After a hectic final exam season, my first semester at Sciences Po has come to an end and I’ve left Paris to spend some time at home over the holidays. I found myself rather reluctant to get on the RER train to the Charles de Gaulle airport – it feels cliché, but Paris has a way of getting you hooked fast. I’ve already grown rather attached to my life here.
November and early December brought a barrage of essay deadlines and final exams, so I was stuck in the library for the better part of it (though I made an effort to seek out cooler, and more spacious, study spaces such as the Centre Pompidou and Sainte Geneviève libraries, which I highly recommend!) but once that was over and done with, I ticked off a few boxes on the touristing bucket list. I went on a great weekend trip to Lyon to check out la Fête des Lumières, an annual festival of really cool light shows.
Since my family is spread around Sweden and Finland, coming back for the holidays usually provokes a reaction of ‘wow, I forgot how expensive everything is here!’. This year, it’s been different. Compared to Parisian prices, even Nordic price tags suddenly look a lot more reasonable…
Seeing as that Erasmus application deadline is fast approaching, I’d like to share my tips on how to tackle an expensive study abroad location like Paris. If you’re keen on applying to a Parisian university for your Erasmus year, but choke on your croissant when you try to work out your budgeting, have no fear! It’s actually totally doable! How, you ask?
- There’s a lot of potential sources for additional income
My life in Paris would have been a whole lot more difficult if it weren’t for three sources of funding saving my bank balance: the Erasmus grant, the Stevenson scholarship, and CAF.
You’re probably already aware that every Erasmus student is eligible for a grant to help with daily costs. The amount depends on how long you are staying and the country you’re going to, but generally it is a rather respectable sum. As long as you stay on top of your paperwork, you’ll receive the bulk of your grant within a few weeks of starting your course.
I was also lucky enough to be awarded a Stevenson scholarship from the University of Glasgow. This is only for students going to universities in France, Spain, and Germany. It tends to be heavily advertised to language students, but anyone going to these countries can apply, and I would highly encourage you to do it – it’s been a great help. It’s definitely worth looking through lists of any other additional scholarships for which you might be eligible, both from UoG and other sources.
So what is CAF? It’s short for Caisse d’Allocations Familiales – basically France’s social security agency. This innocent acronym is the bane and the blessing of my fellow exchange students. Generously, every student in France (barring those in a few specific housing arrangements) is eligible to receive a monthly housing assistance grant through CAF, no matter their nationality. As housing is going to devour the majority of your money in Paris, this helps a long way to make your rent more affordable. I receive 212€ a month from CAF. Filling in the application and figuring out all the necessary document is quite frankly a harrowing experience, but soooo worth it. Plus, it’s something to bond over with your fellow students.
My point is that while your expenses will not be the same as in Glasgow, neither will your income. There are agencies that want to throw money at you specifically because you are studying abroad – take what you can get!
2. What do you mean I can get free housing?!
If you’re lucky, that is. I know several people who have pay their rent in babysitting rather than in euros. This is the location contre service system where people let a room or sometimes an entire studio to students in return for you babysitting their kids or teaching them English. You’re basically an au pair. Depending on the family and the amount of hours they want you to be available for their kids, this can work out to be a really worthwhile arrangement.
Even without the live-in bonus, there are always lots of babysitting and English-teaching jobs available that can help to generate a bit of extra cash.
3. Two words: bons plans
Bons plans means good deals, and this along with tarif étudiant is what you should be looking for all the time. While the area around Sciences Po is notoriously expensive, Paris in general looks after its students and offers plenty of discounts. Both small independent shops and larger chain stores, especially if they are located near a university, are likely to offer student deals. All the major national museums are free for everyone between the ages of 18-26 resident in France or other EU countries. The Navigo transport card is available for students with the price slashed in half through the Imagine R card, which also gives you access to a lot of additional bons plans.
Your bank may even offer you some money when you set up an account with them. Some banks limit this offer to French citizens, but you will be bombarded with pamphlets about all the different offers that are available to students of your university at the start of the semester. I thought I was smart and opened up an account way in advance with HSBC to help out with sorting out accommodation and phone contracts, which was helpful, but it did mean that I missed out on free money (though I did get a 50€ gift card).
If you have any questions about how to make ends meet in Paris, feel free to send them my way!
Here’s to 2017!
Questions? I’m always available on Facebook or my email (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com).