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Adapting to Life as the Paris On-Site Ambassador

 Enjoying lunch with CEA Paris staff members

I’ve experienced Paris from the perspective of a tourist, a babysitter, and a student…but I had yet to experience French office culture! As the On-Site Ambassador in Paris, I am completely immersed every day through daily conversations with CEA staff and faculty in French, understanding subtle cultural differences, and finding ways to create my own life in Paris… It took some time to adapt to daily life as an On-Site Ambassador!

I’ve been in this position for a little over two months, and I feel as though I have finally assimilated into daily French office life. However, I’ve learned a few things along the way!

Eating & Lunch

Ah, food. One of the best things about living in France. But, the French take their lunch seriously…well that, and their time. Lunch at CEA Paris happens around 12:30 (or whenever we hear the ding of the microwave in the kitchen!). Suddenly, the kitchen is full of people chatting and preparing their food (salads, quiche, salmon tartine etc. it’s all delicious). Everyone sits down together for lunch and we say “bon app” (short for bon appétit) to each other and spend our lunch in conversation. It is rare to find someone on their cell phone at lunch in the study center. Typically, the French enjoy taking their time for lunch and like to profiter du moment (enjoy the moment) with their colleagues. For me, it’s a totally different ambiance from my past professional experiences where I would usually eat alone and spend most of my lunch break on my phone. It’s a welcome change in my opinion!

 Presenting a bread tasting to students. Yum!


Now, it’s important to note that at the CEA Paris center most everyone speaks a mix of French and English. Sometimes conversations switch over from English to French in an instant (which is quite the skill, if you ask me!). I am nowhere near fluent in French, but because I am immersed in the language every day, I have felt myself improving, especially in the last few weeks. Most of the staff speaks French to me (which was by my own doing, because it’s the best way to learn!) and if I don’t understand, they will translate or explain the word or phrase to me. I’ve made (and will continue to make) many mistakes with my French, but I am constantly improving and learning new words and phrases from CEA Paris staff.

 My friend and I at the France vs. Belgium game at the Stade de France

Creating my life in Paris

Coming back to CEA Paris as an On-Site Ambassador is quite different from being a student. I have time outside of the office, but not necessarily with a built-in student community, like when I was studying here. Thus, it was necessary to create a life for myself outside of my ambassadorship. In order to do this I started attending language exchanges and spending time with my Parisian friend and one of my past professors. They invite me to dinners, events, and even a yoga class! Creating this sense of community and belonging has helped immensely in my quick re-adaptation to French life.

With less than a month left of my ambassadorship, I am glad I was able to settle back into life in France as quickly as I have. While it is not always easy and comes with its own set of unique challenges, I am learning so much and really enjoying Paris from this new perspective. I can’t wait to see what the next month holds!

Karisa D. is a CEA alumna from the Fall 2014 semester in Paris, France. She is a recent graduate of Champlain College, where she studied Business Administration and Global Studies. She is currently the CEA On-Site Ambassador in Paris, France.

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