Paris has so much to offer. It’s a cultural mecca, as well as a leader in the arts. But there is a wealth of information on just about anything, no matter where you go or what grabs your interest in the city. Educational opportunities (free and otherwise) practically permeate the cobblestones.
For many, the idea of going to school to get an advanced degree is the epitome of higher learning and achievement. But what if there was another way to do the same thing? What if you could learn all you need to know—and more—by simply living in Paris for two years?
Take a Master’s degree in Liberal Arts, for example. If you wanted to focus on history, Paris is full of examples of period architecture, art and museums on that topic, to name a few options for one-of-a-kind research. The Renaissance, Impressionism, the French Revolution—for all these things, the residue of times past can be seen and felt in person by taking a walk to the nearest exhibit or library, or by hopping on the Metro. Imagine all that knowledge and exposure in your own Parisian backyard!
Let’s do a little digging and discover why living in Paris for only two years is actually so much better than suffering in a classroom, likely bored to tears, in order to earn a Liberal Arts Master’s degree.
It’s not as expensive as paying university fees.
Depending on which school you might choose to attend or in which country it’s located, the fees for getting a Master’s degree in Liberal Arts, or any other discipline, really, can be astronomical. Not only are you paying for each credit hour that you take, but there are various other tertiary institution costs to consider. Oh, and you have to pay a fee to graduate. Perhaps you’ll have to work full time or part time, too, while going to school; pay for gas mileage; lose sleep and eventually gain an ulcer because of overwhelming commitments.
Electives would be at least 18 credit hours (six courses). Then, add in three core courses (at least 9 hours), and a thesis. If each credit hour is 400 euros (on the low end) or 1,100 euros (on the medium to high end), the cost quickly adds up. This doesn’t include food, housing (on campus or off-campus), books, and the bare necessities a student needs. Full time or part time, once complete, the amount paid could be anywhere from 11,000 euros to 33,000 euros, just for tuition, depending on the school chosen and the intensity of the program.
Now let’s compare all this to residing in Paris on a long-stay carte de séjour (CDS) permanent visa for two years and pursuing a different kind of “study” via life experience. The cost to get a visa is around 100 euros, not including the cost of the paperwork you need to obtain, and which accompanies the application. Then, before 90 days are up, you must be registered in the healthcare system and procure a carte vitale.
A carte vitale gives you access to health insurance in France, which is mandatory. Even with delays and possible frustrations with the application process, it’s still much less than paying for just one credit hour of an advanced degree course, so far! And seventy percent reimbursement for the cost of visiting a doctor or pharmacy because of having the carte vitale is nothing to sneeze at. If you’re a fairly healthy person, going to the doctor is likely to be only once or twice a year during your stay for a checkup, if that.
The cost to take public transportation is quite reasonable, too and can help you avoid the expense of car maintenance and gas prices. Riding the bus is as little as 1.70 euros one way. A taxi within the city limits at a certain time of day costs 1 euro per kilometer and just a little bit more in the evenings. You can buy a combined rail pass and renew it annually. How about renting a bicycle to get some exercise? That’s cheap, too.
An apartment, you say? A single person could find a place to rent on the outskirts of Paris for between 750 and 1,000 euros a month, depending on whether you’re looking for a furnished studio or a one-bedroom flat. Contingent upon the data used, it would seem that the average person, with an eye on the budget could survive on as little as 900 euros a month, including rent, shopping, meals, activities, and so on.
Think about that! This means you could conceivably spend around 22,000 euros in a two-year period. That is less than some of the most expensive Liberal Arts Master’s degrees out there. And you’ll be in Paris, getting everything first-hand, right from the source. What price can be placed on that?
You could “study” anything in the Liberal Arts curriculum, from a French point of view: history, literature, philosophy, sociology, theater, art, anthropology, archaeology, communication and geography. All because you reside in a city that was a mecca at one point (or still is) for many of these disciplines.
