France | Visiting the Immigration Museum

By Jason Vu

A major theme discussed throughout our program was the issue of immigration in France. While we may often think of France as being a homogenous state, the reality is that France is incredibly diverse! To learn more about the country’s diverse population, our class went on an excursion to the “Cite nationale de l’histoire de l’immigration” (National Museum of Immigration History) at Palais de la Porte Dorée.

Entrance to the Cite nationale de l’histoire de l’immigration


Founded in April 2007, this mueum tells the story of how people from around the world established communities in France and the history behind their migration. This site was especially interesting for me because there was no other place in Paris that talked about immigration. Plenty of museums were about Asian and African history, but only this one talked about how these populations ended up in France.


Our class met up in the afternoon and began our visit with a brief lecture by Prof. Behdad. Speaking on the history of the museum, Prof. Behdad encouraged us to focus on key exhibits that caught our interest and note them for our post-visit discussion. With only a limited amount of time, we quickly made our way to begin the visit.

Prof. Behdad gives an introductory lecture on the Museum before we explore.


The first exhibit introduced us to France’s long history of cultural encounter and colonization with other parts of the world. On the way to the main exhibits, I noticed a mural depicting some of these relations through trade with what looked like Vietnames merchants. This caught my attention since I could see a part of my own heritage intersecting with the reality of French history. In some ways, this museum would show me a little more about my own identity as well.

Part of the Forum Frescoes depicting colonial interactions between France and Vietnam.


While exploring, I was struck by one part of the museum titled “Diversity”. The exhibit showcased all kinds of cultural objects that looked like they were from all over the world. In reality, however, these items came from local communities around Paris. Featured items included Japanese masks, red lanterns, and African statues, all of which could be found around the streets of Paris, including in Chinatown.

A small portion of the “Diversity” exhibit.


The last part of the exhibits I could make it to was a temporary exhibition titled “Paris-London: Music Migrations”. The theme of the exhibition was not only how music had been changed in recent decades due to immigration, but also how that music was used to convey political messages as well. Influential songs were played through headphones alongside videos of the protests where they were performed. At the top of the exhibit were banners that said “HATE RACISM LOVE MUSIC”. These sights really caught my attention and brought to mind the Civil Rights Movement in the US. Far from being a solely American phenomena, this exhibit showed me that the fight for equity and justice was something truly global, making it very important to my studies in the program.

Temporary exhibition titled “Paris-London: Music Migrations”.

We concluded our visit with a discussion facilitated by our TA Mariam. It was great listening to everyone share what they thought was interesting about the Museum and getting responses to my own observations. If you’re ever in Paris, I’d highly recommend going to this museum! It may be a little out of the way, but there truly is no place like it in the entire city.

Jason studied abroad in France in Summer 2019.

France | Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale

By Jason Vu


On the outskirts of Paris to the east of the Bois de Vincennes lies the Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale (“Garden of Tropical Agriculture”), a historic park dating back to the early 20th century. Rather than the traditional fountains and marble sculptures of Paris’s many other gardens, however, this garden featured Asian and African cultural pieces such as shrines and gateways. It’s not often talked about as a place to visit in the city, but that only made me more determined to go and check it out.

A Chinese gateway greets visitors to the park.


Since classes for my program began late in the afternoon, I decided to go on an adventure on my own to learn more about this hidden garden. Taking the metro there, I eventually arrived in Nogent-sur-Marne, the eastern suburb of Paris where the garden was located. After a brief walk from the metro station, I arrived at the garden and was greeted by a large Chinese gateway.


Coming from a large Asian community in California, the gateway reminded me of many others I had seen back home, but this gateway in Paris was different. Rather than the bright red of traditional gateways, this one seemed faded and worn over time. It gave me the sense that this gateway, as well as the park, was more of a historical site than a place in active use today. The overgrown bushes and lack of many visitors reinforced my assumption.

Courtyard with ceremonial incense burner enclosed by Asian-style wall


Wandering the garden, I soon found panels that helped document the history of the park, albeit only in French. Using my limited reading knowledge in French, I was able to make out that the park was originally the site of France’s 1907 colonial exhibition. The cultural pieces that were spread across the park were originally taken from different parts of the French empire to showcase the “glory of France”. After the exhibition, the park eventually fell into decline with a lack of upkeep until 2006 when the city of Paris reopened the park.

Maison Cochinchinoise, dedicated to Indochinese soldiers who fought for France.


Continuing through the park, I eventually found myself in front of a small temple-like structure that I later learned was dedicated to Indochinese soldiers who died in battle for France. The monument was small but once again, I was reminded of temples back home that were dedicated to deceased relatives and ancestors. I decided to rest near this shrine for a little while before continuing on my way.

