When I started at summer study this past July, I was very excited to meet new people, get situated in my new small dorm room in the heart of paris, and start my classes at the famous La Sorbonne. However, when I arrived in CDG airport on a rainy, depressing July day, I knew that the program was not going to be anything that I had expected.
My first sign of the bad omen was the fact that the program leaders were anything but friendly. No one introduced their names and, other than a friendly looking white-haired man named Julian, I was very confused who my counselors were and were not. While I understand that everyone was cranky from waking for our 7 AM flight, I still expected a little more direction that I was frankly not given.
By the time we arrived in Paris, one of the campers had already had a near-death experience when one of the double decker buses that we were directed to topple into almost ran into the unaware camper who was standing under the "safety" of an equally unaware counselor. However, at this moment, I still tried to stay positive and kept the assumption that we had just having a bumpy start to what would later be a magical experience. I was wrong, again. After the bus ride passed the 1 hour mark, I knew something was up. I had checked on my phone before I arrived in Paris what the length was to and from the hotel that the program had advertised and the ETA was around 35-45 minutes, traffic permitting. So where were we going? Not Paris, but an extremely sketchy and dark suburb 30-minutes outside of the city by METRO, called Issy-Les-Moulineaux. When we arrived at around 11 AM Paris time, we were all aching with hunger, but were instructed that we could not only not go back to our rooms for a quick nap, but also not eat, before the 2 hour portion of our 6 hour orientation meeting.
The first two hours were painful, but not as bad as the one interim hour we received for a lunch break, where we were walked over to the nearby mall where we were given some 7 euros each to buy something from our choice of "american" pizza (barely cooked and overly salted dough with some also barely cooked sauce and cheese haphazardly thrown on top), some sort of weird vegetable station, or a not-so-classic boulangerie. While this decision was already strenuous, the fact that around 80% of the program were non-french speakers also made ordering the food a feat, as while these kids struggled to muster out a "s'il vous plaît" or a "merci," our counselors seemed no where to be found, so most of the kids didn't even end up ordering. The one positive note I had during this experience was that the mall included a watcher's window overlooking the very unhygienic looking indoor waterpark that was attached to the mall. At this window is where I met one of my first friends, whom sat with me as we watched multiple overaged men try to jump off a rope clearly designed for children and plunge painfully into the water as our stomachs grumbled. However, this one blissful moment proved to be ephemeral as Julian rounded us up once again to return to the Adagio apart-hotel.
I would love to get into the details of how horrible my roommate situation was, but I think that you would become as exhausted as I was, and I really would wish to avoid that. What I will say is that one of my roommates was socially inept (not her or the programs fault, but it did make my stay rather uncomfortable) while the other pilfered through my belongings until one day I realized that 180 of my euros were missing and it was not the non-english speaking cleaning lady. After I begged the staff to switch me out, they then tried to put me into the room of a girl who had already come close to being arrested for shoplifting from Brandy Melville, and I was not going to let them put me into another stealing-situation. Finally, my good friend's roommates ended up leaving the program early (two examples of some students who hated it so much they left at the two week mark) and I was able to move in with her.
As for the program itself, when I took my first 30 minute metro to Concorde, I expected to be brought to some grand Versailles-like institution where I would sit in illuminated baroque-style classrooms and study amongst other passionate French speakers under the guidance of highly-revered French scholars. I was very, very wrong. Instead of courses at the pamphlet-promised Sorbonne institution, we were brought to La Sorbonne pour Les étudiants étrangers: a small modern building, that while being very clean and in nice condition, was not the Sorbonne that I had seen on the internet - what I was promised, and what I had paid for. In my art history class, I was taught by a woman who did not even know what an ankh was while teaching us Egyptian art and architecture - a highly crucial feature in historical Egyptian culture that I learned when I was in 6th grade, and something that I had to teach her about. While I did improve vastly in my drawing style and form, my french class proved to be quite different. Even though my professor for the French course was extremely conversational and interesting, and I definitely enjoyed his approach to teaching, I did not learn anything productive in that class. I believe the only reason why I really liked it is because he agreed to teach us through games and believed that ordering ice cream and sweets in French would suffice as our entire French curriculum.
