Elena - Sciences Po

B. Commerce / Economics
Semester 1, 2016

Academic experience

During my semester at Sciences Po I studied a full-time load of 5 subjects - International Macroeconomics, Trade & Finance, Financial Stability, Management of Financial Institutions, French Language (B1) and of course, The World of Wine in France! The systems of course delivery and assessment were quite different to that of UQ in that the assessment took a more continuous focus and required a high level of vocal participation and debate. This method certainly kept you on your toes and encouraged constant critical thinking. As an added bonus, the friendly competition and engagement with fellow students often lead to friendship further into the semester. Due to the active focus, keeping up with content and weekly readings were very important in order to be able to contribute to the discussion and gain the participation credit.

Personal experience

As you can imagine, I met and made friends with students from all over the world, which made the university experience so much more interesting as we could all trade stories from our different backgrounds. We made an effort to explore as much as possible and would go for trips around France or further around Europe most weekends and sometimes during the week on our free days. Paris is a central hub for travel with a great metro system, high-speed trains leaving often and to a multitude of destinations both within France and to neighbouring countries, as well as cheap flights within Europe. My friends and I thoroughly enjoyed our freedom to travel and had the best time seeing as much of the continent as possible. My French language skills also greatly improved as I was conversing with other residents of Paris, shop owners, my landlord and French friends at university. The language course I studied also helped me develop my conversational skills as my professor spoke no English. It felt incredible to be in France and conversing with locals as if you were one of them.


Sciences Po is in the centre of Paris, so there was no on-campus living option and I had to find my own accommodation. I had 2 roommates - a girl from San Diego and another from Toronto. We quickly became very close friends and would do everything together; all trying to get the most out of our Parisian experience. I absolutely loved living with those girls, and it was very convenient as we were all students at Sciences Po so we could walk to university together, go out after school with our mutual friends and book spontaneous flights and trains in the kitchen for our next adventure. Although it would have been great to live with a French girl to improve my language skills, I felt right at home with English speaking girls my own age, which made it far easier to adjust and settle for 6 months. It also meant we had a support group when tackling all of the French administrative, legal and university challenges. It took me quite a long time to find an appropriate (and affordable!) apartment, so my advice would be to start looking as soon as possible! Lower your expectations for the size and price of your accommodation and try to secure a place close to the university. While the metro system is great, it was far easier and cheaper to just leave the house 15 minutes before class and enjoy a beautiful walk to campus.


My roommates and I on one of our Champ de Mars picnics!
My roommates and I on one of our Champ de Mars picnics!

It should come as no surprise that Paris is a very expensive city! Rent was very expensive, especially in the districts closest to the university. I paid 750 euros/month to share a small 3 bedroom apartment close to the university, not including bills. Eating out is quite expensive - it cost around 20 euros for a nice meal at a restaurant or a set menu. Cheaper options were available such as the 'snack' items like croque monsieurs with chips and salad (10 euros). However, most of the wine we drank was bought at the Carrefour (supermarket) for between 2-4 euros! A book of 10 metro tickets cost 14 euros, which would last about a week or two, or there was the option of a Go Card equivalent pass that cost 70 euros a month for students. We found that this was only good value for students who needed to take the metro to university. I budgeted close to $20 000 and spent every cent! - but it was 100% worth it.

Professional development and employability

My confidence has definitely been enhanced as a result of my exchange experience, with meeting so many different people all the time and having to speak with people in a foreign language make arrangements for travel, university and general administration. Studying at Sciences Po has improved my critical thinking and analytical ability, as this is a strong focus of the academic system via debate and constant class discussion. Planning trips most weekends, exploring the city and following critical administrative procedures helped me enhance my organisational skills and taught me to plan ahead. Problem-solving was another area in which I gained a lot of experience, for example when changes had to be made to travel plans. I also learned to adapt more easily to a completely different way of life and learn a new system of presenting assessment at university.


While living in Paris for a semester was the most extraordinary and surreal experience of my life, there were a few moments that stood out. Towards the end of the semester in the beautiful Spring weather, my friends and I started having very regular picnics - sometimes several per day! We would buy bottles of wine, cheeses, saucisson, fresh baguette, olives, chocolate etc and enjoy a picnic on rooftops overlooking all of the Parisian landmarks, at the Champs de Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower, on the Esplanade des Invalides and on the Seine next to Pont Alexandre III for sunset. These days in the sun and incredible evenings amongst the riverside nightlife reminded us how amazing the city and culture was, and how lucky we were to have lived there. In the final few nights we shared a drink on the steps of the Sacre Coeur whilst watching harpists, singers and street performers, enjoyed a glass of champagne at the top of the Montparnasse Tower, and sat on the edge of the fountain at Trocadero in front of the Eiffel Tower to watch it sparkles every hour as my roommates and I said our final goodbyes. Paris has such a unique and incredible atmosphere and I am so grateful that I was able to live there for as long as I did!

Top tips

  • Get on your plans early! Apply for police checks, visas and accommodation as soon as possible because everything takes a while, especially when you are dealing with famously inefficient French bureaucracy. 
  • Try and live close to university because it saves so much time and money, and the scenic walks to class remind you that you are living in Paris every day.
  • Make at least 3 photocopies of everything important - all your ID, bookings, receipts etc, and leave digital copies at home with the family. 
  • Make sure you have good travel insurance. I was with Covermore and claimed several times - it was the easiest thing to do and all online. 
  • Always say yes!! Take every travel opportunity, dinner invite and lunch date. There are so many incredible places to explore in Paris (and Europe!) and limited time in which to see them. There was always time to get university work done if you managed it well, so you could spend most of your time discovering the destination you've paid so much to live in! It is the best feeling to come home with (literally) thousands of photos and no regrets.
  • Going on exchange and travelling Europe was definitely the best experience of my life and I would strongly encourage those of you considering it to apply! 
Elena - Sciences Po