All abroad for the best year of your life

For some, a year off between school and university or starting work is the chance to have a really big adventure. But you don't have to cross whole continents for it, as Serena Kutchinsky explains

THE words "Gap Year" usually conjure up images of intrepid students teaching English in Ethiopia or sweeping leaves from a rain-forest floor. But in my 12-month break, I spent five months studying French at the Sorbonne, and the rest studying how to make lattes with the Seattle Coffee Company.

My stay in Paris was one of the best times of my life, and despite the sneers of better travelled friends, I would never trade in my experience for theirs. Rather than leaping from country to country, I got toknow Paris nearly as well as my home-town. Never again will I search the back streets for accordionists or onion-sellers. During my five months there, I was pestered by pigeons and pursued by sex-starved Gauls. Paris became more than just the capital of fine food and fashion - it was home.

Of course, there was a down side. Our residence was not centrally located; in fact, it was at the end of the Metro line. The concrete carbuncle masquerading as a government-run hostel for international students, was one of the most depressing buildings I've ever lived in. The staff were unhelpful, mumbling "boeuf" at every problem, and the food not worth commenting on. But I never regretted not staying with a host family. The people I met in the hostel have become good friends - we kept each other sane through those first nights of homesickness, and last nightmare days of exams.

At the Sorbonne, high standards are expected of foreign students, and they do not take kindly to prolonged periods of absence. One girl had to leave after turning up to only two weeks of classes in two months. My hopes of a five-month holiday were shattered as we were assigned grammar and phonetics classes (two hours a day) together with lectures on French culture. We soon fell into a routine of going to our classes (hangovers permitting), meeting for coffee in the afternoons, and rushing to catch "'appy 'our" in Paris's trendy, overpriced bars in the evenings. When we arrived we were cheered to discover that Paris has 85 Irish pubs, including the infamous Frog and Rosbif and Kitty O' Shea's, all crawling with expats. But homesickness aside, we were soon immersing ourselves in French, not pseudo-English, culture. My only lasting weakness was Marks & Spencer's sandwiches.

Somehow, we always found the energy to get the most out of Paris's exhilarating night life. One night, we even dared a visit to the incredibly select night-club, Les Bains Douches. Tottering along in our high heels and tight dresses, we almost looked the part (if you ignored the fact that it was pouring with rain and everyone else seemed to be arriving in taxis and chauffeur-driven limousines). Once inside, we soon fell victim to groping Gallic hands, which eventually led to my smacking one admirer in the face. Leaving him speechless, we ran upstairs to the VIP room, and spent the rest of the evening happily drinking champagne and celebrity watching. Although this incident makes me laugh now, it highlights what I found to be the appalling attitude of men in Paris. We were treated like objects and constantly preyed upon. It was the first time in my life that I began to appreciate the English reserve.

But every experience has its highs and lows, and I will always know that I did just the right thing with my gap year.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Recruitment Genius: Centre Manager

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Guru Careers: Accountant

    £28 - 45k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Accountant is needed to take control of the ...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Assistant Manager

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This hotel in Chadderton is a p...

    Day In a Page

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk