directly to the university and the application form asks neither for many details nor loads of supportive documents. And, that is how I got an email in mid-December that knocked me down. A double room for 595 – 634 euro! Not only was I unable to imagine myself sharing a room again (I did it in my first year of uni and that was enough!) but the rent seemed too high for a double room. Apparently, I was not the only one to think so as a couple of days later I received another email confirming that the price was indeed per person. Having accepted the offer (I had to accept it before actually finding out what type of accommodation I had been allocated; very strange), I decided on the following strategy: finish my exams, go home for holidays and start looking for a room in a flat. ‘If I don’t find anything, I can always take up the double room,’ I thought. To make a long story short, as time passed by and accommodation ads ran low, I was more and more frustrated by the prospect of sharing a room for 600 euro. In the end, a brief email conversation was established between the exchange students who had been offered accommodation by Sorbonne and from the tiny bits of pieces of information people had from previous students it looked like the double room in my residence was actually a small flat with two individual bedrooms and the rent was around 400 euro. Suddenly, flooded with optimism and happiness I started to google impatiently. Unsurprising, there was almost none ‘official’ information. But, thanks god for student blogs! From what originally seemed to be contradictory pieces of information, I gathered that, in fact, there were two types of double rooms in my residence: a real double room with two beds, the so-called T1bis, and a studio with two individual bedrooms, the so-called T2. Luckily, I had been allocated a T2 and the rent turned out to be for the entire studio! To sum up, I live in the centre of Paris, 10 minutes from Sorbonne, have a total privacy of my own bedroom and pay a little over 300 euro per month!
Well, this post has not turned out quite the way I wanted it to. I thought I would talk about the surprise of not being hit right between the eyes by a cultural shock, all those lovely French people I have met, dreadful French bureaucracy and simply those little details that make life in Paris so particular. I wanted to share a couple of funny stories from the beginning of my stay too. Well, next time. You will remind me, won’t you?