Plenty of opportunities to develop a profitable network within the Parisian arts' circle.
Network, network, network!
In Paris, there are any number of expat communities and meetups, along with online resources that can help you pursue your liberal arts passion outside the classroom. Instead of being stuck staring at a podium for two years, writing endless papers and barely keeping your eyes open in your 7:30 to 10:00 night class, now you’re introducing yourself around at an expat event, drinking wine, and getting to know others with similar interests to your own, gleaning helpful information and resources on topics near and dear to your heart that you can’t wait to discover the next day.
Often, these groups get discounts on events or hold outings on subjects that might be of value to you and help further your knowledge in your field of concentration.
If you were studying for a degree in the traditional way, networking opportunities would likely be limited due to time constraints and lack of contact with real-life prospects. But instead, you’re in Paris, free to meet, greet and pursue what you want because it’s right there. You’ll get the background and experience you need with the help of others just like you.
There are all kinds of websites you can use to find a connection and network. Many opportunities can be found here: Meetup. Also, Expats Paris is a great starting point for getting to know others like yourself who are either new to Paris or have been here long enough to be a great guide and resource.
Instead of looking at books or exploring the Internet and Wikipedia to learn more about art, you can actually be in a progressive center of the art world and see it for yourself. Instead of trying to use a book to understand history, you can actually live in a city where history is the very backbone of society. Philosophy? Pascale, Robespierre, the notorious Marquis de Sade, Voltaire, Sartre—they were all French masters. Architecture? Investigate the Hotel de Beauvais, Pyramide du Louvre, and the Castel Beranger, which was the first to be built in the Art Nouveau style. Literature? The Count of Monte Cristo, Madame Bovary, The Three Musketeers, The Phantom of the Opera. Anyone?
There is no way to place a value on these experiences. And they’re just a train ride away.
You’ll learn almost everything about art for almost free (free library access, free museums, free conferences, free seminars, learning sessions).
Think about it. Instead of paying a ridiculous amount of money to earn your degree, and dealing with difficult team members on a class project, you’re embarking on a different journey. The museums available are numerous; there are classes, talks and seminars offered for free or a mere pittance where you can learn at your own pace. And after a day spent stretching your mind, you can have a fantastic night out with new friends, which is an education in and of itself, learning through interaction with others as well as just walking around and exploring the sights.
Meetups are a great way to find activities of interest for little or nothing. A good place to start if you’re interested in the arts is Art Meetup group. Or, let’s say you want to perfect your drawing technique; try Drawing Meetup Group. The Expatriates Magazine has great articles and is informative.
There is an AngloInfo classifieds website that is useful. It has information on just about anything you may need, but it also lists activities that cater to expats and are quite varied. Users of this site can get discounts on events, and some of these are free. For example, the Centre Culturel Irlandais has an excellent exhibit of portrait paintings: Centre Culturel Irlandais event programs that is no charge to the attendee.
There is so much to do, and so much potential for learning in Paris. If your interest is history, it’s right around the corner. Art? A no-brainer. Political science? Paris is a melting pot of people and opinions and strives daily to find a balance between cultures and ideals. What better place to improve your painting skills than on the Seine? Add to your English credentials by teaching a class in exchange for French language training. So many ways to make progress!
Now, let’s look at the whole picture: if you were to study for a Master’s degree in Liberal Arts for two years at a trendy university in, say, French History, you would spend close to 30,000 euros on classes alone, and likely another 5,000 or more on sundries. Your stress level would be high. You would only have access to teachers, libraries, online information and colleagues and lots of stale coffee to get you through. Instead, you could be in Paris, learning the language, exploring the city itself and soaking up that same history in person, right from the source. And there’s the added benefit of new friends, great food, wine and a plethora of things to keep you occupied. And lots of opportunities to get things for free or at a great discount.
When weighed in the balance, all benefits considered, which one would you choose?
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