Anwar Amro/AFP

“Paris Syndrome”: Why immigrating to France is not as glamorous as it seems 

N.B.: Community contributions do not reflect the views of the team at Beirut Today.

Shortly after the Beirut Port explosion, French president Emmanuel Macron visited Lebanon to show support and meet with the politicians and citizens. He promised aid to Lebanon and the Lebanese people1 with visa applications for migration, especially student visas, becoming easier and more lenient than other countries. Many Lebanese people who were living in France or moved to France following the explosion also spoke of the aid they received there due to the French government. As such, France became a tempting destination for those considering leaving Lebanon, including this author.     

Personally, when applying to postgraduate programs abroad, I had the mindset of “everyone is leaving Lebanon so might as well do so sooner rather than later.” I moved to Paris a year after the explosion, and what lured me was the low cost of education and governmental aid to students and Lebanese people. Not to mention, the large Lebanese community that has existed in France since the end of the French occupation. 

While all the perks existed, I still struggled living there as an English educated student maneuvering around the inefficient French bureaucracies, racism, and cultural shock more closely associated with the “Paris syndrome.” 

“Paris syndrome” is defined as a severe form of cultural shock that is exhibited via a feeling of extreme disappointment as a result of residing in Paris due to the overly positive image of Paris depicted in popular media. More importantly, shortly after arriving it became very apparent to me that my decision to migrate came from the pressure to take any opportunity presented to me to leave Lebanon and then “making it work once I get there.”

 I discovered this strategy was quite flawed since I underestimated the time it would take to adapt after moving to a new country as well as the limitations placed on individuals with a student permit rather than a work permit. Ultimately, and contrary to expectation, it was in my best interest to return to Lebanon.

People who moved to pursue education in France, such as myself, have all sorts of experiences. After a series of interviews with 7 individuals who have moved to France following the Port explosion, this article will demonstrate the experience of being a Lebanese student in France today and what might push them to come back. The interviews all covered motivations for migration and the choice of France, in addition to the forms of aid received in France, whether or not they felt satisfied with their stay, and the reason for returning to Lebanon in case they did.

“Paris Syndrome” in real life

The interviewed individuals all felt that Lebanon cannot compete with what France had to offer them. France has a more diverse offering of Licence and Master’s programs which include programs that do not exist in Lebanon-  a fact that is becoming increasingly true with more and more university professors leaving Lebanon, causing the suspension of some programs such as the Master of Arts in Psychology program at the American University of Beirut. 

Tuition fees were also significantly lower than those of other popular destinations for Lebanese migrants such as the UK or Canada. Additionally, France’s public healthcare system meant reduced costs, especially since it also includes affordable and attainable mental health and sexual health treatments. 

The lifestyle in Europe was also more appealing than that of the Gulf countries, where plenty of Lebanese tend to migrate as well. This is in addition to the fact that Lebanese people have been migrating to France for decades, giving new migrants a wide and easily accessible pool of resources. Lastly, as mentioned before, the visa application process was made easier than that for other countries.

Following President Macron’s decision to support Lebanese people living in France, tuition fees for the academic year 2020-2021 were waived for Lebanese students with Campus France also managing a new scholarship programme Maa’kum (“with you”) set up by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs which offered a scholarship and a one-off allowance of €5002

Aidspecifically targeted at Lebanese people seems to have ended after that year, but students could still benefit from student aid offered to all. This includes CAF or the Family Benefit Funds, which offers financial support for social security and housing, as well as Crous, which offers scholarships and subsidized student meals approximately €3.3 per meal for non-scholarship holders and with even the possibility to apply for further reduction reaching €1 per meal depending on one’s case or if one holds a scholarship3. Finally, students benefit from several discounts in France such as reduced transportation prices. Plenty of pharmacies in France are also accepting Lebanese prescriptions for medications as they are aware of the shortage in Lebanon.

Hardships still exist for those who decided to remain in France. Those who don’t know French report the most struggle with the French bureaucracy, which is complicated even for francophones. 

Even university administrations are difficult to navigate.For instance the decision to transfer from one program to another is not as simple there as in most Lebanese universities. Moreover, leaving family and friends is emotionally draining and makes it more difficult to view France as a new home. The racism, classism, and islamophobia faced adds to the difficulty of adaptation, with even one individual reporting homophobia faced by Arab queers in France.

Paris especially comes with additional problems, since it has a severely higher population and cost of living than other French cities. It also has a complicated public transportation system that frequently sees downtime, delays, or overcrowdedness, and a transportation pass in Paris is more expensive than other cities even with student discounts. The large population makes it harder for one to find a part-time job or internship. Additionally, it drives up the price of rent drastically making it extremely difficult and competitive to find affordable living accommodations.

 “I decided to return (to Lebanon) instead of trying to find another country, because after reflection I realized we have opportunities (in Lebanon). The people who can’t leave now should know that they can still get an education and receive a good degree here,”  said Malak El Amin Nohra, a former Licence student in Paris.

 In fact, the interviewed individuals who decided to leave France all used to reside in Paris. Moreover, those currently residing in Paris expressed varying satisfaction levels, with some expressing total dissastifaction and disillusionment with the country’s way of life. 

Conversely, the individual living in Montpellier expressed the highest amount of satisfaction. Not only does Montpellier have a significantly lower cost of living than Paris, it also has a very large population of Lebanese people and the weather there is similar to Lebanon’s. Montpellier is also a much smaller city and more centralized, with the individual also noting that the city center felt as if he was in Gemmayze.

“Montpellier is a stable start. A small city that feels like Beirut. Paris is a huge adventure that takes you in with no mercy and shows you the harshest part of being an international student, including the glorification of “metroboulot dodo”,”  said Jad Haddad, a medical school student residing in Montpellier.

 Overall, Lebanese people feel a large internal and societal pressure to migrate nowadays due to the current economic and political crisis. So much so that they often hastily take the decision to do so while underestimating the mental and emotional toll such a move takes. Therefore, those with a plan and who demonstrated a larger willingness to migrate irrespective of the situation in Lebanon feel more content than those whose motivation was simply escaping Lebanon and are lured by the relative simplicity of migrating to France.