About three hours south of Paris by train, there is a small city just out of the Mediterranean’s reach, with the perfect combination of Parisian chic, and all the charm of a provincial French town. As a university city, Aix-en-Provence is host to some of the top educational institutions in France, and a large population of students, in addition to a vibrant art scene and tree-lined streets that look like they’ve been plucked from a picture book. Aix-en-Provence’s university culture and reputation as one of the most welcoming cities in France, makes it an excellent place for students looking to study abroad in a French city far from the well-beaten path of larger metropolitan cities.
Studying Abroad in Aix-en-Provence
Aix-en-Provence has been a university town since the early 1400’s, when its first university was established; as such, the collection of over fifteen universities and institutions that currently call the city home have made Aix-en-Provence a crucial educational center of France. Most study abroad programs in Aix-en-Provence offer semester, summer, or year-long programs in almost any subject area, but the city still clearly specializes in a few fields.
The Arts. Aside from being an official European Capital of Culture, Aix-en-Provence also hosts yearly music festivals that attract worldwide attention, particularly in the opera, jazz, and classical music communities. With numerous galleries and museums in the city housing works from Degas, Renoir, and Monet to Van Gogh and Picasso, Aix-en-Provence is also an excellent place to study art abroad. Studying art in Aix-en-Provence may include courses that range from Art Criticism and Aesthetics or Picasso to Matisse and the Mediterranean. Many universities and study abroad programs in Aix-en-Provence focus on the humanities as well, and offer numerous opportunities within and beyond the classroom for learning.
Politics & International Affairs. Over five of Aix-en-Provence’s esteemed learning institutions focus exclusively on the subjects of international affairs and political science and how these subjects intersect with economics and administration. The city’s reputation as a center for intellectual discussion and debate has attracted some of the most noteworthy educators in the latter fields. Aix-en-Provence is also within close proximity to many other European countries, and North Africa on the Mediterranean, making interactions with other cultures and demographics very common and essential to Aix-en-Provence’s continued economic prosperity. The city is also home to the second-most important Appeal Court of the French government in the entire country, outside of Paris. Politics and international affairs courses in Aix-en-Provence may include The European Union: Integration, Enlargement, Unity or International Economics and the European Union.
French Language. It may seem like an obvious choice, but Aix-en-Provence is in fact home to multiple French language study abroad programs and schools. Although the city attracts high numbers of tourists each year, the use of English is not as widespread as it is in other larger French cities, such as Paris. As a result, Aix-en-Provence offers a far more immersive language experience that gives students the opportunity to be surrounded by French daily, both in the classroom and throughout the city. Studying French in Aix-en-Provence may include courses like Living in France: Intercultural Communication, The Phonetics of Contemporary French, or Business French.
It is important to remember that the French college environment is very formal, with a heavy emphasis on respect between professor and student, and that some basic French language is almost always required to study abroad in Aix-en-Provence.
Life in Aix-en-Provence
Aix-en-Provence is a collection of café-studded streets, which wind around the city’s historical center of grand mansions dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. Its impressive medieval Aix Cathedral and cloisters attract tourists year-round, and is a centerpiece of the town. However, perhaps the liveliest and most popular part of the city is the Cours Mirabeau, a street that cuts through the city’s historic center and is lined with a dramatic row of trees; here, locals and students alike stroll under the canopy of leaves while passing cafés, grand historic fountains, and palaces from the Renaissance. In the evenings and the weekends, this street is where most of the city comes to socialize.
As Aix-en-Provence is the equivalent of an Ivy League university city, there is a large student population and university culture, making it an excellent location to study abroad in France if you want to meet other French and international students. The city is also famous for its numerous art galleries, museums, and music festivals held throughout the year. Its Mediterranean climate allows students to spend many nights outside, popping from one brightly-lit café to the next. If the beautiful city streets don’t enchant you, the regional food, based on the olive oil production and fresh ingredients of the surrounding countryside, certainly will.
The city itself is small and almost everything can be reached on foot, but there is also an affordable bus system that makes transportation in and around the city very easy. Aix-en-Provence is also only three hours away from Paris by train and within short traveling distance to Marseille and Nice. The international airport of Marseille-Provence is accessible by bus shuttle, where flights to nearby North African and European countries are readily available.
Accommodation & Visas
Most study abroad programs in Aix-en-Provence will provide two accommodation options within the city: either shared apartments with other study abroad students or homestays. Homestays are an especially unique experience as it fully immerses you into the lives of the local French community. As a majority of study abroad programs in Aix-en-Provence emphasize cultural and language immersion, homestays also happen to be the most common form of living arrangements. Aside from the incredible living experience living with a local family provides, you’ll also get to enjoy the traditional, provincial lifestyle and authentic cooking.
If you are studying in Aix-en-Provence for less than 90 days, you do not need a visa. However, if you plan to study abroad in France for longer than 90 days, you will be required to obtain a Schengen Visa through a French Consulate or Embassy. You cannot apply for this visa more than 90 days before your departure date. It usually takes approximately three weeks to process a visa application, so be sure to submit all of your paperwork ahead of time.
Benefits & Challenges
- Make an Effort. The French are very proud of their language and their culture, making them somewhat wary of boisterous foreigners. It is important to attempt to build a bridge between yourself and the locals, particularly by speaking French in day-to-day conversations, rather than resorting to English. Aix-en-Provence is also much smaller and less touristy than the capital city, so English is not used as widely. As such, some proficiency in French is encouraged in both your classroom interactions and your encounters on the streets of Aix-en-Provence. Don’t forget to learn la bise, the kissing of cheeks rather than the shaking of hands, as it is an essential greeting throughout all of France between friends.
- Local Flavor. As the city is small and very much a provincial city of France, you will have a very different experience from students studying abroad in larger cities. Studying abroad in a small city, particularly in France, allows you to form close ties to the citizens of Aix-en-Provence and the local culture. The cost of living in a smaller city is also significantly lower and you’ll find that life is far simpler, from matters of food to everyday expenses.
- The Perfect Blend. Aix-en-Provence holds all the glamour of Parisian chic with the charm of a countryside town. For those students looking for something a little different than the bustling, metropolitan semester, studying abroad in Aix-en-Provence will not only offer you an incredible academic experience, but also a glimpse into a truly French lifestyle.