Published by Popula on November 5th, 2018
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Being a journalism student in Paris is an endless cycle of croissants, cigarettes, café, and crossing old bridges to drink cheap champagne with my classmates. No, I’m joking, it’s not all fun and games, but living as an ex-patriot journalist for the past five months has been one of the most fulfilling and self-reflective periods of my life.
I live in Fontenay-sois-Bois, an eastern suburb of Paris, which is two stops on the RER train from the east side of the city and a 40-minute commute to my school, Sciences Po. The center of the small town is surprisingly multicultural, with Moroccan, Turkish, Indian, and Japanese restaurants next to numerous boulangeries and a church, Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois, that was founded in the 7th century. On this morning I showered, read some newspapers online, then left my apartment.
For breakfast I stopped at one of the boulangeries in town, which is what I would consider French’s equivalent of an American diner. I ordered an expresso and a croissant that is crispy on the outside, freshly baked, tastes lightly buttered, and is delicious.
Leaving the boulangerie on my way to the RER train I passed the Librairie Mot à Mot bookstore, which is again surprisingly large given how small the town is. I’ve found that France has a stronger reading culture than the United States. I thought about how a contributing factor to the reading culture is probably due to Jack Lang, a French politician. He created a law in 1981 which enforced a minimum sale price for books to save independent bookstores. Now it’s known as the anti-amazon law. In Paris, a bookstore recently opened called Ici/Here that’s 500 square meters, the largest independent bookstore in Paris. In the past ten years 40 million euros have been invested by Semeast, a mixed economy company of the City of Paris, to buy back the leases of fifty distressed bookstores. But I digress because as a journalism student my mind is usually on bookstores and the publishing world because that is the topic for my longform journalism class.
It was a Wednesday, so I arrived at Sciences Po at 9 a.m. for my Longform class with Frederic Filloux, who created the Monday Note, a business newsletter on the economics of digital media. The class structure isn’t very different from journalism classes I had taken in the past, except the topics for each student are different, of course, because they’re French. My classmates are from Germany, Japan, Cuba, Italy, England, France, Taiwan, and more. We discussed articles that were assigned by Filloux, their style, tone, details we liked or disliked, or the reporting behind the piece. Then we each gave the class updates on our longform assignment, a 5000 word piece that is due at the end of the semester.
After my class I had thirty minutes for lunch, which is unusual for France since I thought the culture highly values taking the time for meals and not letting work interfere with life. I walked to a boulangerie nearby and eat a baguette on the go.
My next class is Video Features with Zachary Fox, which is similar to longform but uses video. We watched each others’ projects and gave feedback. We also watched professional video pieces and discussed what could be improved and what we could learn. Unlike longform, each student creates two video projects for the semester. My first project was on a homeless shelter called Valgiros, which is a place where homeless people live with citizens who have never been homeless, in order to help those who have struggled on the streets gradually transition back into society. The piece centered around a man with alcoholism named Youri who has cancer. My next piece, which is still in the works, is on how France helps people with mental disabilities, and the programs that are available.
After Video class, which goes until 2:30 p.m., I ran down the St. Germain Boulevard to my French class on the other side of campus which started at 2:45pm. This is the first French class I’ve taken in my life. It’s an A2/basic level, but the teacher speaks in French in the entire time, which I like. I’ve become aware how the French language is much more vague and “flowing” than English. I feel like this characteristic can be summed up with the phrase “c’est pas grave,” or “it’s not a big deal.” Never have I been more conscious of how “direct” and “overly-intense” I am than when I first moved to France. I realized Americans can often “get the job done,” but we also destroy things (the environment, our sense of well-being) in the process.
After my French class I walked around the neighborhood and admired the buildings. Being in classes all day caused me to feel a little stir crazy, so it was nice to walk around and get some fresh air. For the past five years I lived in New York City, where a NYC taxi driver once told me, “New York is the beating heart of the world.” But Paris has a more subtle, quiet, and mysterious beauty. The buildings in Paris have ornate moldings and small balconies, soft colored stones, intricate sculptures, and large windows that all seem superfluous compared to the soaring lines of New York City’s skyscrapers. But there’s an elegance and a sophistication in Paris that I never felt in New York. Perhaps it’s the deeper history, or the steady influence of French culture, with its emphasis on style and originality.
After walking around for an hour or two I headed home. Upon arriving in my apartment I listened to France 24 on the radio and sent emails. My work requires constant article pitching, interview requests, online research, and internet digging. Sitting in front of the computer for hours sending emails into the void isn’t very glorious. But for me, it’s worth it.