As promised, we have another story as part of our ongoing series of exchange student stories to inspire you to consider studying abroad. Meet Maarika Lepik, a 2016 graduate of OCAD U’s Drawing & Painting program, who went on exchange to study at École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts (ENSBA) in 2015 . The following is her account of studying in Paris, and her tips for a successful exchange.
I chose Beaux-Arts for its painting studios which offer autonomy and freedom. The work is self-guided; you can determine your own projects within the school setting.
The application process was pretty straightforward but it took a while for me to find out if I was accepted. I went for the winter semester of 2015 and where I heard back from other schools by the end of September/October, my letter from the ENSBA arrived in mid-December. The ENSBA has limited spaces for housing but be persistent. There are cheap options available. I had to scramble to find accommodations; I went through an agency and found a great, but expensive (920 euro/month) bachelor in the Bastille neighbourhood. Check with the ENSBA students; my classmates found spots in great neighbourhoods for several hundred euro less a month. I also went on the soonest flight available in January, though it turned out classes didn’t start until February. The whole preamble happened very last minute.
Opportunities for fine art, food, music and shopping abound! Paris has a wealth of cultural activities happening, always. The cinema culture is exceptional, and there are so many museums and galleries to explore. Parisians are very social, going out to restaurants and cafés is a regular, every day part of life.
I was there from January until the end of May and it was the perfect length of time to explore the city and do some traveling around the rest of France and Europe (there is a week-long break around Easter). When it comes to finding classes (you need to interview with professors personally before they accept you into their class), accomplishing tasks and navigating within the school, a command of the French language is necessary. Be confident and enunciate! Have a physical copy of your portfolio to present on the ready. Hold on to your papers and make copies of everything; they are integral. The school is very prestigious, historic and palatial. Its studios, library and facilities offer a beautiful setting to work in.
I really enjoyed the opportunity to make a couple frescos. It’s very process-specific and the professor was very kind and patient. The morphology and explorer classes offered many opportunities for drawing from models. The painting studios are packed, and there’s a definite fight for space. It helps to bring peace offerings when entering a new studio, like pastries. Being outgoing, confidant and charismatic pay off. If the students don’t accept you at first, they may eventually with perseverance. Also the ateliers are gutted and cleared beginning in May and during this time, it is not possible to work in the studios. Always make sure you’re clear on the rules; there are different ways of doing things in each studio and the protocol is usually not spelled out. You may see a student do one thing but always make sure if it’s ok to follow suit.
I would recommend buying a brief and basic data plan for one’s phone before a French number has been established so that in case of emergency, phone access is possible. It can also take longer to establish a new phone number and Internet than usual. The French kiss on the cheek from side to side, hugs and handshakes are generally not done. Be polite. Formalities like ‘bonjour’, ‘s’il vous plait’ and ‘merci’ go a long way.
OCAD U’s International Student Services office will host a series of information sessions this fall for the mobility/exchange program. Watch the website for date announcements.