You’re about to study abroad in France and you’re ready for everything, the daily croissants, the striped shirts and berets, your afternoons along the Seine, and the handsome Frenchman or woman who will sweep you off your teenage-feet and escort you down the Champs-Élysées to a romantic meal (a memorable first date, no?).
Well, almost. France isn’t like everything you see in the movies. It is, however, an incredible place that offers endless opportunities for high school students. We can’t guarantee that you’ll fall in love with being a Parisian, but we can guarantee that you’ll fall in love with France.
Here are 10 things every teen should know before studying abroad in the land of art and romance:
1. There is more to France than just Paris.
Le Gasp! Who knew there was more to France than just the City of Lights? But, really, although Paris is an incredible city full of history (enough to lose your head over and #ZOMG frequently) and unlimited culture, the surrounding French countryside offers a multitude of opportunities for young students to truly immerse themselves in French culture. Cities like Aix en Provence or Lyon are a perfect combination of Parisian chic and charming provincial town, providing high school students with the opportunity to have all the history and glamour of France with the more rustic, rural culture.
Studying abroad in a city beyond Paris might be a good option for first-time, teen travelers who feel initially overwhelmed at the prospect of living in one of Europe’s largest and busiest cities. While Paris will still be the bon life, it’s important to note that it is easier to immerse yourself in local culture when living in a smaller town, with a close-knit community.
The more you learn from local French culture, the better and more impactful your study abroad experience in France will be!
2. You’re going to need your French language skills.
If you are from a country that speaks a world dominant language like English, you might expect to be able to breeze through studying abroad with only knowing those few words you learned by watching Beauty and the Beast ten years ago (Zut Alors!). However, even if the French people whom you encounter speak English, many of them will insist on speaking their native language when interacting with you. Even if you’re only interested in summer programs in France for high school students rather than full-on-immersion years, you still need to know your stuff.
The French are very proud of their language and culture, which can make them somewhat wary of newcomers. Attempting to speak French shows that you are making an effort to be polite and learn the language of the country you are a guest in. So be sure to brush up on your French language skills before you hop on the plane! Trying to speak French to your local boulanger (baker) when ordering your baguettes will go a long way, and who knows, you might even make a new friend! You can even use smartphone apps like DuoLingo to brush up beforehand too.
3. You Can Legally Drink Alcohol.
The legal drinking age in France is 16 for beer and wine, and 18 for hard liquor, so as a teenager studying in France, you could potentially be old enough to purchase alcohol on your own. But, don’t count on your program coordinators to raise a glass with you. Just because you legally can drink, doesn’t mean you'll be allowed to or should. When permitted, it is important to drink responsibly.
The French drinking culture is very different from that of other countries; drinking in France is very social, but is not done in excess. If you drink too much and become rowdy, you’ll be fulfilling unflattering stereotypes of young travelers that are often far too common. So, take a tip from the French, both the adults and those your age, you might try to enjoy a nice glass of wine at dinner, but keep it together. You’ll have a much better experience if you remember your entire time studying abroad in France!
4. You Need to Dress the Part.
You probably won’t have to reach The Devil Wears Prada-level of fashion when studying in France during high school, but it’s important to remember that European fashion, especially Parisian fashion, is a cut above the rest. Be prepared to look slightly dressier than what you might be used to, trade your yoga pants for dark pants and your flip flops for boots. When traveling in another country as a foreigner, it’s advisable to blend in with the locals to avoid sticking out from the crowd and targeting yourself for unwanted attention (or pick-pocketing).
Pack less than you think you’ll need! With all those glittering boutiques and local markets, you’ll end up buying everything you could possibly need or want anyway. Check out our list of packing tips for females to get your packing list started!
5. Food (re: cheese) is Important.
The French take their food very seriously. From high-class cuisine to buttery pastries to the 1,000 different types of cheese (yes, you read correctly, ONE THOUSAND CHEESES), food is an art form no matter where you study in France. The act of eating a meal is almost as important as the meal itself. You might find that French meals last much longer than in your native country, especially at lunch time, when other countries might rush through a sad peanut butter and jelly sandwich before hurrying to the next appointment (pro tip: Nutella is the new peanut butter).
