Lucia Muniagurria
Nov 2, 2022

Argentinian vegetarian nanny doing a master in Paris: risk of cheese exhaustion!

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9 min read

Hello! My name is Lucía, I come from Argentina, from the north of Buenos Aires. Yes, from the other side of the world. My last name MuniaguRRia is challenging for the French to pronounce (with a strong "RR"). I have already been around the sun 27 times. I am a vegetarian who likes to travel, cook, play sports, meet new people, and learn about other cultures. After finishing high school, I was undecided about whether to study kindergarten education (I love children!) or engineering. Finally, I decided to study industrial engineering at the University of Buenos Aires. While I was studying, I worked as a babysitter and volunteered in a children's home so I could maintain my other passion.

I was certain that I wanted to study for a master's degree in Europe after living in Spain during my engineering studies as part of the Erasmus program. After I finished my degree, I worked for three years. During these years, I realized that I wanted to dedicate my professional career to something that would contribute to the environment and have an impact on it. Finally, in 2021, I was fortunate to receive the best possible opportunity: A scholarship for studying a master's in renewable energies abroad.

Innoenergy Master: What is this?

It's been a little over a month since I arrived in Paris to do the second year of my master's program in renewable energy at Ecole Polytechnique. Even though this program is a bit challenging to describe, I'd like to give it a shot because I think it's a wonderful opportunity for anyone interested. If you don't understand something, don't worry! Even my mum doesn't yet. If you want to know more, feel free to contact me. 😊

My master's belongs to an EIT Innoenergy program. It is an organization co-founded by the European Union whose mission is to accelerate the energy transition in Europe. One of the things they do is offer double master's programs in two different countries, including top universities. My master's degree is called "Master in renewable energy", but there are between 6 and 8 different programs. Each program includes different university options (I leave the link for anyone interested). In my case, the options were Barcelona (UPC), Paris (Polytechnique), Lisbon (IST), and Stockholm (KTH). The entire master's is conducted in English, which makes it possible to have a huge international community. Another important tip: they give scholarships for all the programs, and it was thanks to that that I was able to come to fulfill my dream of doing a master's degree in Europe.

I did my first year of my master's in Barcelona last year and it was an amazing experience. Then it was time to decide on the second year. I was always curious to know French culture, landscapes, architecture, language, and food. It was the opportunity to see with my own eyes the city of so many movies, the country of so many artists and scientists, and a place full of culture and history. In addition, the university was very prestigious and recognized throughout the world. That's why I took the opportunity that Paris was among my options and decided to do my second year here, even though I didn't know a word of French! I thought it was a challenge that would be worth it, full of new experiences, learning, and memories.

Arriving to France

The first thing I had to do was to apply for my visa to study in France. For this, I had to travel to Madrid (since I was studying in Barcelona) as the embassy is located there. It was a good opportunity to get to know a new city! And to visit a great friend. After a few weeks, I received the acceptance of my VISA, and it was official: a third country where I would live.

And that was just the first of many administrative processes I would have to face. Luckily, the university shared with us the link to LivinFrance. I watched all the video tutorials, which made it so much easier to understand and complete all the processes! From looking for a house, registering for social security, getting a bank account, looking for a cell phone sim card, and much more. Also, in my first year in Barcelona, I made a very good French friend, which gave me a head start in many processes without a doubt.

And so we arrived at my arrival in France: a Saturday in September at 23hs at BVA airport. And how would I get to Palaiseau, my new home, from the farthest airport and so late at night? My friend, my savior, picked me up by car. The funny thing is that it seems to be a common thing at that airport, that people try to take cabs together to cut costs on their trip to the city center. And when I was about to get on the plane, two Spanish students approached me to ask me if I wanted to take a cab with them. The end? They ended up in my friend's car, an unexpected but fun start.

First time living in a university town: Crazy Palaiseau🤯

My new home was in Palaiseau, which is the university town where most of the engineering schools in Paris are located. That name would make me learn several of the sounds of French pronunciation (it took me almost one month to pronounce it kind of correctly). I was very excited when I arrived. It was going to be my first experience living in a university residence. And I wasn't wrong, the number of experiences I had until today was completely unexpected and amazing, and I can't even imagine the ones to come.

Here every week is a surprise. Every week many events, many new people, and different experiences. I can't count how many people I have met since I arrived, not even how many nationalities (although I am sure more than 15).

It would be too long to describe it all, but I will name a few:

- 🎉 New year's welcome party: The main hall of the faculty was completely transformed into a disco to celebrate the new year of studies. I have never seen such a production in a university in my life, incredible.

- 🎙️ Student center election campaign: For an entire week, the competing parties set up different games in the main hall of the faculty, from a mechanical bull to an artificial beach simulating Greece. They also gave Nutella crepes every day for free, I got to eat at least 10!

- 🏇🥍 A whole day of a sports tournament: To put it in a nutshell, I felt like I was at the Olympics. From fencing to horseback riding, competitions were held all day long, ending with a cheerleading show for each participating university.

