Living Entrepreneurship Blog / Global & Multicultural


This article is re-posted from IES Abroad and written by Gwendolyn Lee, who is studying abroad in Paris.

I have found a home away from home in a cozy “chambre de bonne” in the sixth arrondissement (section of the city). A chambre de bonne is a tiny room on the sixth, the highest, floor of the building, away from my host family who live on the first floor. In France, the ground floor is the “Rez de Chausée” and the second floor is called the first floor. Usually, in apartments here, the ground floor is just an entry because most apartments here have shops on the ground floor. My host building has a bank on the first floor. My chambre de bonne has a sink in the room but the toilet is across the hall. Fortunately, no one lives in the rooms next to me so I don’t have to share the toilet. I need to go downstairs to my host family’s apartment to shower though. French people usually keep their shower and toilets separate. It’s quite efficient.

Everyone in my program has had such diverse and interesting first days in Paris. It’s like the first day of college again being introduced to your new living situation and home for the next semester. It’s fascinating and relieving to finally see the places you’ve been wondering about ever since getting your housing assignment. Some chose to stay in dorm-like apartments that house other IES Abroad students. Others live with relatives and family friends. Most chose to live in a homestay like me. The homestay makes me feel like a real French student. I highly recommend living in a chambre de bonne with a homestay. It allows you to have the freedom and privacy of living in an apartment as well as the family life aspect of a different culture. I don’t have to see them every time I leave the building or go to the bathroom but I have dinner and breakfast with them and I get to have conversations on a French level that they personalize to my level of knowledge. I learn most of the culture by simply watching them live their lives.

My host family is beyond wonderful. I called them the minute I hopped into the fake taxi from the airport and when I arrived, they buzzed me in and welcomed me into their home. As many non-French people do, I awkwardly went in for the hug when they went in for the “faire les bises”, two kisses, one on each cheek. I adjusted positions from hugging to kissing and kissed the air next to their cheeks while my arms hung in the air awkwardly. My host mom gave me a quick tour of her apartment and then took me up to my chambre de bonne. Knowing that I was jetlagged and tired from taking in all of the newness of being in another city, she gave me some alone time to unpack and take a nap. I slowly got acquainted to my new room by unpacking and figuring out where to place all of my knick knacks.

The whole introduction to my new home passed by quickly. In a blur, I was in Paris, in my new room, and settled physically. Mentally, I was overwhelmed. I sat on my bed and felt a flash of panic as I looked around at my room that was finished being set up with all of my stuff. Why did I come here? I stink at French. I don’t really know anyone here. I miss my friends and family at home. Going to my college back in the states would have been so much easier. Everything was more familiar in the US. Here, I knew nothing. I don’t belong here. I couldn’t text my friends because time difference. Everyone I knew was asleep. I didn’t know anyone in the program yet except for Marvin but I was sure that he was busy with his own host family. I couldn’t figure out the wifi in the room. I was a mess.

Thankfully, the bed was soft and my worried thoughts drifted into a tangent which slowly put me to sleep. After a solid nap, I woke up refreshed. All I needed was some sleep. The plane ride and time difference contributed the fatigue that caused me to have a minor panic attack. But I was fine after my nap. I heard the weird ambulance siren outside my window and the siren oddly reminded me of a honk that a clown car would make. It didn’t imply emergency at all. I looked out the window and saw a man in the building across from me running around and scrambling to get out of the door. He looked like I do every morning before class. It made me laugh. And even better yet, the wifi had finally connected to my phone and laptop so I read all the messages from my friends wishing me luck and telling me how jealous they were of getting to study in one of the best cities in the world. I quickly remembered what a gift it was to get a one of a kind experience like this.

If you’re having any doubts about leaving your comfort zone, whether it be for an out-of-state college or out of the country, know that the experience of being away from what you’re familiar with will teach you so much that it would be a real loss if you succumbed to the horrible anxiety that comes with the fear of the unknown. Studying abroad in Paris is awesome!

Bonne Journée!


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