Apr 4th, 2018, 11:53 AM

Immigrating to France as a Student

By Lorenza Aranda
Image Credit: Unsplash/Andrew Butler
What it's like to be an outsider in France.

Immigrating to a new country is not as easy as it seems, especially in a country like France. In France, immigration policies are harsh in general, and for students, it is no exception. France has had a long history of immigration problems since colonialism. Immigrants find France to be a great country to establish themselves in.

According to the Guardian, France is the third most popular country for international students. A lot of students come here to get a different kind of education and, of course, for the opportunity to live in Europe. A lot of these students are in Paris and for most of them, it is hard to fit into Parisian society. 

For non-EU students, immigrating to France is a long process. First, you have to be accepted to a school in France. Then you have to go through a long procedure and paperwork in campus France so they can approve your candidacy for the student visa. Lastly, you need an appointment at the consulate to go through the procedures.

Santiago Moreno, a student from Mexico, moved to Paris to get to know new people and a different social and civic culture. "It was a little hard for me to get my visa. It is not easy to immigrate to Paris. The process is long because I either needed to work or study, and the immigration office wouldn't let me stay for a long time in Paris unless I prove I have a large income. And I couldn't, so I had to take a French course to get my visa because it was that or only be able to live in Paris for less than 90 days under a tourist visa. It would have been much easier if I had a European passport."

Students have to prove that they have a three-month income, a place to live in France, an acceptance letter from a French university, and they need to pay 50 Euros for the visa. If one of these documents are missing or is not in order, you can forget about your visa. 

The international student community in Paris is one of the largest in the world. However, Parisians don't take kindly having all of us around. Some of them get frustrated with the different languages and the fact that a lot of us don't speak French. Lorea Olavarri is a half-Mexican half-French fashion student that decided to come to France to explore her passion for fashion. 

"My greatest challenge living in a foreign country is getting along with people here, feeling like you're not an outsider," Lorea added. "It's really difficult being in Paris and feel like you belong here. You're always going to be an outsider. Even if I have the French passport because I have the double nationality and I speak French fluently,  I don't know why but you'll always feel like an outsider. Even if I'm part French and I know the language almost perfectly."

It is very common for tourists to be mistreated by Parisian waiters for example, but when you are a student here and call this city your home, it becomes very frustrating for the international community to be treated the same. "The hard thing about Parisians is that they see you as a tourist, and they assume I can only speak English, even though I speak respectable French. They don't like to talk to me in their language, they get frustrated," Santiago said.

Image Credit: Santiago Moreno

Santiago added, "I think that Parisians are very close-minded with their social life, so they aren't interested in meeting new people. I usually hang out with other foreigners. When Parisians don't let you in, the only thing you can do is form a new community. The most significant challenge of establishing myself in France has been the visa, the insurance, the permits, residence, rent, and safety deposits. It's almost like they don't want you to move to their country." 

When it comes to racism towards Mexicans, Santiago says that he has suffered some "in a subtle but constant way. When I enter a fancy store, and they don't greet me or help me like they help other people. When I got into a cafe, nobody wants to take my order until I really ask for it." 

According to Campus France, there are currently 4,300,000 international students in France the number has grown 7% since 2012. Lorea is one of almost 3,000 Mexicans studying abroad in France. A lot of these students get discriminated against for not being French or simply speaking another language. 

"I don't think I've been discriminated against directly. People here don't do it on purpose, but I could say that they are not welcoming. If they know you are not from here, they don't care about how they treat you. With waiters for example, first of all, you speak to them in French, and when they hear you speak another language they automatically start speaking English to you, always making you feel like they can't speak French to you even if you just spoke French to them perfectly, they won't speak back. It's almost like they put a barrier if you are not from here,"  Lorea added. 

Image Credit: Lorea Olavarri

All Parisians aren't the same, but the fact that their city is full of international students can sometimes make them uncomfortable and they automatically lose interest in them. 

"It's been hard for me meeting Parisians because here, when you go out, for example, they are not interested in meeting people from elsewhere. I don't blame them because in Mexico we are the same in a way. But now that I know what it feels like, not being able to meet anyone from here because of my nationality, I think when I return to my country I'm going to change that. It is really annoying not being able to make friends with anyone from here," Lorea said. "I have a group of people that I identify with when Parisians aren't nice because it happens to a lot of international students. I'm not the only one. I've talked about this with a lot of international students. It's a conversation that you often have, about how Parisians are not really interested in meeting international people."

Even though a big part of this international community is either fluent in French or learning it, the language barrier is still there and is hard for them to communicate with Parisians. 

"The fact that I speak French was not really easy, but it made it easier for me to get a job. I have to admit that for the interviews, on the phone, because of my accent they didn't know I was Mexican. But once I met them in person, the moment I told them I was from Mexico, it changed things for them. But speaking French was easy. I eventually got a job since my boss is a French lady that has been in New York and London, so she understands what being an outsider is like. That's why when told her I was from Mexico she didn't care." Lorea said. 

"When I first got here, people didn't make me feel welcome when they knew I was an international student. I think they make you feel like 'why spend time on you' if you're not staying here for long. And your culture is so different that they don't see the point on meeting someone that is not French, so it was difficult for me but then you start meeting new people, Mexicans, Americans and know that you are in the same position it is easy to identify with them," Lorea said.