Giselle - Sciences Po, Menton

B. International Studies
Semester 1, 2016

Academic experience

I chose to study at one of Europe's most prestigious universities, Sciences Po. Initially I was supposed to attend the Paris campus, but following the November attacks and confusion about safety, I applied for a transfer to the Menton campus. This decision was probably the best choice I could have ever made. 

The stunning Menton campus is one of Sciences Po's numerous external campuses, all of which have varying programs focused on different regions of the world. Menton itself is the home of the College for Middle Eastern and Mediterranean studies, and is situated on the south coast of France, directly on the Italian border. The campus, which has stunning views of the beach and old town of Menton, has roughly 250 enrolled students, of which there were around 10 other exchange students. The size of the Mentonese 'Oumma makes it almost impossible to not assimilate into campus life, by offering multiple opportunities to engage through political workshops, projects, music and sport. Studying here was beneficial for me as it allowed me to focus on my love of Middle Eastern affairs, and continue learning Arabic which I'd already started externally from UQ, as well as studying in French. 

The academic system is quite different to that of UQ, with the attendance policy extremely strict (any more than 2 absences and you automatically fail), and assessment was odd in some cases. The French system appears to place a strong emphasis on oral assessment, so expect to have a few 'exposés'. I also had a problem with my French track classes, as students often talked amongst themselves during seminars and lectures; something that shocked me. But a big perk of the Menton campus is that the library overlooks the beach, so the view is amazing, although admittedly distracting.

Personal experience

My personal exchange experiences were phenomenal, and I made a lot of friends, as I joined multiple sporting teams (Volleyball, Soccer and Track). This also allowed me to attend the annual Minicrit games, which were held in Poitiers during May, and saw all the Sciences Po campuses come together to compete in the Arts, and Sports.

Menton's location made it very easy to travel. It's literally less than a 30 minute walk to the Italian border from campus (20 mins by train to Ventimiglia) and about a 10 min train ride to Monte-Carlo, Monaco. Nice (the closest airport) is also about 40 mins by train and has cheap flights all over Europe. As an Australian who has to travel at least 24 hours to Europe, I took full advantage of this, travelling Italy and Spain during the semester, followed by the UK, Greece, and Croatia when I finished class.

Accommodation

Personally I lived off campus, choosing to live in an Airbnb apartment I found, as I transferred very late to Menton before leaving Australia. While probably the most expensive option, I'm glad I didn't end up in the privately owned residences ('Villa Jasmine' or Forty for girls, MDL for guys), as a lot of my friends who did had numerous issues with the guardians and staff. This was mainly regarding rules in place which meant that you can't have any visitors (whether they study at Sciences Po or not) and there were allegations of theft. 

I would recommend finding a share apartment over Villa Jasmine or Forty, even though it's the cheapest at about 250 euro a month with (dodgy) WiFi and cleaning. It's also exceedingly easy to find a roommate or an apartment with other students, all you have to do is advertise on the campus Facebook page. 

Also, a big pro of not living in residence is that I had my own washing machine, and in Menton the launderettes will put you back around 7 euro a load.

Budget

Menton isn't cheap. This part of France is about the second most expensive behind Paris, as it's a huge holiday spot. 

Rent will on average be around 500. I got away with 100 euros a week to spend on groceries, transport, entertainment etc. Best thing about being an EU student is that you usually get free access to museums etc.

All in all, I had $10,000 AUD saved when I left and did come home with leftovers, even after travelling a lot.

Professional development and employability

My Arabic language skills improved dramatically, although I struggled with French as some students refused to speak with me as they wanted to practise their English, even though I'm at a C1 level. 

The courses also had 'real-world' practicality, and gave me skills I see myself using in the future, such as network analysis, and an insight into cultural differences,

Highlight

The biggest highlight would have to be competing in the Minicrit collegiade games, as goalkeeper in the female football team 'Les Gazelles'. We made it into the final after a penalty shoot-out, before unfortunately losing to the Reims campus team. The school spirit was something I've never encountered before, and there's nothing better than chanting and beating a drum in support of your friends.

Top tips

Say yes to everything! The best way to get involved is to join a sporting team even if you've never done it before.

Also volunteering with any of the student groups on campus is great as well. I had the chance to help out in the refugee camp in Ventimiglia with the Red Cross, and I had a friend who ended up at the Cannes film festival as he volunteered with TedX. 

Really, the opportunities that present themselves are endless, and you'll never know what you'll end up doing.