I took a semester at Sciences Po in the fourth year of my BA/LLB program, and managed to take courses in law, French, and history. The academic experience is certainly arranged on a different basis to that at UQ, and is driven, for the most part, by small seminar-type classes and potentially lengthy oral presentations (exposés), along with an array of other continuous assessment tasks, each with its own formal requirement. As for the content and quality of the offering, my experience was varied. The courses I took in French were outstanding, and included courses on evil, rhetoric and on the other hand, comparative law. My course in English was disappointing, despite its subject matter, the Law of International Security. As an undergraduate exchange student you are integrated at Sciences Po as a second year. If solid law subjects are what you’re after, it may be better to integrate at the Masters level (‘4th year’), as many overseas law students do.

Paris needs little introduction, and was a pleasure to call home for a short time, surrounded by the landmarks of literature and history. Until the age of 26 a residence permit or European passport will get you free entry to national museums and monuments, which gives you the opportunity to explore at your leisure, I enjoyed the nocturnes when I could. For those inclined, Sciences Po is a short walk from the Palais du Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay on one side, and from Notre-Dame and the Ile de la Cité on the other. Vélibs make getting around very easy, and offer a more pleasant journey than the Métro if you have the time. The traffic looks bad at first, but it gets better.

As far as the language aspect goes, I went to Paris with the goal in mind to improve my French. In this respect, though I’m by no means unhappy, Sciences Po may not have been an ideal destination, given the sheer volume of exchange students, most of whom share English as a common (if not first) language. Through the orientation program (if you so choose) there is certainly the opportunity to meet plenty of people, and friends from the four corners are certainly compensation for the loss of French-time. That said, it is certainly something to consider.

Housing was tough to find, and most internationals seem to arrive in Paris without a place and without too many leads, and I certainly spent my share of time in a hostel bar on the phone trying to sort something out, and not being able to leave messages because of the volume of calls. If you (or someone you know) speak French, however, the wait can be worth it as you are more likely to score a place in a residential (i.e. less tourist-ridden) area at a more reasonable rent. Exchange students can pay anywhere from 400 (petit studio/chambre de bonne) to well over 1500 (grand studio dans un quartier chic) euros per month. Agency fees can be steep, if that’s the route you choose, but obviously offer certainty.

Tips:

  • Get a vélib card straight away. 30 euros gets you bikes around the city for 12 months. It seems complicated, but they have a desk at the Hôtel de Ville where you can get a card without sending away for it. Take your passport.
  • The Sciences Po libraries are overcrowded and don’t offer a great environment. Depending on your area, try the Bibliothèque Ste-Geneviève (next to the Pantheon), the Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris (Marais) or the Bibliothèque Mazarine (quai de Conti). All are beautiful old buildings with wonderful collections. Again, passport + a photo.
  • Organise your residence permit (attestation OFII) yourself; just follow the instructions given to you. SciencesPo will take much, much longer, and you may find yourself unable to leave (or return to) the Schengen area over the holidays without the permit, or have a medical exam scheduled over these periods. If they don’t stamp your passport when you arrive you may get a puzzled look at the immigration office.
  • Don’t feel you have to live in the 6th or the 7th. Getting around is not a problem and (almost) all areas of Paris have their own charm. I was in the 11th and wouldn’t have changed it. Obviously different areas will suit different people.

 

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