It’s that time of year again, all you want to do is get ready for the holidays, but first you have to make it through the last (and hardest) weeks of school. The last week before finals always comes with lots of work– papers, group projects, and last-minute exams/quizzes. Being in abroad does not change this at all. The difference here is that finals are not confined to one week.

Technically, “finals week” for ESSEC begins December 7 this year, and continues through December 20th. However, my first final (Communications) was this past Monday.

Pro tip: check the train schedule before booking a plane ticket! I had to spend the night at Orly Airport because the trains didn’t start running early enough for me to make my flight (the OrlyVal starts runs from 6am until 11pm)

It was difficult to pay attention in French on Monday, because I kept thinking about my Communications finals which would start just a few hours later. Thankfully, we spent the first half of class reviewing, and the final was in the same format as the group work we had done in every class session, except (obviously) without the group.

After my final, I went back to my room, packed, and headed to the airport. My flight to Porto, Portugal was at 6:40 Tuesday morning, but the RER doesn’t start running until 5 or so, and the OrlyVal  (which is the train that goes in between the RER B and Orly airport) only starts running at 6am.

Pro tips: 1) it should take around 2 hours to get from Cergy to either Charles De Gaulle or Orly, but the RER A almost always gets stopped somewhere and delayed, 2) budget airlines FINISH boarding 30 minutes before departure, 3) the OrlyVal costs 9,30€ for 1 ticket, and takes about 11 minutes, so if a flight out of or into CDG is only 10€ more (one way), pick that flight, 3.5) Navigo passes for Zones 1-5 (Cergy is in Zone 5) are good for getting to CDG

Due to delays on the RER A–which are almost expected at this point– I made it to Antony (where you get off the RER B and onto the OrlyVal) at 10:34, just in time to catch the last train to Orly before the OrlyVal shut down for the night. Being from the Chicago suburbs, I’m used to airports having flights arriving and departing at all hours; this is not the case in Europe. the last flight to leave from Orly for the night was at around 10 o’clock, so when I arrived, the airport was already pretty much shut down. Have you even been to an airport that has been shut down for the night? Almost all of the lights were off and the only employees there were a few janitors and some security wandering around. I was not the only one spending the night at the airport. there were a few dozen of us scattered around. The people who would need to check luggage were mostly staying on the first floor, while the rest of us went upstairs. The most annoying thing– besides the recorded security announcements that played every half hour or so– was that I didn’t have time to have dinner, and all of the food places at the airport (even McDonald’s) were closed when I arrived, and wouldn’t open again until I would be boarding my flight.

Pro tip: European airports, especially Paris Orly, DO NOT have many power outlets

I was surprised to find out that my flight was not the first flight in the morning, I was third. Nevertheless, I made it through security easily and waited to board. I was unpleantly surprised by the fact that I would have to go outside to board. I had put my coat away in my bag and didn’t know I was going outside until I was in line and it was too late. Anykne who knows me, knows that I love the cold, but being outside in Paris at the end of November without a coat on for 10-15 minutes waiting to get on a plane is not my idea of fun.

Pro tip: almost every flight at Orly boards outside

We had chosen to go to Porto because we went on Skyscanner when Ariel discovered that her Tuesday class was canceled, and it was the cheapest flight. We only realized 2 weeks ago that this was a horrible week to travel (at least in the middle if the week), but oh well. Porto (and Portugal in general) is the only place I have ever been where I didn’t have any expectations.

The city is all steep hills. The only place that I’ve been that was worse was Valparaiso, Chile. Portugal is famous for cork and tile, and a lot of buildings’ facades are covered in tiles. Because we were staying in an Airbnb, we didn’t have any information about free walking tours, so we had to just explore on our own. We found the bookstore where JK Rowling started writing Harry Potter, a gorgeous tiled train station and a few other things.

It was very strange to be there in the middle of the week, so it felt like everyone was just going about their daily lives, and we were two of a very small number of visitors to the city.

We headed back to France on Wednesday in the late afternoon because I had class Thursday morning, and Ariel had the first part of her French final in the afternoon. In my People and Organizations class, my group had to do a presentation on “Stress Management” which is something that all students need at this point in the semester. I also had a group “long-term project” due on Thursday night, so yes, my week was just as stressful as everyone at home’s week.

I’m sure almost all students would agree that nobody should ever have class, let alone a final, on a Saturday, but that’s what I had. This was the first weekend since early October that I spent in Cergy/Paris, but not by choice. Saturday morning was my People and Organizations final exam.

Pro tip: final exams here are worth around 60% of your final grade in most cases, so STUDY!!!! Professors here do not give study guides, and in some cases don’t even tell you in what format the exam will be.

In this case, my teacher gave us the case that would be the focus of the final a week in advance so that we could read it, and, if we so desired, make notes on the pages. 

Sunday was a much more fun day! Ariel and I went into Paris early so that we could get tickets to the Eiffel Tower without waiting in an outrageous line– online tickets were sold out until February. This was Ariel’s first time going to (or up) the Eiffel Tower, despite the fact that we’ve both been here since mid August. For my part, I had made a promise that if the Cubs won the World Series, I would climb up the Eiffel Tower using the stairs. This was me making good on my promise.

Pro tip: despite what you may have heard, the stairs for the Eiffel Tower are not free. It costs 5€, and you can only climb to the second level. If you want to go up to the top, you have to but a supplemental (elevator) ticket for 6€.

Afterwards, I went to Sunday mass at Note Dame for the second to last time, then we headed to the Marché de Noël on the Champs-Elysées. It was great fun, and exactly what you want in a Christmas market. The food area was the best part, though! 😉