For my 6th post I’d like to start to write a HEC how-to guide that I wish I had before coming here. There are about of things about HEC itself that I wish I knew earlier. The first thing is that HEC Paris is actually 1.5 hrs away from Paris by train and about 30 min by car. The cheapest way to get to the city is by the Savac shuttle (HEC only), but the hours can be weird. Next cheapest is the RER trains, uber pool is good if you are going with a friend, or uber x for bigger groups. There is also a HEC Facebook group, where you can request a ride, or respond to an offer for a few euros. Also, if you plan on traveling in Europe, don’t book a flight with Ryanair because it only leaves Paris from Beauvais, which is SUPER expensive and time-consuming to get to.
I would miss the exchanges and the international master students. I am repeating myself here from a couple posts ago. But again and again throughout the semester I would be glad to study among people who have lived absolutely incomparable lives. Meeting people who are completely different from each other has been the most valuable and unique thing about HEC. (I would like to be more specific here, but it would take too long to describe this international mix phenomenon)
Even though many things in this list are very basic and expected, these are the details that made me happier in France.
- Delicious food you don’t need to go on a scavenger hunt for
I would miss little specialty stores, especially those filled with a wide array of strongly smelling cheeses. I have barely bought anything in them during my time in and around Paris. However, the idea of going to a shop whose owner knows all ins and outs of his specialty product excites me a lot. I would also miss the normality of going to street shops/markets to buy fruits and vegetables. I would miss market streets in general. I would miss fresh orange juice you could press right in the supermarket. I would (just like a typical French) miss perfect fresh bread. And, my love – Sunday brunches! I would miss Sunday mornings you start with your family and/or friends having prolonged multi-course meals.
The more I stay at HEC, the more I question how French my experience has actually been. I would rather call it global. I believe I have mentioned this in an earlier blog but I want to revisit the thought.
Let’s take my surrounding right now. I am sitting at the library (which is by the way an amazing place: light, spacious and very new). Looking around: a Russian girl in front of me, Spaniards at a table on the right, an American and a German next to them and a mixed group of English and Chinese working on a project at the other end of the room. Oh, an Indian just entered the room and joined a French behind me.
Due to an unfortunate event I had to unexpectedly leave Paris in the middle of the working week and fly home to Russia for a couple of days. I have just come back and realized once again that Paris was a great idea.
First of all, I am learning! I can now say with a 100% certainty that my French is improving. On the way back I could understand all the French plane announcements. I knew where to find the life jacket in case of emergency, how long I would sit on 23B, unsuccessfully attempting to fall asleep, and what the weather was like in Paris. Maybe it seems like a minor accomplishment, but two months ago I couldn’t decipher anything even though I knew exactly what a flight attendant was supposed to say.
There is always time and space for art in Paris. By default.
It warms my heart and brings me comfort better than a fresh pain-au-chocolat (chocolate croissant) with vache à boire (drinking yogurt) in the morning.
For the longest time I couldn’t quite figure out what makes me feel incredible in Paris. But a remark but Katya (another exchange student from UVA + my roommate here and friend) made it obvious. In metro on our way back to HEC after a day in Paris she pointed out:
Despite the cultural differences, I really do enjoy living in France. I feel that there is a candor that is often missing in the US, even though it is sometimes abrasive. In my opinion, the biggest challenges have arisen in everyday tasks and dealing with the more admin parts of my life like ordering pick up or dealing with campus housing. This is likely because it is far less likely that the people I have to interact with in these situations speak English, but I have to use French vocabulary that I never learned. However, once the mini crisis of not being able to communicate is over, I often find these are the times where I improve my language skills the most.
February was such an exciting month for traveling outside of France. Over a week long break, I visited Budapest, Vienna, Prague and Berlin with Katya. The best way I found to really see a city and learn a bit about history and culture is by taking walking tours. Budapest and Prague had some of the best “free” walking tours. It was so wonderful to learn about the history of the cities especially as former soviet states. While Vienna’s tour was a bit too long, the city itself was very beautiful. I had the opportunity to see two musical performances and they were breath-taking. Berlin was a very modern and evolving city, missing a lot of the historical architecture of the three previous. The city reminded me a lot of an American city and had some great restaurants and bars. The food throughout these central European cities consisted of a lot of sausages, potatoes, pickled vegetables, and of course beer. Two of the more iconic foods I had during the trip included the Sacher Torte in Vienna, and the Curry-wurst in Berlin!
After all, I do go to a business school. So let’s talk some business-related discoveries about France.
France is lagging in digital transformation
According to my Digital Management class, France is way behind other countries in using digital solutions in business. An enormous number of companies don’t even have an Internet presence (I can find a specific number for you if you are curious). This fact shocked me. I assumed that one of the strongest economies in Europe has to be up-to-date on all major business innovations. However, having talked to more people here, I kind of see why French are slow to embrace digitalization. People here hold strongly onto what they already have and don’t seem to be fond of change. They are proud of their amazing history, food and culture. Makes sense – they do have a lot to offer. However, by living in the past they fail to move forward (not my words).
I’m still trying to find a trap in HEC education system. Ratings name it one of the top schools in Europe, but students don’t seem to study as vigorously as we do at McIntire. To begin with, I only go to class three days a week, each time for one 3-hour long session.. After that, I’m mostly done: no homework, no readings, no office hours, nothing. My only class that is supposedly “a lot of work” has the load of a usual UVA 3-credit course. The lectures themselves are also relaxed. Each lasts 3 hours with a 10-minute break in the middle. However, 10 minutes easily become 15, 20, and sometimes 25: people return when they wish and professor says nothing.