Bottom line, just don't do it. I believe the program was around $10,000 for 5 weeks and an extra $1,500 for the Amsterdam add-on trip (which I did and it was fantastic - forgot to mention that), but the additional costs of just living and breathing in Paris made the entire summer closer to $20,000. Because the included food options are practically inedible, my friends and I ended up going out to eat almost every night, and that alone cost my family not only an extra $2,000-3,000, but also many more nights of tension-filled phone calls about new allowances. The program recommends around $180 spending money weekly but that does not even come close to the actual $400 needed. A glass of water alone is around 8 euros - almost $12 - and a plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce comes to around $35. My phone bill at the end of the trip was also over $2,000 (unfortunately, not a joke), and while this was more AT&T and my confused mother's fault than anyone else's, it just comes to show how costly the program is beyond its asking price.
Food: As mentioned before, the program advertises that they will provide all breakfast and dinner meals, and that they recommend around 11 euros daily for lunch. The food is either not available or horrible. Breakfast closes promptly at 8:00 AM, but classes do not begin until 2:30 so if one wants to sleep in, they must sacrifice breakfast. The meal, however, for those who were able to make the hours, was fine and offered an assortment of pastries as well as fresh yogurt, fruit, and juices. Dinner options, however, were just awful. We could choose between a really awful Chinese restaurant, a semi-awful Italian restaurant, another pretty awful Italian restaurant, or, if we signed up early enough, could eat at an okay French restaurant that was only available once a week. While this seems like a bad, but manageable assortment, what made the options inedible is that the program designed a special menu for each of the restaurants that restricted the campers to only the cheapest items on the menu that ended up coming down to pizza, salad, or pasta. And if you were especially hungry, you were out of luck, because you could only order one item per night.
Hotel: There was black mold all over my bathroom (while I am not a fungi expert, my parents visited and can attest to this), weird stains on the wall and bed, and they would more often than not be out of towels (what I think would be a hotel necessity). I also was moved out of my room unexpectedly one day because they overbooked it and while they packed up my entire room (without me there!) they accidentally left three of my bathing suits behind. I did not realize this until I returned to America (the program recommended bringing a bathing suit but there was no bathing-suit-required activity offered the entire 5 weeks there), and when I called and emailed asking for the whereabouts of my swimsuit, they either would hang up on me or not understand me.
Sightseeing/Navigating/Guidance: The program was rather strict in the beginning, and stressed the importance of being with a counselor at all times for safety reasons. However, it became quite an inconvenience at times because there were only some 8 counselors and around 90 of us, so when someone wanted to go somewhere, it was often time-consuming and complicated to get there. The program was also stingy about who we could meet up with and be taken out by during the course of our stay. I must admit that I do not remember the details of their policy but I do recall that when my friend's parents from home were visiting and wanted to take me out, they had to sign some sort of agreement and bring their passport and drivers licenses before they could take me. Again, all for safety reasons, but still somewhat tedious. Because I stayed for the entirety of the longer 5-week program, I was given the luxury of the program loosening up, and began walking the city alone. They were 100% unaware that I was doing this - which speaks to the lack of security and safety that the program promises - but I am rather thankful that they were so irresponsible here because if not for their inattentiveness, I would not have enjoyed the program at all. This way, I was able to see Paris through my own eyes, and develop a passion and love for the city that I believe I would not have been able to acquire had the program remained so strict for the entirety of my stay.
The highlights: The three-weekers and five-weekers each were given a ticket to Disney land for their stay, and one of the three-weekers couldn't go so I was able to go TWICE. My goodness was this an exhilarating experience. I love Disney Paris so much that still, after some 7 months after returning, I still cannot shut up about it. Honestly, if you have the funds to go to Paris at any time in your life. GO TO DISNEY PARIS. It is amazing and magical in ways beyond all measures.
I also met an amazing group of friends from around the country that I continue to keep in touch with throughout the year, which is nice, but somewhat besides the point of the program. Honestly, you're going to meet people no matter where you go - friendly or not - so why not just choose a different program?