Mac Simpson (he/him/his) - Stanford in Paris
Major: Political Science
Minor: Human Biology
College year while abroad: Junior
About the photo: This is a photo of our snowshoe experience up the side of a mountain. We took it while stopping for a five minute water break before the trek continued.
Questions and Answers with Mac
Why did you choose to study abroad in Paris?
I had visited Paris once before in the past and absolutely loved the city. Coming into Stanford I knew I wanted to try and figure out a way to study abroad in Paris, to fully take advantage of all the city, and French culture, has to offer. As someone interested in Political Science, Paris and France of course play a very important role in world affairs, which only added to my interest to study there.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Paris?
Things were kind of uncertain regarding the COVID-19 situation in France and if we would even be able to go, as well as what the restrictions would be like once we got there. However we were still able to have a completely normal experience, and in winter especially it was interesting to see all the sights and monuments without crowds (it made me feel more like a local). You also hear horror stories about how the "French are mean," and while they can definitely be difficult at times, it is definitely not as bad as people say and everyone is extremely nice and welcoming.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Paris?
While I did not take any classes that counted for my major or minor while in Paris, I was able to finish my WAYS requirements by taking CE and AII classes. In Paris I was hoping to experience more of a creative realm of possibilities that I do not have while at Stanford, and Paris was the perfect place to do so. I was able to take "Paris Photography Workshop" and "Art and Politics in Modern France" which exposed me to more of an artistic scene. Additionally, for premed/STEM students Paris in the winter offers many courses that fill requirements which is definitely very helpful.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
I think the biggest thing I learned about myself while studying abroad is how quickly I can adjust to unfamiliar situations and make the most of it. Showing up to a completely new city, country, culture, and language is definitely unnerving coming in, but I learned that you just have to take things one step at a time and really embrace all the differences and opportunities that you have by going.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?
I think the most challenging experience was living with a host family. My host family had four children, all of whom did not speak English. Living and adjusting to host family life is difficult, but it is an incredibly rewarding experience to learn more about how French families, parenting styles, and education systems differ from that in the U.S.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
Meal times! On average in the U.S. people eat a big dinner around 6 pm, but in France restaurants do not even open until 7, with most people going to eat around 8:30 or 9. Additionally, people usually eat large, extended lunches and quicker/smaller dinners. Getting used to the food/cultural scene definitely takes some time.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Paris?
Honestly just walking around and exploring. Classes are only a few hours a day, giving you a lot of free time to explore the city. There was never a lack of things to do in Paris, and I made it my mission to try and explore as many neighborhoods/try as many restaurants as I could while there. I would go with a few friends every day to a new area, and we would usually have an extended lunch which was one of my favorite parts of my every day life in the city.
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Paris?
The most memorable experience I had while in France had to be on the Bing trip. We were lucky enough to go to Megève in the French Alps, which was extremely beautiful during the winter. One of the days we were told that we were going to go on a short snowshoe hike, but it ended up being over two hours up the side of a mountain. We were all out of breath at the top, but then were treated to a traditional fondue lunch that was absolutely amazing. We then proceeded to sled down the mountain, trying to follow a narrow path with sleds that did not have amazing brakes. We were all crashing into each other and speeding down the mountain but it was an amazing experience.
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
Creative, Independent, Gastronomic, Cultural, Educational
What was your favorite food you had in Paris?
There is no way to choose just one. The pastries/bread are absolutely incredible, and so cheap in boulangeries (bakeries) compared to the US. My favorite pastry had to probably be the drop/pain suisse, which is like a chocolate croissant but flatter and with custard. It is absolutely amazing.
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
Definitely a winter jacket and umbrella- it can be cold and rainy.
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Paris?
France has a very big pop/rap scene. It was interesting to hear popular music in France and see how it differs from that in the U.S.