Other people’s kids are not my scene. Yet, as a modern language student, grand ideas of summer internships in the city or care-free jobs at festivals are overruled by the importance of work experience abroad to secure that 2:1. Volunteering opportunities abound at the Careers Centre, but last year as my bank account faltered and with Le Monde an unlikely, though ideal, work experience option, au pairing beckoned.
Marco Polo, one of the greatest explorers of any century, is well-known for having written about stereotypes. He was one of the first recorded explorers to write the stereotypes that today we know so well – that the Spanish are exuberant and passionate, say, and that the Parisians are snobs. And indeed, even today, in our ‘enlightened society’, we still often embrace these stereotypes. I have often had perfectly cultured and sensible people say to me, “Well, the Parisians hated us, you know, because we’re American”, or other people say, “He just doesn’t show emotion, he’s German, you know.” Always there’s the insertion of ‘you know’, and we do know, because these sorts of stereotypes are ingrained in our thoughts.
Having forced my parents to endure marathon sessions of the Home Alone movies every Christmas, my fascination with travel calamities was only confounded in adulthood by endless ‘study days’ spent watching reruns of Airline and UK Border Force. Yet whilst Kevin McCallister has had a few tragic Christmases, I’ll be pretty bold in saying that my own international adventures have often gone frightfully wrong.
With my summertime earnings gradually dwindling, my frequenting of upmarket cocktail bars, sipping dry martinis alongside the French fashion elite, has had to take a backseat. Actually let’s face it, walking past Zara every day and living in an area where a minuscule espresso is around the €3 mark, my earnings didn’t quite make it past September. But all the same, Paris is a hotspot of hipster student bars, internationally themed nightclubs and cosy little cafés and yes – profound words to many St Andrews students – but sometimes, cheap can be cheerful!
With an inter-semester break coming up and three friends on years abroad in France, I jumped at the chance to visit them and experience for myself the enchanting, liminal world of Erasmus. I planned a week-long whistle-stop tour around France visiting friends in Bordeaux, Arras and Paris and had a brief glimpse into their various forays into the French way of life. Having had such a wonderful time, here are five reasons why I think visiting friends on years abroad gives you a truly genuine and authentic travelling experience…
Ernest Hemingway once claimed ‘there is no cure for Paris’, yet faced with a sterile and outdated guidebook in your hand it might be difficult to truly fall victim to the soul-inhabiting sickness that is I Love Paris Syndrome. So, to see this feeble metaphor through to its end and ensure that Paris really does weaken you at the knees, toss aside the guidebook and follow the doctor’s orders.
Whilst studying abroad in Paris for a year is every Francophile’s dream, sometimes seeing my ridiculously model-like fellow students strutting carefree to seminars, down Boulevard Saint Germain, forces me to console myself with yet another almond croissant. With long, dark nights setting in and essay deadlines drawing closer, I jumped at the chance to abandon the library and the oh-too-beautiful Parisians in favour of a reading week mini-break.