University life abroad : expectations vs reality

The hundreds of words that will follow might not ring a bell. You might, in fact, not relate to my experiences at all. Nevertheless , I think this topic deserves a blog post.

As per the academic calendar in Mauritius, I found myself with about 7 months of “freedom” (stress on the comas here) after getting my Higher School Certificate results, before the start of university. That left me with plenty of time to analyse my tertiary options and once I knew that I would end up in Paris, my speculations skyrocketed. The control freak that I am, had unending “to-bring” lists ready for any eventuality and started enquiring about the “French way” of life from elder students already living there. University life with its loads of work, weekend parties and precooked food, was still a foreign concept to me. Yet, I refused to let myself get caught off guard. “My sweet summer child…” How wrong I was.

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First things first: The parties. Thank you Hollywood for getting my expectations so high about university parties. I was pretty much disappointed with my first one. While my friend and I were buying our entrance tickets weeks before the event, I didn’t understand why a considerable number of students were not so keen to go. As a fresher, I just wanted to know what the drill was, so I went. The music was decent, the people were ok (most of them were not even from the university: just friends of friends of friends – you know how it goes), the venue was in some rabbit hole corner of Paris (budget constraints?) and the shots were basically drowned in something analogous to “sirop dowlut” (Basically some Mauritian concentrated syrup). The free snacks on the bar counter were just some peanuts and gummy bears. For such a party, one should have had at least 30 euros to spare. And that’s the minimum. So yes, no wonder students in France prefer to go out with their peers on their own and that university parties are not a big thing.

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Also, I had apprehensions about the whole cooking process. I tried to put on a brave face and repeatedly reassured my parents that I would be able to manage. Plus I hate the very smell of precooked food so I needed to be able to make it out. It was an adapt or perish situation. No less. Now that I think about it, it’s not a lie. I’m still alive right? Pinterest has been my saviour. I spend a considerable amount of time browsing new recipes so that I don’t end up like my fellow friends eating pasta cooked differently to give a semblance of novelty (you know who you are).

However, I almost never succeed in my cooking endeavours. I swear, I follow the recipes step by step, yet they never turn out like in the pictures. I guess some of us are not meant to cook. Two of my lamentable attempts that were decent and edible were my “steak with mushroom sauce” and my parathas served with chicken in massala curry. All this ranting just to say that I thought university life abroad would improve my cooking skills to a point where I’d be able to go back home and be a less skilled (let’s be modest) version of Gordon Ramsay. But no, I’m still a novice who is at least getting better. I’m proud to announce that it’s already been a month and there has been no kitchen disaster in sight!

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Moreover, cleaning up after yourself and cleaning the apartment by yourself were also new experiences for me. I was so determined at the start. I used to indulge in some full swing cleaning spree twice/thrice a week at first. Now I can barely see the chair under those piles of clothes dating back I don’t know when and my desk looks like a copybook dumpster.

There is another belief that connotes ‘University life’: one where you make a lot of friends and that every weekend ends up like a “Very Bad Trip” sequel. Get it out of your head. It’s not like in the movies guys! Indeed, you are on own, no parental supervision and are a grown-up. Every weekend could be a remake of “Very Bad Trip” but it doesn’t mean you can make it as such. In between assignments, classes every other day of the week, taking the tubes, having a part time job and keeping up with social interactions, the only things that weekends are good for are catching up on some sleep and the week’s lectures. As the saying goes here, life is just “Métro, boulot, dodo” (Taking the tube, going to work and sleeping). Also, being a student in Paris, doesn’t mean that I get to see the Eiffel Tower everyday or that I am constantly blessed by saturated touristic sceneries like Le Louvre, l’Arc de Triomphe and Versailles. In fact, I barely see any of these sites, so here another expectation  goes down in flames.

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Then the whole struggle that is sticking to a budget is real. Before arriving in Paris, I had mentally prepared myself to resist temptation. My parents, knowing how compulsive I am, always enquire about how much money I have spent during the month and stress on the importance of saving up. If you are like me, this is the hardest thing to do for you. It’s like each time I hear “save money”, my brain alters it to “spend money”. Hello cognitive dissonance ! I know it’s a very bad habit but I just cannot help it. I cannot just “window-shop” and if I start with that idea in mind, I end up 99.9% of the time with shopping bags I didn’t need. In my defence, Paris is the fashion destination ‘par excellence’ and there is just so much to see that it gets everyone crazy! My compulsive buying has resulted in my studio being invaded by shoe boxes stacked in a corner and my drawers being full with no space left. I had to buy (how ironic) more boxes to store my purchases. Another issue is food. I just like good food in general and as I broached my poor cooking skills previously, needless to say that my current eat-out budget needs some cutting. Every excuse is a good one to buy myself a baguette or a pain au chocolat. Still, that doesn’t make me a bad person entirely. I found ways to solve my problem: I got a part time job in order to be able to buy what I want without having to burden my parents!

There are many more situations of disillusionment I have experienced so far, but nothing too serious. I am sure reality will catch up with me soon enough and dismantle all those expectations of mine. Until then.

Cheers x

-Tessa Lalljee

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