France: International Students in Paris Blog on Cité Babel

The International City of Paris [Fr] is a complex that houses a community of international students living and learning at French universities. The Cité was created at a time in between the two World Wars in a pacific spirit that grew during that time in France. Their founders, based on an humanist ideal, envisioned a place that could bring together students from all over the world who would be studying in Paris and give them a home in which they could interact and learn from each other. As it is stated on their website, La Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris is a “school of human relations for peace”.

The International City of Paris

The International City of Paris

There is a blog in which many students write about these experiences in this community. This space is called Cité Babel, and is a place in the blogosphere in which thoughts, impressions, and experiences are shared, both in French and also in other variety of different languages.

Three printed publications also are related this blog, and they are all available online. The publications are the work of a team that addresses issues related to identity, interactions, cultural exchanges, languages, translation, ideas, and views of France and the world. Thus Cité Babel is the essence of a journey lived by students and professionals who are experiencing become an international citizen of the world.

To have a little view of how this blog works, here are some pieces of work written by members of the community around different subjects.


In his article “Why Paris sucks (and why I don’t want to leave)” Jake Heller, a Canadian student explores the basic ideas that his peers from the States have of a life in Paris and the shock of the reality of a vibrant and complicated city:

The steep price of my exchange hasn’t in fact been due to the outlandish cost of living here; turns out that rectifying my actual experience with others’ expectations of what it should be has taken the much greater toll (…) When people ask me about Paris…well they usually don’t actually ask me anything. They rather frame statements like “You must be having a great time!” or “Tell me about your French girlfriend!” as questions, or pose their questions with the answer already in mind, as in “How amazing is it there?” Unhappy with their own regular lives, they expect me to be living their dream, so – at the risk of being castrated for being a whiny, unappreciative asshole upon my return – my answers to such “questions” must always include the words “amazing,” “unbelievable,” or “incredibly hot.” The problem is that, like most comparisons between idealised fantasy and reality, the Paris of the North American imagination really doesn’t stack up to the Paris of the real world. (Note: I understand that many North Americans conceptualise “the real world” as a TV show instead of as actual reality, but I think that that only reinforces my point.)

Abdelkader, a French student writes about the views of the French media in the complex conflict happening in Gaza [Fr]. While he discusses the attention that the conflict has been given by the mainstream media (in this case the primetime of French TV news), Aoufil puts serious questions and statements on the table. As the Gaza bombings arrive to their first anniversary, this student points out how the public opinion chooses to ignore a chapter of the circumstances that for so long have tormented the life of both Palestinians and Israelis:

Apparemment, les tribulations de Berlusconi, et de Johnny Halliday, sont plus importantes que le sort de 1,8 million de palestiniens enfermés dans la ville-ghetto de Gaza (…) même chez les progressistes ou les soutiens du début 2009 à la Palestine, l’apartheid et la ghettoïsation d’un peuple, est moins important qu’une bonne bouffe en famille (…)

Ah  Palestine! Ce soir, la majorité silencieuse te pleure encore, et ses larmes sont gonflées par l’outrecuidance de ces escrocs et de ces hypocrites de médias et de collaborateurs qui veulent nous faire avaler des couleuvres que leurs gorges rejettent pour éviter leur propre étouffement. Ah, j’oubliais… Bonne année 2010 !

Apparently, Berlusconi’s and Johnny Halliday’s tribulations are more important than the 1.8 million of Palestinians trapped in the ghetto-city of Gaza (…) even for the progressive groups that supported Palestine in the early days of 2009, the apartheid, and the “ghettoisation”  of one people is less important than a family meal. (…)

Ah Palestine! This evening, the silent majority cries for you again, and their tears are swollen by the presumptuousness of these crooks and this hypocrites from the media, along with their collaborators, that want to makes us believe naively what they themselves are incapable to accept in order to avoid their own asphyxiation. Ah, I forgot… Happy 2010!

At the same time Chen Miao, from China, discusses the common image of the Chinese people in her post “Are the Chinese shy?” [Fr/Ch]

Un jour, un de mes amis qui habite la Cité Universitaire m’a dit « je pense que les chinois sont timides, réservés et renfermés. » (…) Mon ami n’est pas le seul à penser cela… Bien que cela ne soit pas une critique, il existe quelques malentendus.

D’abord – et nous ne sommes pas les seuls à ressentir cela, beaucoup d’étrangers en France, ont la même impression – on se sent solitaires quand on s’éloigne de son pays natal (…) Les chinois peuvent faire preuve de grandeur d’âme et de largesse d’esprit. Si cela venait d’un pays où habitent des « timides », alors cette timidité serait associée à un charme certain et à une sacrée séduction, basés sur une culture profonde, vigoureuse, saine et puissante ! Les chinois ne sont plus fermés au monde. Nous sommes sortis et nous regardons dans tous les coins de planète, nous possédons des idées innovantes et des ambitions nobles.

One day, one of my friends, living like me in the Cité Universitaire told me: “I think the Chinese are shy, reserved, and withdrawn.” (…) My friend is not the only one with that impression. Even if he didn’t mean to criticize, I think there are some misunderstandings here.

To begin with –and we are not the only ones that feel this way, a lot of foreigners in France feel the same- we feel lonely when were far from our birthplace (…Nevertheless), the Chinese can prove that they have a big spirit and a great soul. If that comes from a country inhabited by “shy” people, then this shyness would be associated to a real and seductive charm based on a deep strong culture, that is at the same time sane and powerful! The Chinese are not closed towards the world anymore. We are out there and we observe all the places of the planet

The subjects and the ideas are wide and very vibrant. This is, indeed, an international community of people aware of the wideness of the world and how, with every day passing, peoples find themselves closer than ever before. With every blog post on Cité Babel, the discussions and observations get to be seen and discussed. No matter the language, the origins or the academic education, the students find in Cité Babel’s blog a space in which they use their voice and show their own vision of an international arena that has been considered as one of the most multicultural, diverse and cosmopolitan of the world: the Paris of the 21st century.

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