Paris starting pack

The city where I currently live is 1 hour away from Paris. So I am discovering the city little by little. Every day is a new place, a new experience, or a new meal. What to say about Paris? It's everything I studied or saw in the movies but better, seen in person. Maybe it's a bit cliché but I get excited every time I see the Eiffel tower, from every possible angle of the city. I can even see the tip of it from my bedroom window.

The city greeted me with many more sunny days than I expected. I took advantage of them to do free walking tours, walk around its corners, visit museums like the Louvre, Orsay, Rodin, and the Pompidou and visit its great monuments like the Eiffel tower, the triumphal arch, Sacré-Cœur Basilica. I traveled by train, metro, bus, bicycle, and skateboard. I also walked and ran. I sat in at least 5 different parks with friends, eating baguettes, croissants, pain au chocolate, and cheeses. And yet I still have a long way to go.

View of Paris

One neighborhood I loved was Montmarte, the artists' district. If I had to recommend two things about it: take the free walking tour with Angel that starts at the Moulin Rouge and go to eat cheese fondue at "Le refuge des fondues". Incredible combination to know all its history, who lived there, and end the day tasting one of the most traditional dishes of the country.

Traveling around France

Another of the great advantages and opportunities that living in another country brings is to be able to travel and get to know the country better, much more than during a vacation, to get to know the people, the culture, and how they live. Besides getting to know Paris, I would like to be able to travel around France as much as I can, considering the number of diverse places it has to offer.

In my personal experience, as I was telling you, I have a great friend who is from here. During this time since I arrived, I had the opportunity to get to know her home and her town, which is La Bresse, in the northeast of France. It is a beautiful place, with incredible nature. Very different from being in the big city of Paris, a place full of tranquility and beautiful landscapes. Going to see the sunrise in the mountains was one of my favorite activities!

La Bresse, north-east of France

During this trip, we also went one day to Strasbourg, which is an hour away, another movie town, with a more German style.

We are already planning the next trip to the Normandy area, and I can't imagine how many more are to come.

Mate 🧉

For us Argentines, "mate" is something very important and very present in our lives. For those who do not know, mate is a typical drink, which consists of an infusion similar to tea (although for us it is very different). It is prepared with "yerba" which are leaves of a plant native to Latin America. This is put in a pot (also called mate) and then hot water is added. This step is repeated and repeated until the yerba loses its flavor or the water runs out. It is a very social drink for us because it is shared (which got complicated in covid times!). Now... where to get yerba in Paris and get a price that is not crazy? It was not an easy task. Paradoxically, the place where I found the cheapest yerba in town was none other than Galeries Lafayette.

Working in French without knowing the language

When I planned to come to Paris to study, I knew I was going to need to do something to generate some money to help me cover my expenses. But nothing that would take a lot of time as my studies did not allow me to do so. So the solution I found was to go back to my other vocation: children. I started working as a nanny last year in Barcelona and I said to myself, why not in France too? I started looking for a job before I arrived, through the website GensDeConfiance. I had an interview and a proposal a month before I arrived. So, the day after I arrived in the city, I went to have lunch at this French family's house to meet the children. This was my real first day in the country. Everything went well, and the first week I started taking care of them. Let's remember: I never studied French. Their mother asked me to speak to them in Spanish so that they would learn. But imagine the situation: two children, 4 and 6 years old, speaking to me in French and me trying to speak to them in Spanish. Every week I pick them up from school and take care of them during the afternoon and it is always a challenge. The funniest thing: I help the 6-year-old to do his school homework since he is learning to read and write. Me, with my null pronunciation and very basic reading. I truly think that I am learning more than him!

Besides the weekly French class I have at the university, I have my second class with the kids and the third one at my soccer training. Yes, every week I train soccer on campus, and completely in French. So, beyond the fact that all my classes are in English, I am advancing and learning a lot of the language day by day.

What about the cheese? 🧀

And the food in France? Although there are many typical dishes of the country, many of them are complicated for me as a vegetarian. The bakery and cheeses are what I am enjoying the most for now.

And a fact that seems small but I think it is very good, that I discovered last week: France is the country where you can get a kilo of noisette potatoes for 1 euro! In Argentina, we usually eat this kind of potatoes, but they are quite expensive, so it doesn't happen very often. If you still don't know what they are or you haven't tried them, don't hesitate.

Finally, it is time to clarify the reference to cheese. It is one of my greatest weaknesses when it comes to food. I could live on cheese, every day. And how will I survive in France, the cheese paradise? By now I don't think a day has gone by when I haven't eaten at least a little piece of cheese. I have tasted too many varieties to count. But I want to recommend you my favorites and the ones I think you must try:

1. Morbier

2. Comte

3. Reblochon: And don't forget to try the famous tartiflette which is incredible.

4. Mimolette

5. Mont D'Or which is eaten by melting it in the oven with garlic and white wine, and then accompanied by potatoes.

6. Fondue

7. Raclette: Before arriving in France, I thought that Raclette was a single type of cheese, but I discovered that there are many flavors. Each one is better than the last! Mushroom, smoked, bell pepper, spicy, and much more! Here you can see some of them:

French cheese : la raclette!

If you made it this far, you made it to the best part! Gastronomic recommendations. Seriously, thank you very much if you made it this far! If there's anything I can do to help, I'd be happy to. 🥰

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