In the days, weeks and months leading up to my departure for my study abroad program, I was pretty much obsessed with the unknown of daily life in France. I spent hours scouring every past student’s blog I could find, learned about my new city and country on websites, in books, and in movies, and even walked around outside my host household on Google Maps. Now that I’m here and settled in, it seems crazy to think about the days before I knew what to expect from life here, but I know that lots of potential students are probably having these same thoughts. So I thought I’d put together a post that shows as accurately as possible what to expect from a typical day as a student in Aix-en-Provence, France. (Note: the photos here aren’t all from the same day, but rather are pulled from various days to show different aspects of my normal life throughout the week.)
8h30: Wake up and eat breakfast
Since I live in a host household with breakfast and five dinners a week included, my host mom provides me with breakfast every morning. Usually she sets out some bread, jam, Nutella, and occasionally fromage blanc (similar to yogurt) or madeleines. I also use the Nespresso machine and run plenty of water through my espresso capsules to make myself a sort-of Americano that is as close to a big cup of American coffee as I can manage.
9h30: Leave for class
My class schedule varies a lot from day to day. Sometimes I leave around 9:30 am, but other days I don’t have class until 1 or 2 pm. When I have morning classes, I sometimes take the bus because my house is pretty far away from some of the buildings around Aix where my classes take place, but normally I walk everywhere around the city because it’s fairly compact (and the public transit is somewhat confusing). When I don’t have morning classes, I usually squeeze in a run or head to a cafe for the morning.
10h00-12h30 The educational part of study-abroad
Classes in France are much longer than in America. My shortest class is 2.5 hours, and my longest class is 4 hours, but they meet fewer times per week. (For reference, I’m taking 15 credits, but only go to class meetings 5 times during the week.) Typically, the professor takes a 10-15 minute pause in the middle of the period, during which time I usually sprint to the nearest espresso dispenser (yeah, that exists here). Students in France don’t interact much with the professor, and usually write down every single word the professor says. It’s a little eerie to sit in a classroom for four hours in which the professor is the only one who speaks, and dozens of keyboards click every time he says a word. Two of my classes are through my program, including an international politics class and an oral expression class, and the rest are in my French university alongside French students.
12h30-14h30 Eat lunch
If you know anything about French culture, you’ve probably heard about their exorbitant lunch breaks. Between the hours of noon and 2:30 pm, it’s tricky to find stores or establishments that are open (besides restaurants, of course!). I’ve given up trying to fight it and typically sit outside to enjoy lunch and the sunshine, since it’s impossible to do errands or really anything else during lunch time. The tri-weekly markets in town are sometimes still open over lunchtime, so I like to peruse and sometimes buy local foods and textiles. My usual lunch haunts include Crepes-a-go-go (an underground crepe to-go spot with a vast menu of salty and sweet crepes), Jacob’s Boulangerie (where I get the poulet curry wrap every time), or sometimes just some good old baguette and cheese.
Some days I have class for the majority of the afternoon, but on days when I don’t have classes, I often head to one of my usual studying/socializing spots: our program office (there’s free coffee there, and usually some of my friends), a coffee shop, or the public library, called the Mejane. After working on readings, essays, or planning trips for a few hours, I’ll sometimes treat myself to some shopping or head home for a run before dinner.
Each weeknight at 8 pm, I eat dinner with my French host family. The cast of characters changes a little bit every night, but usually includes my host mom, her son, my fellow UW housemate and me. We sometimes start the meal with an aperitif, or as my host mom has described it, a “moment of coming together” before the meal with wine and snacks. Then we eat a salad (in France, this means just lettuce with vinaigrette), a main course, a bread and cheese course (haven’t entirely figured this out), and a dessert. It’s always delicious. We’ll talk about classes, local events, international news, the United States, science, or sometimes nothing at all. Some nights I feel like a French expert and some nights I can’t follow the conversation at all, but it’s always good for me to force myself to keep my French practice going even after leaving class.
21h00-minuit Homework, Netflix, sleep
On weeknights, I usually spend the rest of the evening in my room finishing homework, watching Netflix, catching up with friends in the United States, or occasionally meeting up with friends in Aix. Every once in a while, I’ll watch a movie or show with my host family after dinner.
Hopefully this blog answered some of your questions if you’re interested in studying in Aix-en-Provence or just wondering what the heck foreign exchange students actually do besides travel and eat during their time abroad. Since 90% of my blogs are about the fun things I do on the weekends, I figured it was time to expose the nitty gritty of my actual life here in Aix. Voila!