Diversity in Paris

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CIEE wants all our students to feel welcomed, supported, and empowered to succeed while studying abroad. On this page, local CIEE staff have provided details about conditions and cultural attitudes that students with specific identities might encounter at their location.
The information below is just a broad overview so if you have specific questions or concerns not covered here, please email inclusion@ciee.org. We would be glad to have local staff share their perspectives, talk with you about accommodations, connect you with resources, and/or put you in touch with a program alum who could speak about their experiences navigating a program in this location.
No matter where you choose to study abroad with CIEE, our staff—all of whom receive regular and comprehensive training in diversity, equity, and inclusion—will be on hand throughout your program to provide advice, resources, and support regarding these issues.


Body Size/Image

French people can be very direct when discussing physical appearances. For example, a host parent may comment “You look horrible today” having in mind the intention that they care about you/your health.

Heavily overweight people are more noticeable in France than in North America, although a recent survey indicates that 1 French person out of 6 is considered obese. It is true though that the French have traditionally been and can still be openly critical of heavily overweight people and may speak openly about weight. There is the stigma that overweight people tend to indulge themselves and lack will strength to stay healthy and ""good looking" according to commonly shared standards of beauty. In particular, teenagers can have a mocking attitude towards people who don't fit these standards.

Thanks to the work of activists and organizations, overall, the French are becoming more sensitive to the way physical appearance differences should be addressed.

One more thing: Personal space tend to be smaller than it is in North America, and there is more casual touching (kissing of the cheek, hand shacking – although these types of greetings have been on hold with the pandemic). 


Over the past decades, the French have made substantial progress in providing support to people with disabilities. Any new built structure must take into consideration accessibility for wheelchairs. However, France's historical city centers and most parts of Paris area are protected for preservation. A lot of areas remain difficult to access for mobility impaired people; there are narrow streets and sidewalks, and an absence of elevators in old buildings. The metro system in Paris is not wheelchair accessible, even the newest lines (line 1 and 14) are not fully accessible, and the elevators are often out of order. The buses are the only public transportation available for wheelchair users and it can easily double the time of a commute.

Regarding neuroatypical students, the situation is pretty similar to the United States. Our partner universities will accommodate students with physical and neuroatypical disabilities if provided with documentation that explains at full length the students' conditions and their accommodation needs (extra time for exams, documents in Braille, audio materials, ...)  if informed 4 to 6 months in advance.

Students are encouraged to provide as much information as they can related to their specific disabilities (or related needs) prior to arrival so CIEE staff can assess potential challenges and arrange for appropriate accommodations.

Gender and Gender Identity

According to a progressive French law, all companies must pay men and women equally – but this is still very much a work in progress. France has officially made catcalling and other street harassment punishable by law, which acknowledges that catcalling is an issue that needs to be addressed. 

Gender stereotypes in education and media is a more recent area of public awareness, debate, and policy development. Despite the increasing awareness and policy expertise, the implementation of the existing policy and judicial tools has led to only timid results.

While the topic of gender identity still is underrepresented in education, young people, in particular, are increasingly sensitive to this subject and generally supportive and accepting of non-gender conforming people. However, the situation is far from being ideal with 80% of people who identify as transgender reporting having been the target of discrimination or violence.  Onsite staff will address gender and gender identity issues in orientation and will provide suggestions on how to cope with gender discrimination should students encounter it.

X Gender Marker

While the topic of gender identity still is underrepresented in French education, young people are generally supportive and accepting of non-gender conforming people. The French administration does not recognize gender neutrality and, in consequence, does not deliver gender-X IDs. Some companies and organizations have made it possible to not specify gender identity, although it’s not possible yet to identify as X gender.

Heritage Seekers

Heritage seekers students are not common in France and the French have no expectations that students coming from the U.S. would claim French heritage. French people in general are very interested in having cultural exchanges and sharing French and European history with students who are retracing their family history. Occasionally some people may question why students with a Francophone background do not have strong language skills or are not knowledgeable about French history, but this could be a wonderful opportunity for students to share more about their family background, goals, and expectations, creating a great cultural exchange opportunity for all people involved.

Racial and Ethnic Identity

France, like the United States, was built though integrating communities from different origins. The French melting pot is mostly made up of Europeans, Africans, and Asians who have migrated to France at different periods for political and/or economic reasons.

Traditionally, French people believe that treating everyone exactly alike, without regard for particular elements of history or identity such as religion, gender, or ethnic group, is the most fair and equitable manner to deal with individuals in society. Sometimes, the French value of equality based on the principle of neutrality and sameness can be felt as lack of consideration and blindness to students' racial identity. The U.S. approach to recognition of minorities has had a tangible impact on French attitudes; younger people, in particular, feel empowered by the expression of diversity and claim rights accordingly.

Even though there is no denying the presence of racism in France, we invite students to understand the viewpoint and perspective of the French as a result of their specific history. To address both overt and latent racism and discrimination – although rare – CIEE Paris staff are available to provide support and resources to help all CIEE students enjoy and learn from their study abroad experience, irrespective of – indeed, celebrating – our diverse racial and ethnic identities.  CIEE Paris is sensitive to the range of these issues and will provide information and support to proactively create an inclusive community.


The French notion of secularism, or laïcité, has a big impact on the way that society views religion and gauges the appropriateness of religious expression. The concept allows for debate on what should be reserved from private life and what is appropriate in the public. For many, faith is a matter of privacy, and expressions of religious belief within public institutions is not allowed.

In 2019, about half of French citizens identified with Christianity, about 39% identified with no religion, about 6% identified with Islam, about 1% identified with Judaism and about 3% identified with other religions. Although Islam has become the second religion in France after Catholicism, there is some stigmatizing of Muslim communities in the country. During orientation and throughout your program, CIEE staff are on hand to provide advice and support regarding these issues.

Sexual Orientation

When same sex marriages were made legal in 2013, the country saw an outburst of homophobic responses most often led by religious groups. Today, homosexuality is much better accepted and integrated into French society.

 Students can find different responses in this area: acceptance and understanding, ignorance of the different sexual orientations and gender definitions, and at worst hostility and rejection. The French also often consider that sexuality is private and intimate; they may have a hard time with open discussions of sex. CIEE Paris is sensitive to the range of these issues and will provide information and support to proactively create an inclusive community.

Socioeconomic Status

France can be relatively expensive, but there are many catering places and transportation services that propose student' discounts (e.g., cost of a full meal on campus restaurant: 3,50-4,75 euros). Also, museums and monuments often offer free entry or reduced prices for students. Health services are less expensive in France than in the US (e.g., cost of general practitioner visit: 25 euros). While some French people may hold preconceived ideas that all students coming from the US are wealthy, our host families are generally sensitive to this issue.

Programs in Paris

Live from Paris

Paris offers some of the greatest sites in the world: Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, the château de Versailles, the Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower, to name a few. Paris is also a modern, vibrant and diverse city that is definitely turned towards the 21st century. Learn more about programs in Paris