Bachelor of Journalism/Arts
Bachelor of Journalism/Arts

To quote Audrey Hepburn, I would summarise my exchange experience in saying that Paris is always a good idea. Back in 2013 as a 2nd year Bachelor of Journalism/Bachelor of Arts student with a major in French, I decided to enrol in UQ’s Exchange Program, choosing Sciences Po obviously for its location, but also for its welcoming exchange program and its intriguing courses.

To fulfil my 30 ECTS course load (equivalent to 1 semester at UQ), I took one lecture course and four seminar/elective courses, with topics such as art history, the European Union, French literature, political socialisation, and even the history of the CIA! Although these courses were challenging, especially those taught in French, I think UQ had prepared me enough so that I didn’t feel the need to take a French language class, but if you don’t speak French or don’t feel confident enough, go for it! However whether your courses are in French or English, Sciences Po’s academic system is still a bit of a struggle. First of all, most professors you encounter are not just academics but at the top of their fields working as lawyers, sociologists, politicians and more. This can be a hindrance, with constant class changes, late arrivals, and difficulties getting in contact, and occasionally unrealistic expectations relating to assessment. Once you get over these ‘quirks’ however, it’s actually pretty inspiring to listen to someone so passionate talk about their extensive experience in your desired career path. Secondly, as much of a struggle as the mandatory attendance and extremely minimal online resources were, it was actually a blessing in disguise as it pushed me to work hard on the very frequent (and usually oral) assessments.

When it comes to socialising, just say oui. Sciences Po’s Welcome Program provided me with so many opportunities to meet people from all over the world whilst exploring beautiful Paris, with the Bar-a-Day pub-crawl, scavenger hunts, and the methodology classes. I now have too many future travel destinations to visit the amazing friends I’ve made. French friends are a little harder to make, but Sciences Po’s buddy program that links French and exchange students is fantastic, and I’d also recommend playing sport at the university or joining any extra-curricular activity.

Although Parisians have gained a reputation regarding their language, it’s only because they have an immense pride and respect for it, so as my pretentious as this may be, I’d say that even if your conjugation and structure isn’t perfect, and you’re over-pronouncing your French R’s to the point of spitting on people, as long as you speak with a bit of fiery French passion, you’re doing just fine and you’ll find yourself improving in leaps and bounds.

As beautiful and vibrant as Paris is, it may be one of the most cramped cities in the world, which made finding accommodation difficult and full of compromises. Sciences Po has no school housing, so I went through an agency to find a very spacious apartment with a few roommates, two of whom were French! I loved this apartment, but the only drawbacks were its distance from the city centre and the expensive rent, something that is pretty much unavoidable in Paris. It seems that having a good rent of around 500 euros a month also means having to get used to a lack of space, sharing a room, and old Parisian buildings with potentially dodgy water systems, but all these cons are blown away with pros such as living right near Sciences Po, the Eiffel Tower, or the cool Marais area.

When it comes to expenses, I’d say be over-prepared. Paris is very expensive, with groceries (which can be lessened with free loyalty cards provided in the supermarket), transport (make sure you get a Navigo or an Imagine’R card) and Sciences Po’s extracurricular expenses. I got by on about $2000 AUD a month not including rent with tight budgeting, and you’ll want to set some money aside for travelling and emergencies.

TOP TIPS
1.    I was so glad I took part in the Welcome Program. Although it cost almost 200 euros, I met so many of my friends, and the educators at Sciences Po made assessment so much clearer.
2.    Make sure you go to L’As du Fallafel and do a bit of shopping and exploring in the Marais area – amazing!
3.    Get onto setting up a French bank account early. Sciences Po helps you with this in the welcome week, and it’ll make the process of getting a sim and a Navigo/Imagine’R transport card so much easier.
4.    Look out for Paris events like the art festival Nuit Blanche, see French movies, and take advantage of your student card to get into all of Paris’s amazing galleries and attractions for discounted prices or free!
5.    Travelling: as amazing as it is that Berlin, London, Amsterdam, Barcelona and other amazing European cities are only a stone’s throw away, don’t worry too much about travelling during the semester. There’s always time afterwards, and as Sciences Po assessment is frequent and sometimes intense, it’s so much easier and amazing to take time to appreciate Paris. 

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