When Sharon Chan first applied to the HEC Paris MBA, she didn’t know the experience would include living in a stylish castle in the French countryside. The “Château of Montebello” as it’s known today, once belonged to the Countess of Vassart. The property was later purchased by Maurice Delaire, who gave it to his daughter as a wedding gift when she married the Count of Montebello. The Montebello family owned the castle until the 1940s, when the building and much of the surrounding forest in Jouy-en-Josas was converted into private homes and apartments.
Sharon shares a few insights into castle life:
How to Rent a Castle
“Back in October, when I knew that I wouldn’t be living on campus, I started looking for a place. The apartment was listed on www.PAP.fr. The MBA program has Facebook group for admitted students, and I asked if anyone would like to share a duplex in a castle. I found another girl, and she found our two other housemates.
There’s seven units in the château. The four of us occupy the top floor. It’s very different than what we expected; it’s actually very modern. We have a superintendent who takes care of the building and the landscaping. My bedroom looks out on the swimming pool.”
Meet the Neighbors
“I moved in the afternoon of December 27. The next day I went downstairs to get some groceries and check out the neighborhood. I remember that I was almost through the gate when a man passed by on a horse. He was dressed in a traditional French gentleman’s riding outfit, and he said ‘Bonjour’ with the most perfect accent. That felt like my first real day in France.”
Life with Housemates
“I have three housemates who are Americans: Jess, Alison and Heather. We’re all extroverts. Heather cooks a lot and Jess bakes a lot so we always have tacos, quesadillas, cupcakes and cookies lying around. My housemates are all in the same program, so we do our homework together. We’re always talking together. Last night I had decided to use the pool, then I ended up staying inside to talk with the girls. Because we don’t live on campus, we count on each other for support. We’re really a close-knit family.
There’s also a group called the ’Burbs (short for suburbs). It used to be us and about six other people who lived near the château. There were two girls and one guy who lived about three minutes down the street from us. They used to host barbecues. Some members have moved away, but there’s still a few of us around. Aaron rented out space in one of those big houses near the swimming pool. Gabor lives below us; he sublets a room from our neighbor.
We always say that we’ll get together to do homework, but I don’t think that’s ever actually happened. We usually get together either in the château or in someone’s apartment just to talk and share a bottle of wine.”
Telling People Where She Lives
“Everyone in the MBA program has to study a language. I’m learning French, and one of the first exercises in class is to say our name, where we’re from, and where we live. I felt silly saying, ‘Je m’appelle Sharon. J’habite dans un château à Jouy-en-Josas.’ One time we had to explain what we did the night before. My response, ‘J’ai nagé dans la piscine du château de Montebello’.
I’m sure that 10 years from now, I’ll look back and say, ‘I can’t believe that I lived in a castle in France.’ But for the moment, I’m trying to sublet my room. Before I leave France, I also want to have the Parisian experience as well.”
Sharon’s Housing Advice
• Consider a shorter-term lease. “After the Core 2 classes, you might want to try living closer to campus or in Paris to get a Parisian experience,” she explains.
• Look for a furnished apartment, especially if you don’t drive. “It took us four or five IKEA trips to furnish our apartment. All of our furniture, we bought and assembled ourselves.”
• Bring your favorite foods. “I can’t live without ginger ale. But really, you can get everything here in France. It just might take you a while to find it.”