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City Mouse, Country Mouse: Where to Study Abroad in France

November 10, 2021
by Sophia Adams
Screen Shot 2021-11-10 at 10.25.47 AM

Those of you who have been following my blog posts and/or my life are probably aware that this is my second semester abroad. I started my transition to unofficial French person this past January, when I enrolled in a CEA study abroad program in Aix-en-Provence, a tiny city 30 minutes from Marseille. I researched cities in France obsessively ahead of time, trying to get an idea of where to go. CEA has four locations in France (Paris, Aix-en-Provence, the French Riviera, and Grenoble), but I’ve only been to two of them, so I’m going to give you an idea of why one might prefer to study abroad in Paris versus Aix.

Me and the girls hit the town one night in Paris
 Me and the girls hit the town in Paris

 

Paris

Pros:

  1. One great thing about Paris is that it’s the cultural center of France. Don’t get me wrong — other regions have much to offer and all their local flavors are what make it such an interesting country. However, Paris has unbeatable museums like the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay, iconic silhouettes like the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe, and incredible structures like the Palais Garnier and Panthéon. In terms of ‘things to see,’ you won’t run out in Paris.

  2. In addition to the cultural offerings of the city, Paris has thousands of places to go out. Neighborhoods like Le Marais and Le Quartier Latin are packed with cafés where you can have an apéro with your friends. Plus, if you’re looking for a study abroad experience with more places to enjoy the nightlife, Paris is your best bet.

  3. For those looking to explore a bit, it is very easy to travel around to other regions and countries from Paris. The six train stations in the city can take you anywhere in France in a matter of hours. There are also international trains with inexpensive tickets. Additionally, there are two airports affiliated with Paris. If you want your study abroad experience to include many opportunities for travel, you should strongly consider Paris.

Cons:

  1. Like any city, Paris isn’t perfect. The first disadvantage is the relative (compared to Aix) difficulty of getting around. There is a comprehensive public transportation system, but the 14 metro lines, 58 bus lines, and five RER lines make it highly complex. A wrong stop, line, or direction could take you far out of your way. In comparison, Aix-en-Provence is entirely walkable.

  2. In Paris, I had a smaller course selection than in Aix. I want to emphasize here that I cannot speak to CEA’s course offerings. In Aix I studied at Aix-Marseille University (AMU) and here I’m at the Catholic Institute of Paris (ICP). AMU had a wider selection of electives; they also taught levels of French from A1-C2. At ICP, they only have A1-B2 with a more limited choice of class subjects.

Me at La Rotonde in Aix
 Me at La Rotonde in Aix

 

Me (left) inexplicably wearing shorts and gloves in front of Mont Sainte Victoire
 Me (left) inexplicably wearing shorts and gloves in front of Mont Sainte-Victoire in January

 

Aix-en-Provence

Pros:

  1. Admit it: when thinking about France, it’s easy to picture a charming village à la Beauty and the Beast (minus the town bully/misogynist). Aix-en-Provence is far closer to that ideal than Paris. There’s many beautiful winding roads with boulangeries and patisseries. Overall, I would say Aix strikes just the right balance between idyllic town and modern town. The loveliness of Aix is enchanting without being inaccessible to the 21st century.

  2. Another benefit of Aix-en-Provence is the easy access to nature. It’s a short bus ride to Mont Sainte-Victoire, the famous mountain that Paul Cézanne painted hundreds of times. There, you can hike and enjoy the expansive reservoirs. We had a Galentine’s Day picnic there that, while a bit cold, was thoroughly enjoyable. There are also several large parks, including Parc Jourdan and Parc de la Torse, that are closer to city center.

  3. Just as Paris has access to the north and beyond, Aix reigns for proximity to the Côte d’Azur. If you’re interested in visiting Cannes, Nice, St. Tropez, or any other beach town, you can access them easily from Aix’s train station. It’s also very inexpensive to get to Marseille (€2 if you buy the student transport pass), which is alluring in and of itself; the Gare St. Charles there also provides access to farther destinations.

Cons:

  1. Aix’s main deficit is the inverse of Paris’s benefits. As a smaller city, it cannot offer the same number of cultural attractions and places to go out. There are a few good ones, like Cézanne’s atelier, but if you go to Aix prepare to see the same spots many times. There are bars and a handful of clubs, but nothing like the selection you’d find in the country’s capital.

All that explanation and you still can’t decide? Understandable; both cities are absolutely incredible and either one is an excellent choice. Fret not, I’ve come up with a foolproof way to pick the study abroad city right for you. Take the quiz below to find out if you’re destined for Aix-en-Provence or Paris!

Aix Paris Quiz


Sophia Adams is the Fall 2021 CEA MOJO Blogger in Paris, France, and is currently studying at University Of California-Los Angeles.
 
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