Money Lessons Abroad: Housing

I think it’s time I go into the story of my homestay. Even though I’m used to living independently in NYC, I thought it would be a good idea to live with a family so that I could babysit for them to make money, enjoy living in a larger apartment, and connect with them so that I had my own Parisian family that would help me navigate the city. I thought wrong. My initial guy feeling when I landed in Paris was “I want to live alone,” but said feeling was nullified by the insane jetlag and still shaky ability at making decisions. Upon arriving at school for orientation, I spoke briefly to a woman in charge of housing and mentioned that I was looking to live somewhere I could exchange babysitting for rent. They said they had a few and I could speak to them about it at my housing appointment. Because of the time I arrived I was scheduled to meet with a housing advisor the following monday at 2:30pm. The appointments were from 9:00am Monday to the end of the day Tuesday. What we were told is that you meet with a housing officer for 30 minutes maximum to discuss your preferences. In that time period they are allowed to show you 3 properties, you are to pick one and visit it as soon as possible. About 6 people meet every half hour so if you have the same preferences as another student, they might be “considering” an apartment that you would want but you will never know because it’s one of their three. I understand why it’s set up this way, because it’s easy for the school, but for students it’s incredibly stressful. The also said that if you don’t make up your mind fast enough and pass on the apartment you see, you might not find anything you like at all because they will all be taken.

All of the babysitting gigs were gone, so I found a room in a homestay that was so cute with a big turquoise bed, robin’s egg blue vases on a white mantel over the fireplace and a private bathroom to boot. Or so I thought. Turns out there were two rooms and another AUP student was looking at it too. While one room was 15 square meters, one was 18. The other and bigger room had a king-sized bed, two wardrobes, and 2 sets of windows. Both of them had desks and heaters and connected through the bathroom. Without the meal plan (which she wanted and cost an extra 150 euros per month) the room was roughly the same cost of my apartment in NYC. I thought that apartments in Paris were the same as in NYC, or at least that’s what I was told. So I figured it was a fine price. Figured wrong. When I told my roommate from NYC Victoria (who goes to school in Paris) she said absolutely not and that the price was too high and the location was far away (the Jasmin stop off the 9 train which is the furthest west part of Paris and the Manhattan equivalent of the Upper East Side). Still, because of my fear of not finding anywhere better, I took it. Like. An. Idiot.

After I moved in I started noticing problems, like the tension whenever I used the kitchen. Since I’ve been cooking for myself since I was pretty young I maneuver my way around with ease, but the mom would stand over my shoulder and tell me to do things certain ways and tell me to take my food out of the cans before I was done cooking. It was just weird. The little boy, who was 11, couldn’t speak much English and was left to himself everyday from about 5-8. I think that having students there was a way of having built in babysitters- she said that if she needed babysitting she paid 5 euros per hour… I have heard that you can make an average of 20 euros per hour here…

Then I realized that the living room I had seen during the tour was not being used as a living room, nor was the dining room being used for eating. The parents had moved out of their bedroom and office and were sleeping on couches in the living room while the dining room was converted into the moms office. The way the apartment was structured meant that in order to get to the kitchen you walked past the dining room, so the mom was usually sitting there looking at you (sometimes she worked from home). Next to the kitchen was the toilet (so bizarre how they’re separate) which we were told not to use late at night for noise, and as a well hydrated person that left my only option as the sink in our bathroom. Seriously. Since the living room was just separated by a thin windowed door (when they were “in bed”) I didn’t really want to use it anyways, not to mention that the parquet floor was SO creaky you couldn’t even tiptoe without making a racket. Every time I went to the bathroom, the kitchen, or came came in or out of the apartment, she was there and would comment on what I did. Not a fun living situation. Part of the problem was that when I visited with my student advisor (who was an 18 year old idiot- no offensethe other girl was there with her advisor so all four of us were standing in the foyer talking about everything. I didn’t get any one-on-one time to see what the mom was like nor did I understand what the living room situation was. I have to take responsibility though because no matter how tired you are you have to think about what you really need, not just if something seems tolerable off the bat.

So anyways, after about 2 days I realized I was in a bad situation and could live for 6 months in discomfort or I could tell my school and get the hell out. Trouble was, I gave her the security deposit and first months rent. Legally, she had no obligation to give any of it back but with the help of my school I got back the whole deposit and just under half of the first month because I subtracted the days I stayed there. I ended up paying her off with the equivalent of $250 USD and whoever says that money can’t buy happiness is seriously deranged because the minute I hauled my 80 lb suitcase outta that place, everything got so much better.

I was supposed to get that sum back if they found a new student to fill the room, which they did, but she said that it was “after another week” and wanted to be compensated for the time that no one was in the room. It was NOT what we agreed on and frankly I’m pretty pissed because she said that I would get that money back, but I also don’t want to have to deal with this woman anymore. She was a big liar too, I was in the room when the housing woman talked to her about me needing to move out and later on when we talked she twisted everything, not knowing that I was well aware of what had been said. At this point, even though I have now slept in 5 places in Paris, I’m just ecstatic to not be there. I’m taking it as a lesson though, so some food for thought…

I wish I had:

1. Done my homework: figured out which neighborhood I wanted to be in and how far I was willing to commute

2. Furthermore, talked to more people in Paris I knew through friends about who they knew might know in Paris for potential sublets

3. Asked to speak to the AUP housing staff during my appointment about my concerns

4. Waited until other students were housed then gone through the leftover apartments without being pressured

5. Listened to my mom when she said if it isn’t exactly what you want, wait until something better comes along. Gotta tap into that gut instinct!

I’m moving out of my sublet today and to a friends for a week, then another friends for a week, then to Luxembourg for a week, then by March will figure out something for the last two months. It’s an adventure! And I really can’t wait to move into somewhere permanent when I’m back in the great ol’ USA.

And for a quick academic Update: I’m going to a school next Friday the 17th to observe their lunch program! Sent out a ton of letters this week and am making contact so I can get some good info for my project 🙂

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