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Advice for Visiting, Studying or Working in France by David Bacher (CLAS ’99)

My Story:

DavidBacherProfilePicI moved to Paris in 2005 to work as an intern in the VII Photo Agency. During this 8 month period I also spent a good amount of time exploring the city on foot, discovering many of the hidden treasures that Paris has to offer. Paris is truly an eclectic labyrinth of cultural gems, historical monuments, fashion boutiques and wonderful restaurants. My goal at the time was to work as a professional freelance photographer and at the end of my internship I thought about returning to the U.S., to New York, another wonderful city, or staying in Paris. I chose Paris.

The time has flown by since my arrival in France. I’ve managed to establish myself as a Paris based photographer working in various areas including editorial, for magazines, theater, corporate events and weddings. I also photograph many foreigners coming to Paris for various occasions such as engagements, anniversaries, or birthdays. Paris is truly like an outdoor museum and its beautiful buildings provide the perfect backdrops for photographing people.

Visiting France:

I would highly recommend UVA students or alumni to visit France if they have not already done so. I’ve visited quite a few countries in Europe and France tops them all in terms of its cultural richness, ethnic diversity and variety of geographical regions and landscapes. Like the U.S., France has benefited from various waves of immigration. In Paris it’s possible to enjoy cuisines from all over the world, including Morocco, Lebanon, Vietnam, and Japan to just name a few. I feel that many people just come to Paris without experiencing the other regions in France. This is a pity because the geographical landscapes are very beautiful and varying within a relatively small area. An example would be the triangle between Brittany, the French Alps, and the French Riviera. A U.S. comparison would be the state of Maine, the Rocky Mountains, and San Diego California. However, in France one could easily drive from Brittany to the Alps in a day.

Studying in France:

France is a great place for spending a semester or year abroad, or even completing a higher degree like an MBA. Paris has many wonderful universities like the Sorbonne, or Polytechnic where students with a good level of French could fit into regular courses with French students. The American University of Paris (AUP) offers various programs taught in English. I would honestly recommend attending a French university and if one’s language skills are not up to par, perhaps enrolling in an intensive French language course, at the Alliance Francaise. Unless one is not a fan of city life, I would recommend studying in Paris and then taking weekend trips to discover other parts of France.

The realities of living and working in France:

As I’m self-employed, married to a French lady, and a father, I have a pretty good idea of how the system works in France. Overall, I think France is a great place to work and raise a family. The health care system is wonderful. We didn’t have to pay a penny for the birth of our daughter. My wife had her own room in the hospital where she stayed for 3 days after giving birth. The public education system is also very good. Kids start school at age 3 and I was amazed by the types of activities my daughter did during her first year. Her school even organized a field trip to Giverny, where Monet lived and painted for many years. A tour guide explained to the kids, in very simple language, the painting techniques that he used. Then, in class they tried to re-create his method of working with color.

On the flip side, taxes are relatively high in France. Sales tax is 19.6% and will increase next year (2014). I don’t have a problem with paying high taxes to support good free public education and health care, but currently there is much heated political debate about the future of the social system in France. There is definitely a tendency here for the unemployed to stay at home and collect welfare payments as opposed to eagerly searching for work or training for other professions. France is extremely bureaucratic and much of the population works for the state. As soon as topics arise like increasing the retirement age or privatizing government owned entities like the train system, people get angry. It’s difficult to make changes in France. Then again, having said this, the French high-speed train (TGV) is amazing. One can travel from the center of Paris to Marseilles in 3 hours.

Setting up a small business is relatively simple. Working freelance requires very little paperwork, as I don’t have any employees. I have met several French people who told me that owning a business with several employees in France is horrific. Business owners are forced to pay employees many benefits, including giving them 5-week long vacations. In additions it’s very difficult to fire employees in France. On the other hand I also have a friend who is a talented software programmer, and after having spent time at Facebook in San Francisco he preferred returning to Paris for the more personal and laid back lifestyle. People here do work very hard, but they also like to enjoy the finer things in life like a nice meal and a bottle of wine.

Don’t hesitate to contact me:

I would be more than happy to try and be of assistance to any UVA students or alums wishing to study in France or simply spend vacation time here.

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