“Paris is always a good idea” – just ask fourth year UNSW Law/BCom student Isabella-Elena Carrozzi, who’s currently on exchange in Paris, France.

From UNSW Sydney to Université of Panthéon-Assas (Paris II), we took a virtual stop over to chat with Isabella-Elena, who unpacks how life as the only Aussie ‘Erasmus’ in her cohort has led to a full cultural immersion, a new network, a love for European law and a mentee role for the UNESCO & Christian Dior Couture Women Leadership & Sustainability program.

Why did you choose to study your degree?

My interest in law started in high school while competing in mock trail competitions. For me personally, I absolutely love to be challenged and not knowing the answer, rather having to figure it out using what I have. I think this is why I’m fascinated with Technology Law, because a lot of it is unregulated, and as future lawyers, we are evolving with the law.

What are your current career aspirations?

I started off university wanting to be a criminal barrister. Then after working at a commercial law chamber, I aspired to be a commercial barrister. I later joined the technology sector, and I enjoyed using my skills to create technology to solve problems for legal professionals, and teaching others how to streamline their legal processes using technology.

Thanks to my exchange program, I’m now experiencing the legal operations side of things with Dior and UNESCO, brushing on areas such as intellectual property, luxury fashion, media and telecommunications. I tend to gravitate towards roles that use both of my degrees in law and marketing in an intertwined role.

The best thing about being at university means that you can try it all before deciding where you want to invest your time in. There’s no wrong or right way to do things, and exchange has taught me that it is more important to be adaptable and take up opportunities as they arise even if you aren’t sure it is for you, or you hadn’t thought of working in that area before.

Where did you choose to go on exchange?

I am currently an exchange student (which is called ‘Erasmus’ in Europe) at The Université of Panthéon-Assas (Paris II) in Paris, France. I am on a half-year exchange, which is one semester of five months in Paris, but the credit weighting of both Terms 1 + 2 at UNSW.

Panthéon-Assas was the first Law University in France. I’ve joined the first English-speaking Law cohort in Paris’ legal academic history. For me that means I am studying 100% in English but studying European and French law.

My courses include a range of Masters courses such as Philosophy of Law; Cross-Border Litigation; International Investment Law; European Law; European International Relations and history and economy-based courses. I also have 4.5 hours of French classes per week which has allowed me to go from zero French to conversational French that gets me through day-to-day tasks.

What’s been your favourite part of the exchange experience so far?

This might be unconventional for an exchange student to say, but I have loved the independence and getting to learn more about myself. I have learnt that there is strength in recovering from problems on your own, without your friends and family, in a new country and in a language, you aren’t familiar with. These experiences make you appreciate the comfort and stability that home provides and shows you that you are capable of more than you think.

What’s Parisian university culture like?

Panthéon-Assas is very academic and is extremely competitive, especially in the Level 2 classes I take, as the students are competing for spots in the Masters programs which are very selective. This isn’t particularly different from UNSW Law & Justice, however I do miss the collegiality within my UNSW cohort.

My exchange cohort consists of 30 students, and I am the only one from Australia. Among being asked how I survive with all the spiders and snakes; the small group has allowed me to to get to know everyone personally.

One of my favourite things about the culture living in Paris is how confident Parisians are and their take-your-time approach to everything. When meeting people in Paris and they ask, “what do you do?”, my response is “I study law” or “I’m a paralegal at…”. They are confused and say, “we mean what makes you happy? what are your hobbies?”. I’ve really learnt that you can build a life that focuses on you and your lifestyle, while also achieving your career and academic goals.

Do you live on campus in Paris?

The style of living in Paris is quite different to Sydney, especially as a university student. My university doesn’t have a campus like UNSW —it’s large blocks of buildings and there’s no option for on-campus living. In Paris, students usually live in general student housing dorms.

For me personally, while on exchange, I wanted to experience living in a new city as a local and learning French conversationally. I found the student dorms slightly restrictive with curfew times, shared rooms and shared bathrooms/kitchens with up to 50 people. So, I opted to rent an apartment in the 7th Arrondissement with a friend from UNSW. Our apartment is close to the university and provides a great opportunity connect with locals and really embrace the Parisian culture.

Living in student dorms allows you to meet a lot more people than living alone, however, between uni classes, travelling, going out with your new Erasmus friends (and fortunately for me, other UNSW students), living alone is certainly not an isolating experience.

How has this experience helped grow your employability and experience?

Leading up to my exchange, my work in the legal industry has predominately been in commercial law and legal technology. However, in Paris I chose to branch out and take courses in international investment law, European law, philosophy of law and the like. I’ve found that I really enjoy European Law.

Since starting my exchange, I was invited to become a mentee for the UNESCO & Christian Dior Couture Women Leadership & Sustainability program for 2023-2024. This experience wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t go on exchange.

The fundamental skills you are forced to learn with exchange include adaptability, resilience, independence, confidence, solution-based thinking, emotional stability, cultural sensitivity, empathetic open-mindedness, and lots of patience! These skills are vital to success in any professional environment, and I believe my exchange experience has allowed me to kickstart the growth of these skills.

Can you tell us more about being a mentee for the UNESCO & Christian Dior Couture Women Leadership & Sustainability program?

As the only mentee representing Australia, I will benefit from a mentor and coach from Christian Dior to develop my personal and professional skills, interview skills and attend international events hosted by Dior, Möet Hennessy Louis Vuitton Group, and UNESCO. I’ll have the opportunity to put my learnings into action with the ‘Dream for Change’ project, where I will develop an NGO to support the empowerment of young girls, funded by Dior and UNESCO.

The program is an entryway into working for LVMH Group, and at the end of the program I will have the opportunity to choose where I’d like to work in the longer-term, including in which country of the world.

The selection criteria was quite strict and required participants to be in their penultimate year of a top university studying a degree in law, social sciences or business in a country other-than France but also required you to be living in Paris from March 2023. Being on exchange has helped me tick these boxes.

Fashion and the luxury market is an area of work I personally never saw myself in. But now seeing the opportunities of where I can use my Law degree in other sectors of work, makes me so excited to see where my degrees will take me next.

Have you experienced any challenges while on exchange?

Of course, there will always be things that go wrong when moving abroad. Everything from issues with the French administration, being part of the first cohort of English taught courses, to protests and strikes in Paris and of course the language barrier. Almost everything about moving abroad on your own can be difficult and it takes some time to get used to, but these things have taught me to be more adaptable and are so rewarding!

What was the process like applying to go on exchange?

The process of applying for UNSW exchange is quite long, however it helps if you are as organised as possible. Sometimes deadlines to submit documents align with university exams or holidays, so before you begin the process, be sure to have photocopies of your identity documents, and ensure your passport is valid for the duration of your exchange.

Patience is important as the application process is long however my best advice would be let things unfold as they are meant to.

Do you have any advice for other students considering exchange?

Just go for it. You will never be ready! Don’t be afraid to move to a country where you don’t know the language. This is what I did, and when you live in the local areas, you do need to know French. As an English speaker, you will be required to study the language quite extensively, so with the French courses and everyday listening and responding, you will pick it up quite quickly!

And secondly, there is no right or wrong progression to a legal career, what’s more important is that you are happy, challenged, and being yourself. I’ve been very vocal in my podcast with OpenLaw to not be afraid to steer away from the “traditional” law career path - clerkship, paralegal, graduate, lawyer etc… Do something different and you might surprise yourself, there’s a lot of opportunity out there just waiting to be snatched up!