Janice Zhang


Stanford in Paris, Winter 2017-18
Major: Human Biology
College year while abroad: Junior
About the photo: It might be tempting to spend every weekend abroad traveling around Europe, but it's also just as important to stay in the city and visit all the sights. I hadn't gone to the Eiffel Tower until half way through the quarter!


Why did you choose to study abroad in Paris?

Like many people, I had always dreamed of studying abroad in Paris, but I knew it was meant to be when I found out that BOSP offered the Premed and STEM winter track. It gave me the perfect opportunity to continue completing my premed requirements while exploring the cultural abundance of the city. I knew going to Paris would allow me to explore areas that I would not normally have time for on campus. Also, French food!!!

What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in Paris?

I was expecting to feel a little bit lost in a new country, especially since my French was very rusty and it was my first time living far away from home; however, BOSP did an amazing job in helping us get situated. Everyone at the Stanford Center was so helpful and accommodating. They were such a great resource whenever we were figuring out how to navigate any aspect the city and/or French culture. My host parents were like my parents away from home. Before I left for Paris, I felt nervous about living in another family’s home, but they were extremely warm and inviting. Many of the host families have hosted a number of Stanford students before, so they are very experienced. My host parents made sure that I felt comfortable during my time abroad and always provided delicious, home-cooked meals every evening.

What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in Paris?

When studying abroad in Paris, the city becomes your classroom. You will find that Paris is a hub for art, culture, science, technology, and much more. Surely you will learn a lot from the classes at the Stanford center; however, some of the most enriching academic experiences I had were when professors brought us outside of the classroom to discover what the city has to offer. Our French class took regular trips to the different neighborhoods in Paris to visit famous landmarks and learn bits of Parisian history. Our Photography class went to a few different photography exhibits around the city to see works from the past and present. All of these unique experiences brought to life the material you would normally read in a textbook.

The Paris programs also provide a variety of internships in a broad range of disciplines. I joined a neuroscience research group at the ICM (Institute for Brain and Spinal Cord) at Hôpital de la Pitié-Salpêtrière studying visual neglect in stroke patients. I was fortunate enough to receive personal attention from my supervisor every week as she taught me how to view MRI scans, analyze data, create figures, and write a scientific report. My internship at the ICM was one of the most meaningful research experiences I have had to date. Many of the internships also allow for more opportunities to extend your time abroad or return for a full-time summer internship.

What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?

While abroad, the most important thing I learned was to be as openminded as possible in every aspect. Everything is unfamiliar when you are abroad -- the environment, the people, the culture.  Studying abroad is an invaluable chance to learn and Stanford provides us with many opportunities to have a truly enriching experience. I feel that I got the most out of these opportunities when I sat aside any previous perceptions and approached courses, trips, and events with an open mind and a willingness to learn. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone allowed me to have the most fulfilling experience abroad.

What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were abroad and what did you learn from it?

Language was definitely the biggest challenge for me. Prior to going abroad, I had not taken a French class since high school. I also found it difficult to transition from hearing French in a classroom to hearing French spoken by natives, which is much faster and more slurred. I felt frustrated when I couldn’t fully express myself at the dinner table because of my lack of vocabulary and grammar. It was also difficult to avoid resorting to English when ordering at a restaurant or buying things at a store. I had to overcome my insecurity of sounding silly in front of Parisians and take every encounter in daily life as opportunity to practice. I worked hard on improving, and I gradually began to love speaking the language.

What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?

The pace of life in Paris is much slower than the pace of life on campus, and adjusting to life in Paris will naturally require you to slow down and be more patient with yourself. While on campus you might not feel satisfied until you’ve attended 3 meetings and finished 5 psets, in Paris, you should feel accomplished after just checking off two or three things from your to-do list. Parisians operate at a more relaxed pace, and they rarely mix their work life with their home life. During my first few weeks abroad, I was scrambling around trying to juggle everything new going on. I found myself overwhelmed and anxious when I was not able to figure things out right away. I gradually learned to follow the Parisian pace of life and be more patient with myself and the people around me.

What was your favorite part of your everyday life in Paris?

I absolutely adored every aspect of daily life in Paris. I will never forget being able to ride the metro to anywhere in the city, coming out from underground, and experiencing the unique charm of every arrondissement. I loved being able to wander around and explore or take the long way home because every day was an opportunity for new discoveries; I was constantly stimulated by new sights around every corner. I also thoroughly enjoyed the café culture in Paris where you can stop for a pastry at any time of day.

What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in Paris?

My most memorable experiences abroad have been marked by spontaneity and adventure. My friends form another BOSP program and I had planned to take a weekend trip to Chamonix to go skiing in the French Alps. I arrived at the airport in the morning only to find out my flight was cancelled due to heavy snow. I grabbed my bags and immediately booked a train ticket. It ended up being the most scenic train ride through the French countryside. We enjoyed a wonderful skiing through some of the tallest peaks in Europe and exploring the quaint mountain village.

What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?

Enriching, adventure, challenging, eye-opening, cheese

Fun Questions:

What was your favorite food you had in Paris?

Though it’s nearly impossible to for me to pick a singular favorite food form Paris, I think my top would have to be tart au citron (lemon tart)! Every bakery has their own style and I loved exploring the city for my favorite. I also highly recommend doing a cheese and charcuterie tasting of specialties from different regions of France.

What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?

A warm scarf! The best way to experience Paris is by walking through the city, but Paris gets pretty cold and windy in the winter.

What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in Paris?

Parisians listen to a lot of similar music as we do but I got into a lot more EDM and house music, which is pretty popular in European nightlife.