The Indochina Pavillion


The last place I had a chance to stop at in the garden was a museum-like structure with the word “Indochine” at the very top. Signs nearby said that the building was originally an indoor exhibition of objects from around the Indochina region. Although the pavillion was now abandoned, I wandered around for a while before it was eventually time for me to head to class.


As I made my way back to the metro station, I continued to think about the old garden. Most tourist spots in Paris are often crowded and busy, but this place was special because of how calm and peaceful it was. Perhaps its location or its lack of notoriety keeps it so quiet, but in the midst of the busy city, it’s always nice to have a place to escape to for just a while.

Jason studied abroad in France in Summer 2019.

France | Chocolate and Cheese Tour

By Jason Vu

What’s one way of studying globalization in Paris? Why not a tour of some of the best chocolate and cheese shops in town?


After our first week of classes, Prof. Behdad announced that he would be leading an optional excursion on Saturday to local cheese and chocolate shops in Paris. At each store, we would have the chance to sample products (all covered by our program too!) and speak to a few of the workers.

Prof. Behdad gives an introductory lecture before we begin our tour


Before we began our cheese and chocolate tasting, however, Prof. Behdad made sure that we would learn something from this experience by starting our excursion with a lecture on chocolate’s relationship to globalization. In a short amount of time, Prof. Behdad discussed the history of chocolate as we know it and its relationship to colonization and technological advancement. Far from pure entertainment, our trip was meant to give us a direct and intentional experience of globalization as it was shaped by historical interactions. WIth an added layer of background, we were finally ready to head out to our first Parisian chocolatier.


After getting off the metro in the historic district of Paris known as Le Marais, we walked a bit through some old, windy roads to our first stop: Edwart Chocolatier. At the shop, we were greeted by the friendly owner who proceeded to add to what we learned from Prof. Behdad with a brief presentation of his own.

Storefront of Edwart Chocolatier, our first stop!


Once he finished his talk, we moved on to the tasting portion of our program. Rather than having us all sample the same chocolates, the owner decided to spice things up by choosing our individual samples based on how we each answered his questions. For example, he would ask where we were from, our preference for milk or dark chocolate, and whether or not we were adventurous. Based off my answers, I got a piece of chocolate that includes hints of mustard and wasabi, making it slightly spicy! I was surprised by the combination, but it was tasty all the same. After buying some chocolate to bring home, we headed out to our next chocolatier, Pierre Hermé.

Pierre Hermé’s ice cream display


Unlike Edwart Chocolatier, Pierre Hermé was much larger and had a variety of other sweets other than chocolate like ice cream, macarons, and other pastries. Our focus here, though, was trying the chocolates made in-house by their workers. Since our group was so large, we couldn’t sample the chocolates inside, so instead, Prof. Behdad picked up our order of chocolates and we sampled outside. The chocolates from this store tasted much more like traditional chocolate with the exception of some samples that had hints of fruits and nuts added in as well. Once we finished our samples at Pierre Hermé, we went to one other chocolate shop before heading to a fromagerie or “cheese shop”.

Some cheeses on display at the local Fromagerie


The fromagerie we were headed to was fortunately within walking distance of our last chocolate shop, and it wasn’t long before we arrived. As a big fan of cheese, I was overjoyed by the variety of cheeses in front of me. Brie, Gorgonzola, Camambert— these were all cheeses I was super excited to sample. While not as related to globalization as chocolate, cheese is an essential part of French culture that is a must on any trip.

Cheese tasting time!

Prof. Behdad picked up our plate of cheeses and within minutes, we found a cozy park to sit in and began sampling our vast assortment with some complimentary bread. Every kind of cheese we had was different from the others and tasty in its own way. By the end of our small meal, I was stuffed and happy. The cheese tasting marked the end of our tour and was my signal to take a long food nap!

Jason studied abroad in France in Summer 2019.

France | Getting to Know the City

By Jason Vu

After a good night’s rest in my cozy new dorm room, I woke up bright and early to join my class for our first meeting together. Over the next two days, we would be getting to know Paris and specifically the area around us. At 9am, our class met in our residence’s lobby and began to head out on our very first trip. Led by Prof. Ali Behdad and our TA Mariam Rahmani, we headed out to get to know our home for the coming weeks.

La Maison Internationale, the central building of Cite Universitaire


Our first stop was to the central part of our campus, La Maison Internationale (“The International House”). Constructed in the 1930’s, the House was the first building of our campus and housed the school’s cafeteria, theater, and other student services. Prof. Behdad shared a bit about the history of Cite Universitaire’s founding as a place where scholars from around the world could gather and share knowledge in a spirit of peace and unity. For our class, the House would serve as a central meeting point whenever we had excursions into the city.

