UQ Program: Bachelor of Economics/Arts

I completed an exchange programme at Sciences Po in Paris in UQ’s first semester of 2011.  I am comfortable knowing that it was one of the greatest experiences of my life so far and probably always will be.  If you are considering an exchange then I cannot recommend it to you highly enough.  Whether you’ll want to do it in Paris is another question, so I’ll try to describe what it’s like to spend a semester living and studying in the City of Light.

Your first concern might be the university.  Sciences Po is certainly highly regarded in Paris, to a level that can seem absurd to Australians – when our landlords found out that my roommate and I were Sciences Po students it seemed like they had to fight the urge to bow.  While the reputation is powerful my day to day experience in class was decidedly more mixed.  For some courses I was lucky enough to have amazing lecturers; other courses were less enthralling, sometimes downright confusing, or else just feeling like a waste of time.  This, combined with the administrative leg-work involved in just maintaining your enrolment can give you a much greater appreciation of life back at UQ...but that is back at UQ (ie not Paris), and this stuff is nowhere near bad enough to make me not recommend the exchange.  Overall I would say that if you speak French then you can (reportedly) expect high quality classes all the time; your English classes will most likely be hit and miss.

Another thing to prepare for is the workload.  A full-time semester for exchange students at Sciences Po involves taking 7 subjects, which will mean 14 hours of class per week at a minimum.  Lecturers can be quite strict about both preparing the class readings and marking attendance (to the point where you’ll fail a class with more than three absences, so long as they keep track).  You’re also expected to complete more pieces of assessment per subject than is normal at UQ and these will mostly be orals (exposés).  Sciences Po is also weirdly demanding about the formal aspect of your work, particularly if you study in French, and you’ll likely spend a few hours in class discussing and a few more outside of class stressing over exactly how many subsections should be included in a section or whether you have actually magically come up with something called a problematique...

Don’t let this deter you.  You’ll get your first introduction to this stuff in the Welcome Programme week, which leads me to the social side of living in Paris – because if you come out of this week still not knowing how to do an exposé you’ll likely have made friends that will last the whole semester anyway.  And the social side of living in Paris is truly amazing.  Sciences Po is a very international university and you’ll meet people from all over the world, not just English natives or the Frenchies in your classes.  Living in apartments in Paris makes it easier to avoid the expense involved in entertainment in the city – food is reasonably priced in supermarkets and beer and wine are ridiculously cheap.  Dinner parties, or just parties, were a pretty regular thing.  Or take your drinks down to the Seine in the evening when the weather is fine.  And of course if you want to go out there are heaps of great pubs and bars and clubs and cafes to visit too.  And a few (read: inexhaustible amount) of cultural attractions to see during the day, most of which will be free for you with your Sciences Po card.

Finding accommodation might be your main problem.  There are two schools of thought on the matter: booking before arrival, or booking after.  Even after having gone through the process it’s hard for me to recommend a choice one way or the other; basically, finding accommodation in Paris will be tough.  It’s standard to recommend avoiding things like Craig’s List and going through an agent instead, but friends of mine have found good places on Craig’s List at much better prices than what you’ll find going through an agency.  There’s definitely a greater risk though.  Yet even going through an agent can’t eliminate the risk involved in booking a place ahead of time.  The obvious benefit of waiting until you arrive in Paris to sort out accommodation is that you’ll normally be able to see the property before signing any papers, which has been crucial for friends of mine who wound up avoiding crummy places that looked fine on the internet.  The downside is the uncertainty and general stress of finding a place and organising the entire renting process in whatever amount of time you have before school starts.  Whichever way you go you should start researching districts and prices fairly early so you can make a quick decision better, if necessary.  As a guide, if you’re paying 700 euros a month for rent in any of the first 10 or so arrondissements then I’d say you’re doing extremely well.  Roommates can be a good way to cut costs.  You might have to get creative.

Living in Paris is almost never straight forward or care-free.  But whether despite or even partly because of this, it’s also regularly incredible.  Like I said before, none of the difficulties involved come close to making me recommend against this exchange.  I would only say that if you want a highly rigorous law exchange then this is not the one for you (undergraduate law courses at Sciences Po are, with some exceptions, very different to and far less technical than UQ courses).  Otherwise, go and live in Paris already.

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