Bachelor of Arts/Law
Bachelor of Arts/Law

There’s really nothing quite like waking up and reminding yourself that you’re living in Paris. Studying in Paris means you will never be bored, you have easy (and usually free!) access to some of the world’s greatest monuments and museums and you have a base for your never-ending bucket list of destinations. Sciences Po offers a unique opportunity to mix both with locals, as well as introduce you to a truly international circle of friends.

I am a fourth year Arts/Law student (International Relations/French) and I spent Semester 1, 2014 at Sciences Po studying Arts electives. Saving up your electives means you are really spoiled for choice when it comes to selecting courses at Sciences Po (keep in mind you need to do five courses to gain credits at UQ). I was able to do a range of subjects, from the history of Parisian architecture to a course based on international criminal tribunals and post-genocide societies. This meant that quite a few of our classes consisted of field trips throughout Paris which was one of my favourite aspects of exchange. Although the thought of taking five subjects sounds intense, the courses are a lot less demanding than those at UQ, and whilst they can be assessment heavy, the marking threshold is much lower.

In terms of my personal experience, living in Paris is an adventure not to be missed. My language skills have improved considerably (I had taken three years of French prior to exchange) although if learning the language is your number one priority, I really recommend taking some courses in French. As all my classes were in English, my friendship circles almost all consisted of English-speakers. Another good way of meeting locals, however, is through the university sports and societies. I signed up for the handball (have never played before!) and although the administrative obstacles are off-putting, it was definitely worth it in the end. Almost all the players were French and they were all very welcoming.

Finding accommodation in Paris was a very stressful process. Although the consensus seems to be that it is much easier to find an apartment while in Paris, this does not take into account visa requirements. Part of the application process requires proof of three months’ accommodation, so unless you know someone in France willing to write a letter to the consulate stating you will live with them, you must organise accommodation beforehand. This is very difficult, as the internet is full of scams and even if you are willing to pay the high fee charged by agencies, many apartments advertised online are unavailable, or the owner is unreachable. I spent two weeks phoning different agencies in France to try and secure an apartment (emailing proved ineffective) and still did not manage to find anything in my price range (obviously the more you are willing to pay, the easier it becomes). In the end I settled for a homestay, which included breakfasts and all electricity/utility costs. This can be a risky move, as you do not get to select your family but you can swap during your stay. My homestay, however, was perfect for my needs. I lived with a retired woman, a Japanese girl and a Canadian who was also at Sciences Po. We kept to ourselves for the most part (as Parisian apartments have a serious lack of communal space) but I still managed to practice my French and got along very well with all my roommates. This also meant I did not have to worry about renter’s insurance, security deposits or internet, which gave some of my friends a little grief.

Be aware that the notoriety of French bureaucracy is not unfounded and a semester in France will probably result in considerable frustration, particularly in the first couple of months. Be sure to organise things such as your bank account, phone plan, residency permit and transport cards as soon as you get to France, as these may be lengthy processes. The course structure at Sciences Po can also take a bit of getting used to, as lecturers generally all use different platforms to distribute information and many will not even provide course outlines. There is also compulsory attendance, and missing more than two classes of a subject results in automatic failure. This is something to think about when organising your timetable.

Top tips

  • Chose interesting courses to study – this is your chance to do something outside the box and it will pay off!
  • If you want some pocket-money, get a part-time job. English-tutoring and babysitting jobs are really easy to find, particularly through agencies (e.g. Speaking Agency). Not only will this give you a new insight into life for real Parisians, but you will have more money for travel!
  • Opening a bank account is not necessary, but the cheapest phone deals (e.g. Free Mobile 2€/month) and the Imagine-R (student transport card) require them. They are also necessary for working and any reimbursement you may receive. Go through the university to get one, as many give you cash incentives.
  • Websites such as SkyScanner are golden – simply select a month and the destination ‘everywhere’ and you can find cheap flights all over the region. Many airlines will also take you off the main tourist map, and you will find yourself in places like Croatia with 40€ return flights!
  • Buy a Carte Jeune from SNCF – for 50€ you get incredible discounts off regional trains in France, which means you will have to take advantage of it!
  • Bring lots of copies of your passport, visa and proof of accommodation. You will need them everywhere and it is difficult to print at the university before you get your Student Card.

I hope you chose Paris for your exchange; it really is an incredible place! If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me!

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