Universiteit Leiden

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A semester abroad: 'Locals help you experience the culture as it really is.'

And there you are. A couple of suitcases with you, in a new (unknown) country. You've arranged a room in advance. You know which university you're attending. But other than that ... Evert-Jan, master's student in Encyclopaedia and Philosophy of Law, studied at the Université Paris Panthéon-Assas in Paris for six months last year. 'The perfect combination of studying law and learning French.'

Why did you go to Paris?

'I wanted to learn to speak French fluently, without actually studying French. A semester at a university seemed like the perfect combination of studying law and learning French. Besides, I think Paris is just a fantastic city.'

And did it work out, learning French?

'Absolutely. All lectures were taught in French, so I had to learn it! It was tough at first, but over time, I really learned a lot. You pick it up more easily when you are constantly having to speak it. I also started making friends with French people, or rather: real Parisians.'

How did you manage that? Making friends?

'Making friends as an expat is very easy. You don't really have to worry about it. You can always find other expats. I even had someone from Leiden living in my neighbourhood, so that was very chill. That makes it easy to sort things out and do things together. But ... I didn't come to Paris to meet people from Leiden. I really wanted to immerse myself in French culture. I went to church every Sunday and that’s where I met young French people and made lots of friends.'

And did that really feel like immersing yourself in French culture?

'Yes, it’s a different experience. I was also invited to a wedding of one of those friends. That was a real highlight because I was taking part in the actual French culture. The music, the dancing, the food and drinks - it was all typically French. We think we know French cuisine, but there were all these unfamiliar drinks and snacks on the table.'

Do you have any tips for people wanting to go abroad?

'I would advise everyone to connect with the local people. For me, visiting church was very helpful. You can meet expats anywhere. Locals help you experience the culture as it really is. And now I also have addresses for when I'm back in Paris for a weekend break.'

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