When studying in France, learn to take your time at your meals and actually enjoy what you are eating.
Some French dishes might be different from what you’re used to eating at home, but you should make an effort to try as many things as you can. Eel, snail, or foie gras might not sound like your cup of tea at first, but each French dish has a particular history and significance to the people making it. Food is intrinsically linked to French culture, so each time you sit down to the table, you are furthering your education and exploration of this incredible country.
6. Memorize the Map.
If this is your first time traveling abroad, or your first time in France, it’s best to prepare yourself for studying abroad beforehand. We mean “memorize the map,” both literally and figuratively. If you plan to study abroad in Paris, it’s always a good idea to literally study your way through a map of the RER (the Parisian metro) before even boarding, so you don’t lost in those winding tunnels.
Figuratively, it’s important to learn a bit about the place you will be living in before arriving. Read up on the history and customs of the particular area you will be studying in France. By learning a bit about the place beforehand, you’ll only enhance your experience when you arrive by seeing the pages of your history books come to life.
7. Don’t Forget to Study.
It can be easy to get caught up in the excitement of being in a new country for the first time, with all these new places and new people you’re encountering, your studies can sometimes fall by the wayside. Don’t forget that a large part of why you’re studying abroad in France is to, well, study. Focusing on your studies is important, as good grades and a positive experience with your program’s teachers and administrators will help you in the future.
The college admissions process is an extremely competitive one, and very few teenagers study abroad at such a young age, before even reaching university. You can use your experiences and your grades from your time studying in France to help set you apart when later applying to go to college, or maybe even later in life, when applying for jobs!
Be sure to apply yourself and learn as much as you can.
8. Bridge the Gap.
One of the most fulfilling experiences while studying or traveling abroad is connecting with the people that live in the country you are exploring. As a student, it can sometimes be challenging to interact with the locals beyond just ordering at restaurants or asking for directions, but there are ways you can participate in local culture, and not just spending time with your fellow program participants.
If your study abroad program in France offers the option of a homestay, where you live with a local family, take advantage of it! Becoming a part of a French family, learning their traditions, way of living, and eating authentic cuisine gives you an inside peek into the real France.
You can also meet locals your own age! Join a language exchange program with French students looking to learn English, and test out your own French skills in return. You could also join local soccer clubs or volunteer at local elementary schools. By interacting with locals, you can bridge cultural barriers and create understanding between you and your new French friends.
9. Don’t Get Stuck at Home.
No, we don’t mean missing your flight and spending your summer with your Aunt Linda instead of on your grand, French adventure. We’re talking social media. Nowadays, it’s almost impossible to walk down the street without checking your phone, or defining the success of your day by the number of views your Snapchat story has. But in France, smartphones and social media are far less prevalent than in other countries. Although obviously there is internet available, you’ll find that people your age are not nearly as dependent on “likes” and Instagram filters as you’ve grown to be.
Of course, blogging and social media can be an incredible tool for documenting your experience and keeping your memories with you. However, don’t let it keep you from fully enjoying the moment. Your friends and family will still be waiting for you at home when you get back, so end that Skype call and take a page out of the French’s book by living beyond the screen.
10. You Have to Explore Endlessly.
Depending on your study abroad program, you could only be in France for a few days, weeks, or months. It is almost impossible to see the entire country during your brief time abroad. What you can do is be present in the moment every day while you are there. Embrace your study abroad experience as fully as you can, and jump at every opportunity, but don’t get caught up in hitting every single tourist site on the list. Travel and study meaningfully. Go see the fireworks on Bastille Day with those French students you met last week, don’t be afraid to try snails (even though they’re a little slippery), or stay late at the Louvre to marvel at the centuries of art.
Your experience studying abroad in France is what you make of it, so make the best of it.
Study abroad programs in France for high school students are plentiful, and regardless of which one you choose, you are guaranteed to have an incredible experience. As a teenager studying abroad, you are unique. Few students your age have the opportunity or are brave enough to travel across the ocean to another country and experience a completely different culture and lifestyle. Just remember to say “Bonjour!” to everyone you encounter and embrace the stinky cheese – you’ll be rockin’ that beret in no time.