Student housing in France is usually not very elegant, but the big exception is here at the Cité Universitaire at the southern edge of Paris.
The Cité was founded in 1925 and was intended “to promote peace, exchanges and friendship among peoples after the trauma of the First World War.” Many of the residence buildings were funded by industrialists, bankers and foreign foundations. Some 5,600 rooms are available in forty buildings, and priority is given to students enrolled in Masters, Doctorate or Post-Doctorate programs. Students and researchers from all the universities in Paris and vicinity are eligible to apply for a place in the Cité.
Many of the houses belong to foundations linked to particular countries, such as the Argentinian Foundation, the House of Brazil, the House of Canadian Students, the Foundation of the United States, the House of Italy, etc. But this does not mean that the students only live with people of their own nationality. As the Cité website explains: “To make it easier for the students of different nationalities to become acquainted, up to 30 to 50% residents of one nationality admitted to one residence are then housed in all the Campus residences, allowing each residence to accept 20 to 30 different nationalities.”
Roughly a quarter of the residents are French, “to enable the foreign students and researchers to become more familiar with France, its language and culture.”
When the Cité was new, in the 1920s, one of the French students living there was Jean-Paul Sartre.
In the first volume of her autobiography, Mémoires d’une jeune fille rangée (later published in English as Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter), Simone de Beauvoir recounts (on page 440) how she was invited to join a small group of students who met in Sartre’s room to discuss philosophy. “I was a little scared when I entered Sartre’s room; there was a great mess of books and papers, cigarette butts in every corner, enormous amounts of smoke. Sartre welcomed me urbanely; he was smoking a pipe.” She spent the day “petrified by timidity”, discussing Le Discours de métaphysique by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1719).
But she came back each day, “and soon I thawed.” She later wrote that the Cité International Universitaire “was where it all began” between Sartre and herself.
My lead photo in this post is from 2007. I revised the text in 2020.