Reserapport - KI-student
Lärosäte: Université Pierre et Marie Curie (Sorbonne Université)
Utbildningsprogram: Biomedicin Master
Utbytesprogram: Erasmus
Termin: Hösttermin 16/17
Namn: Sara Torstensson

Innan avresa

I wanted to go abroad for my master thesis as I had an exciting and very rewarding experience abroad when I conducted the research project for my bachelor thesis at Rutgers University in New Jersey, USA. Since I already had experienced the cultural differences on a different continent, I was thinking about staying within the boarders of Europe. Furthermore, I wanted to extend my language skills; my stay in the US had already improved my English skills profoundly, which I am very grateful for, so this time I wanted to focus on my third language. I had studied French for many years but I had never had a chance to practice it, which made France a logical choice of destination. Other than that, I had been curious about the French culture and was very eager to experience it on close hand. Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC), or Paris 6 as it also is called, was my first choice as the research at the associated departments were very much in line with my interests. After having navigated their website in French, I found a group which were working on projects that I found very interesting and decided my destination based on this. Since I had been abroad before I was well aware of the procedure and I had already received a lot of useful information. Along with this, I received excellent support from the administrative officer at KI. In comparison to the USA, going abroad with Erasmus was very convenient and did not require a lot of paper work or preparations. Neither did I have to vaccinate or have a medical certificate. The only real drawback was the somewhat old fashion French bureaucracy and the lack of electronic solutions. This was never a big problem but generated some frustration. One advice I might give is that in case you don’t get a reply on an email or a question, just keep emailing until you do. You also might try and write in French instead of English, this actually help sometimes, even if the text you send is far from grammatically correct.

There isn’t a lot of information about the university and the associated departments available at the English version of UPMCs website. In order to find valuable information, swish to the French version and ask a friend for help if you have that option. The only exception is the site for international studies which has quit a lot of information written in English.

Ankomst och registrering

I arrived two days before my first day at the lab and found that to be a quit decent amount of time to set up. It turned out that I needed some advice and guidance from my French colleges regarding some things, for instance how I would get a proper metro card. In that sense, arriving earlier would actually have been a drawback. Regarding the metro card, you need a certificate from your housing or similar that states that you actually are living in Paris (don’t ask me why). The procedure might be different if you have the student discount, but as I was too old for the student discount (see the section “Economy”) I’m not sure how this works. Ask a colleague or a room mate to help you out, this is often the most informative way to go. Another heads-up is that the monthly metro card literally lasts a month; if you buy it in January it lasts from the 1st of January until the 31st, regardless of the date of purchase. The first days I managed fine with single tickets on the metro, which is much easier to get in any of the machines available at metro stations and the bus terminals. Likewise, I was only using my phone where I could find Wi-Fi the first days. Later, I signed a contract for my phone online and the sim card for my phone was delivered just within a few days (see the section “Economy”). I prepared my arrival thoroughly back home in Sweden by looking up the right addresses, transportation, how to get from the airport to my housing, etc. This was naturally a very good thing to do as the information in the metro system and at a bus stop can vary a lot.

Upon arrival and registration, I was informed that I needed a specific insurance that would cover any accidents where I might cause harm to others. This is a somewhat specific insurance that I personally only have heard of in France. This would for instance cover the injury of another person if you happen to fall down the stairs and accidently knock someone else over in the fall. I got a paper with an agency, SMEREP, that UPMC recommended and immediately went to their bureau and signed up for their insurance. It did not take more than 20 minutes and only costed around 12€. Other than that, I received a pamphlet and a short guide about the student activates at UPMC, but I never participated in any of these. There was an option to take French classes which I think would be extremely useful if you don’t speak the language. Other than that, I was not offered any introduction that would have been useful. The lab I was working on, as most other labs, were located off campus and any tour would therefore not have been of use. Neither did I take any courses and did not therefore need any information about practical things regarding studies at UPMC. Any information or help I needed were my colleges friendly enough to provide me.


