How I'm learning to live in Paris as a PhD Student and Fulbrighter

To begin this blog, first I will provide you with a list entitled, “You might be a Ph.D. abroad if…:

  1. You spend more time worrying about your writing schedule than visiting the popular tourist destinations.
  2. Your command of the language hasn’t improved as much as it could because your top priorities include deadlines, fieldwork, and manuscripts.
  3. You experience non-productivity guilt – a guilt specific to grad students who are taught that there is always more that you can do.
  4. The number one topic of conversation is your dissertation, even though you’d rather talk about experiencing the culture, food, or travelling.
  5. Your “winter break” still included a lot more work than break.

Okay, I am poking fun at many scholarly conventions. In particular, the notion that you are your work, and your work is more than enough to occupy your time.

Fortunately, I am a Ph.D. abroad who is working hard to undo this faulty programming. When I state that I only took one day off in the first three months of my arrival to visit places like Notre Dame and the Latin Quarter, I am not joking. But you don’t have to be me, and in fact, for all of the Fulbright hopefuls reading this, I encourage you to be the opposite of me!

Lest we forget, the purpose of Fulbright is to build bridges between cultures through education and exchange. I want to remind you: don’t waste your Fulbright working nonstop (the education part) and miss out on the cultural exchange part. Yes, indeed, work.

But stop and smell the roses, or in my case, the cheese. You’ve earned your coveted spot as a top-notch teacher or student or scholar. You’re a Fulbrighter. Thus, you’ve earned the right to benefit from inexpensive flights to other amazing cities, wine-tastings, walks along the Louvre, and late nights spent commiserating about culture shock with your fellows.

In December, I made a promise to myself that the remainder of my Fulbright grant would be spent with strict boundaries around working, and indeed, strict boundaries around rest, relaxation and fun. Especially because Paris is a very cool city, and one of the most visited cities in the world for a reason. Here are some reasons that I love living in the City of Light:

  1. The proximity to cultural experiences I’ve never had before. Like any big city, there are shows, films, workshops, tours and more. There are endless opportunities to verb it out — go, see do. I am excited to attend the “La nuit des idées” this month, or “The night of ideas”. This is an annual event hosted by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, spotlighting some of the world’s most preeminent speakers. This year’s honoree is Chimamana Ngozi Adichie, author of Americanah and We should all be feminists.
  2. Paris has an upper hand on beauty because anywhere you go, the antiquated castles, churches, and quartiers will enrapture you. Not to mention the aroma of crepes!
  3. The multitudes of ethnicities, food, and migrants. Paris is cosmopolitan and strengthened by the immense diversity of people hailing from all over the world. Just this past week I met people from Morocco, Algeria, and Mozambique.

  4. I get to fulfill my childhood dream of becoming fluent in a foreign language. Yes, it’s been slow going, but the point is I live in Paris. I can and will become advanced in speaking a second language.
  5. Finally, the Metro. This might sound silly, but visit Paris and you’ll see what I mean. While one Parisian told me that the subway is the dirtiest in the country, I find it clean, efficient, and inexpensive. At €1.90 per trip—about the same as a ride on the trolley or train in Philly--you have access to almost everywhere within the city limits of Paris. And at about one minute per stop, it’s super quick! 





Sonita Moss is a doctoral candidate in the sociology department. Her dissertation research focuses on the contemporary experience of Black Americans living in Paris, France. She is a 2017-2018 Fulbright U.S. Research Grant Finalist.  

The views expressed in contributed blog posts belong solely to the indicated author and do not necessarily respresent those of the Center for Undergraduate Research & Fellowships or those of the University of Pennsylvania. All rights reserved.