Yolanda - Sciences Po

B Arts/Laws
Semester 2, 2018
Unique experiences that hone your problem-solving skills with particular French flavour.

Academic experience

I completed five courses (three courses in English and two courses in French) to satisfy the equivalent full-time study load; How to read and decode French news, La fabrique de l'opinion publique, La saga des intellectuels français, Introduction to Disability studies and Napoleon and the empire of words. I found the course La saga des intellectuels français extremely challenging as it was a mix between a history and philosophy course, and you need to have an excellent level of French to keep up. 

What I enjoyed most about the different academic system was that, for the final papers, I was allowed to explore an individual interest related to the course themes.  Also, at Sciences Po you are given the opportunity to listen to distinguished dignitaries; industry experts, politicians etc. regularly give presentations on campus.

I found the academic system/"Sciences Po Method" challenging, particularly the administrative aspect. For example, assessment due dates could change a week before submission, you are required to obtain a medical certificate of fitness to participate in sports classes (including dance classes) and I even had to submit one of my assignments via snail mail! 

I found there was limited guidance compared to UQ in terms of academic expectations. For example, I did not receive criteria for most of my assessment and model responses and past papers were almost impossible to access. I overcome these difficulties by doing the best with what was available and asking French students to send me an example of a dissertation (French style for writing a "paper").

At Sciences Po, I had to submit four final papers in the same week so had to manage my time accordingly. The papers were significantly longer than papers I had written at UQ but you are able to start work on them from the beginning of semester. 

The course list for the semester was posted a couple of days before course registration, which was two months prior to semester start, with only three of my seventeen courses pre-approved by the HASS faculty existing on the update! This was stressful so make sure you have many back up courses approved and do not get hung up on any particular courses as they may not be offered come sign-on.

Personal experience

I found it difficult to form friendships with the French students, partly because some of them had known each other since high school and most students were younger than myself. This was partly due to the fact that French students tend not to take gap years and spend two years in the undergraduate program before doing two semesters abroad. Joining an association or initiative is probably your best bet if you want to make French friends. However, do not be dismissive of other international exchange students. By focusing on forming relationships solely with French students, you are depriving yourself of a support network of others going through a similar experience.

The highlight of the exchange was definitely the travel aspect. I travelled as much as I could around France and definitely recommend exploring the county itself and not always looking outside of France. From the beaches and sunshine of the cote d'Azur, the Alsace/German inspired cuisine of Strasbourg and the beautiful tiled roofs in Dijon, each region of France has its own unique architecture and culture. How many kisses for la bise, one, two, five?! 

As Sciences Po is made up of 47% international students, it is probably not the ideal university if language acquisition is your primary motive for exchange.

Accommodation

Did you live on- or off- campus?
There is no on- campus accommodation at Sciences Po. 

What did you enjoy most about your living arrangements?
The 13th arrondissement was convenient and flat sharing was economical. 

What advice would you give to future students about housing?
I lived in a share flat in the 13th arrondissement with two French women. I found my accommodation through a French friend I had met in Australia. Finding an apartment in Paris is challenging (and often expensive!) without a dossier (including a guarantor who lives in France) unless you sublet. 

Do no worry if you do not find an apartment in the same arrondissement as Sciences Po (7th) as the metro and bus are an effective (if somewhat unreliable - the French love their manifestations and émeutes) way to reach campus.

What assistance did the host university provide?
Sciences Po offers a housing service and an official housing offers website. However, I did not utilise either

Costs

How much did things cost (rent, food, transport, entertainment, travel)? 
Paris is very expensive in general so start saving! 

If you are looking for a cheap student meal, restaurants et cafétérias universitaires de CROUS are the answer. For 3.25 euros you can buy a main, side and dessert. The one I frequented most was near Mabillon station, 10 minutes’ walk from Sciences Po. 

To save money on public transport in Paris, invest in a NAVIGO monthly travel pass. However, be aware that sales begin on the 20th of the preceding month, and end on the 19th of the month for which they are valid. 

I purchased a French SIM card by going to a kiosk as soon as practicable. Data roaming can add up very quickly if using google maps to navigate. I went with Free mobile as for 20 euros a month you receive 100 Gb data and unlimited calls and texts in France.

I eventually decided to get a French bank account mostly so I would have the convenience of using the sans contact feature. As I opened a new bank account with one of the partner banks (Caisse d'Epargne) with Sciences Po, I was able to receive 80 euros free. During orientation week, representatives of the banks in partnership with Sciences Po came in and helped me set up an appointment with the bank. At the appointment I had to provide proof of identity, accommodation (phone bill, proof of insurance or rental contract) and certificate of attendance at Sciences Po, student card and 100 euros in cash to open the account. 

If you are a student under 25, make sure you show your student card at museums, monuments etc. as you are eligible for free or reduced admission.

Also, banks and museums are often closed on Mondays or Tuesdays so check before you go.

How much would you recommend to budget?
This is a difficult figure to estimate as there are so many variables.

Challenge

The biggest challenge during my experience was the different academic system. I overcame it by asking other exchange students to send me their notes and asking my French 'buddy,' who I was matched with at the beginning of semester as part of the optional Buddy Programme, for advice. I was also fortunate that one of my housemates was a French teacher who could proofread my assignments.

Professional Development

This experience of studying abroad has fostered personal autonomy, problem-solving abilities, diversified my knowledge and experience.

Highlight

Definitely the travel.

Top tips

Be prepared to do a lot of organising before the exchange. I spent almost a year preparing and researching my study plan, visa etc. and it does not end there... once in France you will need to register for the social security system, if you have the long stay visa you will need to make an appointment with the immigration office, apply for housing aid with the Caf if you are eligible etc. etc.