Should I study in Paris or Aix-en-Provence?

by Andrea Bouchaud

Does the thought in being in the world’s most beautiful city around sites such as the Eiffel Tower and Louvre interest you? Or are you in love with warmer weather where a trip to the French Riviera is just a train ride away for a beachy weekend getaway? As an epicenter of culture, arts, history, good food, natural beauty and high fashion, France is a natural choice for studying abroad. The hardest decision for students is what city in France to study abroad in. So its time to take a look at what two popular cities, Paris and Aix-en-Provence, have to offer study abroad students in France.

The city of Paris, a view from the Eiffel Tower.
The city of Paris, a view from the Eiffel Tower. Photo by Maureen Fox

Major Options

Aix-en-Provence has a long history of being a college town ever since Louis II of Anjou delved into the education business in 1409 by funding a royal charter for a university. Six hundred years later, Aix-en-Provence (commonly referred to as just Aix) is still an important educational town, which is home to several universities, schools, and institutes dedicated to various disciplines. Some of the more popular areas of study in Aix by local and foreign students are humanities, economics, law/political science and administration, and city (country, too!) planning.

Paris is a treasure trove of world-renowned universities such as the Sorbonne and SciencesPo. Study abroad programs in Paris can be found for practically any major taught in either English or French. Some of the most popular areas of study in Paris are fashion, art and art history, history, international relations, architect,  women's studies, literature, political science, mathematics, as well as French language studies.

One thing they have in common? French classroom structure! (Check out Andrea’s Guide to Studying in Paris to learn about it)

Getting Around Town

France has a great public transportation system that’s easy to learn, used by the locals and affordable on a student budget (don’t forget to ask for le tarif jeune, or student discount) and both Paris and Aix are proof of this.

In Paris, the public transportation system is RATP. It covers everything from bus, train, metro and even bike rentals for a few more Euros. As a university town, Aix has public transportation within the city called Le Pilote. Want to take a break from downtown and go to the beach? No problem! Both towns have SNCF and TGV trains that can connect you to any part of France within just a few hours making weekend trips a breeze during your study abroad program in France.

Cultural Activities

Paris is well known for its world famous museums and sites. As the biggest city in France, this capital city has a very rich culture which has something for everyone to enjoy while studying abroad. But what do Parisians do for fun? Shop at open air markets, visit the large department stores, spend an afternoon reading in a park, and visit an obscure museum off the beaten path.

Aix may be no Paris but it has its fair share of activities. Did you know that Aix is known as the city of a thousand fountains? Or that it holds two large musical events each year (Festival d'Aix-en-Provence and Musique dans la Rue)? If music festivals and fountains aren’t for you, the town also boasts many museums and galleries featuring works from local painter Paul Cézanne. One of his most common painting subjects was Montagne Sainte Victoire (or Mount St. Victoire), which is just a short train ride away from the city center.

Life in Aix and Paris certainly do differ but there is a common thread between them both- the ability to enjoy a good meal. No matter what city you visit in France, you need to relax and enjoy your meal. Food is very important to the French so it’s important to respect this delicious custom to make the most out of your French study abroad. This will also help you to blend in with the locals.

Language Learning

There’s no denying that Paris is the center for the French language and has been since the Académie française established its headquarters there in the 1600s. The Académie française is a French national organization founded in 1635 whose only goal is to preserve the French language. So it’s completely understandable to flock to Paris if you want to beef up those French skills. But did you know that France was once home to many other languages? For hundreds of years, only Parisians spoke French. The other regions of French spoke their local patois or dialect.

Some towns, such as Aix, have preserved their linguistic heritage (although they do speak French for all formal business and education interactions). If you’re a history and language lover, Aix hits the spot by providing students the ability to see and hear the local patois of the region as well as improve their modern French skills.

Paris and Aix are two great cities for study abroad in France, both rich in educational excellence, culture, and historical prominence. It’s a difficult choice to make but no matter what city you choose, remember the other one is just a train ride away…