Paris, as most big cities, is very expensive to live in. Compared to Stockholm, housing is without doubt the most expensive aspect of the stay there. Other than that, food and transport is more or less similar to the prices in Stockholm. If you are under 26 you have a student discount, which also includes the metro card. In my case, I was too old and did therefore not profit from any of this. Even so, being used to the prices in Stockholm and the way of finding cheaper grocery stores was sufficient to manage in an otherwise very expensive city. Talking to other students with different origins, their experience was that it differed a lot from what they were used to. The only thing that was significantly less expensive was the contract phone. However, considering all the difficulties of the bureaucracy of signing up for a contract, and even more so for cancelling it when you go back home, along with the fact that roaming is free within EU now, I would suggest to keep using your Swedish phone contract. In case you still would like to sign up for a French contract, I would recommend you Free. This is one of the few companies that doesn’t require a French bank account and is cheap.

A cheaper form of transport, and a beautiful way of experiencing the city, is to get around on bike. You can rent a bike with Velib, a system similar to that in place in Stockholm where you register and thereafter can take and leave the bike at stops all over the city.




Finding housing in Paris can be tricky, so start looking early on. I was lucky to find housing at the Swedish house at Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris. The Cité is comprised of many houses from different nationalities, and if you apply for housing there you have to accept the exchange program they have with other houses. In that way I became re-located to the Spanish house. Even though my room was rather small and the shared kitchen was occasionally disgusting, my stay there was convenient. The price was not too expensive in regard to the overall prices in Paris; I payed 590€ month which included bedding, cleaning and internet. My lab was located just 3 km from the Cité and it took me roughly 15 min to get there by bus.

Other than the Cité, there’s a lot of people who are subletting their apartments around Paris. Many offers came up on the Facebook group “Svenskar i Paris” which I highly recommend you to join.


The Swedish house:

Studier allmänt

During my semester in Paris I was conducting my research project for my master thesis. This meant that I didn’t have to take any classes and that the number of people I was interacting with on a daily basis, my colleagues and supervisors, were relatively few. This naturally facilitated the language barrier as the people around me always adjusted to make sure that I understood and felt included. The only exception was the lab meetings and the weekly seminars that only occasionally were held in English. Even though I had studied French and a lot of the scientific words are overlapping, I really struggled to keep up. I do believe that I would have had a broader knowledge about immunology if I would have understood the language fully, but I am certain that this did not affect the quality of my report or my project. Lab work is very practical, and any theoretical knowledge was referred to articles or discussions in English that I had with my supervisor and closest colleagues.

The workload was fairly similar to what I am used to in Sweden. In France, the government has regulated the hours that you are allowed to work to less than that considered normal in Sweden. Even so, this doesn’t apply to research in practice and more or less everyone at the lab worked more than 8 hours/day. I never felt pressured to work more than that, but as the lab work is hard to schedule on 8 hours/day, along with the ambition to gain results for the project, I definitely worked more than that.

Kurser under utbytet

Kurser motsvarande termin 4 på KI
See "Studies"

Språk och kultur

I had studied French for many years, although I never had practiced it, which helped me a lot during my stay in Paris. Even so, my skills were far from sufficient in order to keep up in all conversations, especially during lab meetings. Luckily, my supervisors and my closest colleagues spoke English with me whenever we were discussing science and the project. They were also kind enough to include me in the conversation during lunch breaks and other situations where the people in general spoke too fast or used too many words that were unknown to me.

Although the overall ability to speak English has improved a lot in France, especially in big cities like Paris, you still need to now the basics in order to get around smoothly in your everyday life. Don’t count on that the staff at the grocery store speaks English well enough to be able to help you find what you are looking for. Even some of my colleagues at the lab were struggling a lot with English, whom I fully had to depend on a combination of French and sign language to communicate with. Adding to this, French people in general are very proud and many prefer their own language. However, if you approach someone in French, they generally are happy to switch to English if they hear that you struggle to get your message across in French.

