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.