Prof. Behdad talks to our class in Parc Montsouris


Next up, we walked about ten minutes over to Parc Montsouris, a public park across the street from campus. As we walked down the windy roads and enjoyed the beautiful nature around us, Prof. Behdad talked a little about the history of Paris and the way the city was organized. Cite Universitaire and Parc Montsouris were located in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, one of 20 neighborhoods that divide up the city. To find our way around, we would have to learn how to use Paris’s complex metro system, but thankfully our program came with metro passes that were unlimited all month. With reassurance that we would (eventually) be able to understand Parisian public transit, Prof. Behdad then led us to a nearby train station to head into the city.

Place de la Bastille, major turning point of the French Revolution

Now in the city, we arrived at our first landmark—La Place de la Bastille. A giant pillar stands where, in 1789, French revolutionaries stormed the infamous Bastille prison to free political prisoners and arm themselves for the Revolution. After taking in the site of this historical uprising, we made our way down the street to the ACCENT Paris Study Abroad Center, where our regular class meetings would be held.

Courtyard of the ACCENT Paris Study Abroad Center


Once we arrived at the Center, we listened to a detailed orientation from the Center’s director on how to get by and behave in Paris. Information such as how to read Parisian transit information and order in restaurants was all laid out for us in an easy-to-digest manner to ensure that we would have the best experience possible in Paris. After the presentation, we had the rest of the daytime to rest up and get ready for the evening’s events.


Once evening came, our class regrouped for a quick picnic followed by a boat ride on the Seine river. As the central body of water in Paris, the Seine flows by some of the major landmarks of the city such as Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower, making a boat ride on it an easy way of getting a preview of all the City of Lights has to offer. For me, one of the best things about this boat ride was noting all the locations I would have the chance to go to in the next month. There was a lot to see, but I was determined to see it all!

Jason studied abroad in France in Summer 2019.

France | Arriving in Paris

By Jason Vu

Here it is! After over a week of packing and goodbyes to family and friends, the day was finally here. In around fourteen hours, I would land in Paris where I would be living and studying for the next month. I remember feeling a bit nervous waking up on July 29th with my flight only a few hours away, but more than anything else I was excited. This would be my first time abroad for an extended period of time without family, so I was determined to make the most of this trip. At 1:40pm, after saying one last goodbye to my parents and clearing security, I boarded my plane and within moments I was off.

Nineteen hours later (flight delays…what can you expect), I was at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, France. Once I cleared passport control, I made my way to baggage claim to gather my belongings, but after almost half an hour, my checked bag didn’t come out. Confused, I went to the customer assistance desk to ask about my bag, and it turned out that my bag, along with the bags of a third of my flight, had been left behind during our layover in Dallas. We’d get our luggage back within three days, but that still didn’t help my initial anxiety for this trip. Nevertheless, I grabbed the things I did have (good thing I had my carryon bags!) and made my way to the RER train towards Cite Universitaire.

I got to the university in the evening and immediately found myself having to find my way around a new campus environment. As the international university of Paris, the university was divided into separate “maisons” that represented the various nationalities represented on campus such as Belgium, Morocco, and India. The “maison” I’d be staying at was the “Maison du Portugal – André de Gouveia,” dedicated to the great 16th century Portuguese humanist of the Renaissance.


Located at the southernmost part of the university campus, the Maison du Portugal follows a more modern design compared to some of the other residences surrounding us. It was a bit of a walk from the train station, but I was eventually able to check in at the front desk and make my way to my dorm room.

Room 421—my single-bed dorm room (post-nap)


After a light nap and settling in, I finally had the energy to get in touch with my friend on the program to grab some dinner that evening. She reached out to another friend on our program, and the three of us were soon on our way to have our very first meal in Paris together!


In a rush of adventurous energy, we decided not to use our phones to find a restaurant and wander around the neighborhood instead. Luckily, our university was located right next to the 13th arrondissement of Paris, which is known for being home to the city’s own Chinatown. As a result, we eventually found the “Imperial Choisy,” a Michelin-ranked Chinese restaurant only 15 minutes away by walking. We sat down, ordered a few dishes, and celebrated our first night in Paris.

Our meal for the evening: Mapo Tofu, Steamed Chinese Vegetables, and Sichuan Chicken

Stuffed with one of the best meals of our whole trip, we got back to the Maison du Portugal at right about sunset (keep in mind, sunset in Paris was after 9pm). Back in my room, I took a look out of my window facing campus and was met with one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen (picture below). In the last moments of the day, I thought back to my earlier ordeals with flight delays and lost baggage and realized just how small they were compared to one thing—I made it! Months of preparation and paperwork had gone into this moment, making sure I’d get to Paris safe and sound with everything I needed for the next month. And now, I was determined to make the most of it.

Jason studied abroad in France in Summer 2019.