An overall big cultural difference between Sweden and France is the hierarchy within the school system and at the work place. This was initially a concern for me and I was careful to call colleagues and group leaders “vous” and address them as madame/monsieur to make sure that I wasn’t insulting anyone. However, it soon became clear that this hierarchy was more or less absent at this lab and when I asked one of my group leaders about this he replied that “yes, this is very true for France but when you are in the lab, we are all equal”. As for the rest of Paris, this varied a lot. Overall, this hierarchy, or extra level of politeness if you will, was evident in the city in the everyday life. For instance, the bus driver will be offended if you approach him or her with a question without first saying bonjour/bonsoir madame/monsieur. They will also find it a bit amusing if you greet them with bonjour (good day) in the evening when you rather should say bonsoir (good evening). Likewise, you should always reply bon journée/bon soirée (have a good day/evening) or à vous aussi (you too) when you say good bye after a short encounter, such as with the cashier at the grocery store. It was fairly easy to adopt to this aspect of the culture and I believe that a French introductory course would be sufficient in order to give you the necessary phrases to act politely.

Fritid och sociala aktivteter

UPMC arranges a lot of different student activities, which I received information about upon registration. I did not participate in any of this, and since I only worked in the lab I didn’t have contact with any other students at UPMC other than a girl in my group that was working on a different project. There was also a lot of activities and seminars arranged by the Cité, where I was staying. The activities ranged from sports and tournaments to movie nights, and it was easy to come in contract with the others people on campus at the many pubs and parties that were held there. You also get to know other residents in the house you’re living in; this is how I came to meet my friends that I hung out most with. The Cité is a very international environment and most people there are exchange students or have moved to Paris from abroad to study. In this way, everyone is very open and welcoming since they too are fairly new to town.

Paris as a whole is a wonderful city with plenty of things to do. Needless to say, there’s a lot of culture to experience. One very useful tip I received was that all the museums have free entrance the first Monday of the month. There are also a lot of beautiful places that are free of charge, such as cemeteries and parks. One personal favorite is the cemetery Père-Lachaise.

If you feel homesick, there is a Swedish store in the 8th arrondissement. Here, I managed to find everything I needed in order to prepare a Swedish dinner for my colleagues with meatballs, lingonberry jam, Västerbotten cheese, crisp bread and herring. Another very useful thing has been the Facebook group “Svenskar i Paris” which I highly recommend you to join. The group is very helpful and you can turn to it with questions regarding more or less anything, ranging from “Where can I find a good hairdresser?” to “Do they sell fresh yeast in Paris?”.


My semester in Paris was very rewarding in many aspects. First and foremost, I gained a lot of new scientific knowledge, both theoretical and practical. I was lucky to get to join a very ambitious and friendly group that included me as a colleague and was eager to share their knowledge with me. All of them were very helpful and supportive which enabled me to develop a lot of practical skills. They made me feel appreciated and I hope that I was able to give something back to them. I am very grateful for everything they thought me and how patient they were with me. My group also challenged the stereotypic view of French hierarchy in the work space. I had the same experience when I was in the USA and I start to wonder if the work environment at labs around the world in general differs, at least partly, from the overall culture of individual countries. Having that said, I am well aware that the groups I have been working with isn’t representative selections.

Living in France naturally improved my language skills, even though not to the extent that I had hoped for. Since I spoke English with my colleagues for the bigger part of the day I wasn’t exposed to French enough to be fluent when I returned home. However, for the first time I got to experience on first hand how it is to live in a country where you don’t speak the language fully. This has provided me with an even greater respect for all of my colleagues and fellow students at KI who originate from other parts of the world.

Paris is a wonderful city which is hard to resist falling in love with. It has a beautiful charm and as with most big cites, it has a lot to offer. I’m longing to go back, hopefully on a postdoc sometime in the future.