Eden - Sciences Po

Bachelor of Arts
Semester 1, 2018
A challenging, eye-opening and ultimately fun experience that helped me to see with further clarity who I am and where I want to go.

Academic experience

I studied five courses at Science Po. They were all in English, despite a French language course, as the minimum requirement to study in English is B2. I took 3 lecture courses and 1 seminar course (European Union Institutions and Policies).

Geopolitics of the Middle East
Diasporas’ Strategies
FrenchB1
European Union Institution and Policies
Global Environmental Governance 

I found the language course to be of most benefit to me. There was a high level of assessment, which meant that I was turning in or completing exams nearly weekly. I did find that this however pushed me to improve in the language. Likewise, the breadth of topics that we covered in the language course was particularly impressive. B1 on the Common European Framework is referred to as only “intermediate”, but I was writing exposés on US relations with North Korea, and feminism and intersectionality. Writing and delivering these exposés was particularly important for my progression in French. 

The academic experience at Science Po varied. I had a wonderful professor for Diasporas’ Strategies. I found the course to be theoretically challenging but incredibly interesting, and I felt like the complexity of the issues and readings that were allocated encouraged me to push myself intellectually. On the other hand, there were a couple of courses that I took that felt quite disorganised. Assessment is often vague, so do not expect any grading rubrics! Ask the professor about assessment as much as you can and you should be fine. I have heard that the courses in French were slightly more in depth and challenging, so if you have the opportunity to take courses in French I would thoroughly recommend that. 

Most assessment will either be dissertations and exposes, and Science Po has a particular way of structuring them. The structure encourages you to think deeply about your subject and to situate it in its current context. Again, Science Po is quite particular about this. However, Science Po also runs a welcome programme where they teach you this structure in great detail. I would recommend the welcome programme for this reason. 

There is a lot of assessment involved at Science Po. I found that from week 3, every two weeks, if not weekly, I had something due. The assessment is not necessarily particularly strenuous, it really depends on the course, but there is a lot of it. For that reason, I would suggest being as organised as you can, and if given the opportunity, trying to spread your assessment out evenly in the semester. Paris is an exciting city, and there is no doubt that it can be a struggle to focus there. However, I do believe that maintaining some form of discipline and focus, particularly in the middle of the semester will make the remainder of your semester a lot easier. 

I would also recommend being involved in extra-curricular activities. In Paris I took salsa-dancing classes. They were a great way to relax and to meet a range of new students outside of my usual classes. It’s important to find something like this to do that is purely for fun, where you might feel a bit goofy, and where you are pushed outside of your comfort zone. 

I also volunteered at an organisation at Science Po that aided refugees. I found volunteering at this particular organisation to be an eye-opening experience. It is very easy to only see the post-card side of Paris, so I would encourage you to push beyond that. Volunteering was often challenging emotionally but was undoubtedly worth it for the people that I met and the stories that I heard. This extra-curricular activity also enabled me to become more sensitive to cultural differences.

Personal experience

I had a really wonderful time in Paris. The city itself is beautiful, very lively and intense. I was inspired to go to Paris for a number of reasons.

I was inspired to go to France on exchange to learn French. However, Paris is a very international city and thus the vast majority of people there speak fluent English. If people hear the hint of an accent, they will generally switch to English. I have had full conversations with French waiters where they will be speaking in English to me and I will be replying in French. I think the most important thing is to just persevere and to push to speak the language as much as you can. Science Po is also a very international school, and if you are taking English classes, it is hard to find time to practise French. Therefore, make the biggest effort you can, when you can. If you’re reading the news, do it in French, if you’re listening to a podcast, do it in French, and so forth. Without doing this extra work, it is really difficult to consolidate what you have been learning in class. If your main reason to go on exchange is to improve your French, I would encourage you to consider a smaller city. I was fortunate enough to visit one of my French friend’s family in a small village near Bordeaux. I stayed with her family for four days. Her family didn’t speak any English and I learnt an incredible amount in such a small amount of time. This sort of immersion is not possible to get in Paris, so I would keep that in mind. 

I met so many new and interesting people from all over the world in Paris. It was a great experience to learn about different cultures and different languages on a personal level. I was lucky enough to travel with some of the people I met, and to visit them in their home cities when exchange was over.

Travelling from Paris is very easy, as it is well serviced with trains, fights and buses. During the semester I took trips to Bordeaux and Cologne in Germany. I didn’t travel as much as I would have liked to during the semester, as I found it difficult to plan around assessment. However, I was happy to stay in Paris to really enjoy the weekends. Moreover, I had plenty of time after the semester had finished to see other parts of Europe. I think allocating time either before or after your exchange to travel is a good choice, as it takes the pressure off from feeling like you need to be travelling during the semester. I do think it's optimal to really make the most of your time in the city that you chose to be in.

Accommodation

I paid around 880 euros a month for a studio in the second arrondissement. That was generally considered to be quite a bargain. Many people I knew payed more than that for accommodation further out from the city centre. Accommodation was very difficult to find, and it was only through a friend at UQ that I managed to secure an apartment. I rented through a rental vacation agency, which worked out equal if not cheaper to renting from a landlord (and with less stress). I would try and consider all accommodation possibilities. I have heard good things about a few online agencies, however the accommodation generally goes quite quickly, so start looking early. A few people I knew had success through the Science Po housing pages as well.

Costs

Paris is expensive. There is no way around it. You can eat baguettes and beans all week but at the end of the day the cost of living there is very high.

Eating out is expensive, with most meals ranging from 15-25 euros. Coffee is generally from 2 to 6 euros. If you’re eating in the expensive arrondissements, you will notice a significant price increase. 

Most weeks I spent between 30 to 60 euros a week on groceries. That generally included a lot of fresh produce but little to no meat. It is definitely possible to eat for cheaper, but it just depends on your personal tastes and budget. 
 
The metro is 1.9 euros per trip. 
It is possible to get a monthly Navigo card but I didn’t do this, as my studio was a pleasant 30 minute walk from campus.

Professional Development

I believe that my exchange has positively impacted my employability. My French skills definitely improved, and I believe that is an asset to employers. Assessment in science Po often includes presenting exposes to a class. As I had not given presentations at a university level, I found this to be an invaluable experience. I was able to hone in on a particular set of communication skills that I had previously felt were underdeveloped. Volunteering as well encouraged me to improve my communication skills in English and French (and occasionally German!) The challenges that arose during my time volunteering meant that I needed to be adaptable and to learn to make a decision quickly. I think that developing these skills is integral for use later in life. Through meeting so many different people at Science Po, and through volunteering, I developed a new appreciation and sensitivity for different cultures. This is deeply important for me, as I would like to work internationally and thus need to develop a strong capacity to communicate and build relationships with people from other cultures.

Highlight

Highlights included seeing so much of the beautiful art that Paris has to offer, listening to speeches by Jacinda Ardern and Justin Trudeau at Science Po, getting to see the vineyards of Bordeaux from the back of a scooter, and drinking wine and eating cheese with friends down by the Seine.

Top tips

I would definitely encourage all to go on exchange, and to not stress too much about where you're going. You're bound to have a wonderful time in any city.
I would also encourage saying 'yes' to new people, experiences and opportunities as much as you can. That's what you're there to do!