26-year-old Mohamed has quite the experience of living abroad, with countries spanning across the UK, America, Djibouti, Jordan, Germany, Spain, Canada, Colombia, and China.
“People used to call Cairo the ‘Paris of the Middle East’ and I wanted to see why” Mohamed says casually. “Exactly, what resemblances exist?” he asks, in a simultaneous emphatic and rhetorical manner. “Ultimately, I came to Paris because I wanted to live in a multi-ethnic, dynamic city. This city has been longed described the most ‘romantic’ and ‘beautiful’ and you know what? It’s absolutely true!”
Working with the United Nations Development Programme in Geneva, Mohamed works to support the UN Offices in improving the effectiveness of Global Fund grants, working to reduce HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria burden in 27 countries. “Working with the UN has given me a lens into mediation, diplomacy, and above all project management. To be able to successfully improve livelihoods, there needs to be strategy, funding, perspective, and action. I consistently think about this framework in building my life towards my goals – of safeguarding the right to health especially to refugees and migrants” he says passionately. “What I am aiming for, is to become a leading physician figure in health care and development”.
Since making the move to Paris, Mohamed has made sure to truly immerse himself into the culture. “Saying ‘bonjour’ is an obligation” Mohamed advises. “It restructures the conversation – no matter with whom. It shifts the balance of pay-for-service to acknowledging the humanness of others. Ordering coffee shouldn’t feel mechanical, right?” he says humorously.
A habit he’s taken on since living in the city, and highly recommending to fellow expats is the art of simply looking up. Establishing a rule of never being on his phone when he walks down the picturesque streets, Mohamed felt this simple ‘rule’ expanded his perception of the city that much more. “In Paris, beauty can lie in the simplest of things. The buildings here are taken care of, so you can see that taxes are used well at least in that way. It also shows the prioritisation of the city to preserve its history. Compared to Cairo, while ancient and glamorous in its history, has forgotten that buildings hold some of these stories as much as people do” he says matter-of-factly. When asked of the biggest difference between Cairo and Paris, Mohamed doesn’t miss a beat. “Besides the amazing architecture, the other main differences would be the cost of living, and climate – both of weather and ambiance of city” he reels off.
Regarding the cost of living, Mohamed advises expats to stop exchanging the conversion rate to their local currency. “For a baguette, you won’t be paying more than 1.50€ because the pricing is regulated by the government, However, on the other end of spectrum, you could be paying 10€ for a half liter of beer if you’re in a café close to the Eiffel Tower. At a point, you have to stop ‘exchanging’ everything in your mind.”
When it came to discovering where to live, Mohamed was originally looking for an apartment on Airbnb. His initial criteria? Something ‘nice’, but that wouldn’t break the bank. “My first contact was a conversation with the owner, Frederic, followed by another co-liver. I wanted to make sure that staying with COCO would enrich my experience in Paris and bring memorable moments to always fondly look back on” says Mohamed affectionately. Landing an apartment in the 7th arrondissement, he went to meet more of the team, from the very first day he arrived at the door of his new Parisian home. “When I met Albert [the COO], his open-mindedness and deep desire to be curious was infectious from the start – it was a brilliant start to my relationship with COCO. During my stay, I spoke with people from all walks of life – founders, architects, NGO leaders, EU Commissioners, etc. But above diversity of ethnicity and status, I heard people with varying perspectives on critical issues of security, politics, culture, international cooperation, design thinking, and more. The co-working space, wholly reserved for co-livers, was always open as a convening space. It was like having a home outside of the apartment.”
An interesting point that came up in our discussion with Mohamed, is his usual inclination to avoid expat communities when living abroad – which may come as a surprise, at how he ended up at COCO. “It’s true. I didn’t think I would have had such a quick dive into the expat community in Paris – but to have a convening space to reflect on issues intellectually and emotionally, COCO has been able to bring many different people together under the banner of a united mission: rich cultural exchange in Paris” Mohamed replies fondly.
When questioned about what his life would have been like, had he not discovered COCO, Mohamed was quick to respond with a similar answer to other COCO colivers. “Most likely, I would have felt more alone. I always though Paris would be daunting and unfriendly. COCO completely broke that image for me – showing me that anywhere in the world, there are people willing to step out of their comfort zone to listen, share, and learn.”
Closing the conversation, Mohamed tells us his favourite things about Paris. “Definitely walking along the Seine and looking about and being in awe of architecture. I also love the eclectic nature of the city – I do feel it’s growing a lot in the diversity of its people! Additionally, I also love the cider and crepes. Just the absolute best… and of course, COCO Community is there!”
MOHAMED’S FAVOURITE ASPECTS OF COCO:
- “Leadership team is wholesome. Not only are they kind and friendly, they’re also professional and attentive.”
- “Apartments are exceptionally well taken care of by team. When I mentioned that something was wrong with the space, Albert came to the rescue – with a huge fan to save me from Paris summer.”
- “There is room to participate and give feedback. COCO is constantly trying to improve, realizing that they aren’t perfect. That shows humility but also recognition that co-livers are co-creators of the community too.”
You can connect with Mohamed on LinkedIn here.