UQ Program: Bachelor of Arts/Law

As Ernest Hemingway noted, ‘if you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast’.

Paris is a city of clichés, and many of them are true. It is incredibly beautiful and rich in culture and it has a cuisine that is second to none.  But its population can be reserved, tourist hordes exasperating and bureaucracy frustrating. Living in the city as a local allowed me to savour all the good things on offer.  I enjoyed having time to appreciate its cultural treasures; going to a museum during an afternoon off classes was not uncommon.  I loved eating out at the local bistro near my apartment and generally indulging in the French culinary scene.  And even when I had classes, I still was able to appreciate my environment.  My apartment was walking distance to Sciences Po and the daily trip to university would take me past Napoleon’s tomb at Les Invalides, the residence of the French Prime Minister and an assortment of haute couture shops with severe looking attendants.  During weekends, I would try to explore a different part of Paris and discover the Parisian nightlife with friends.  Daytrips from Paris were occasionally organised: having a picnic in the beautiful grounds of Chateau de Versailles was a highlight.  However, life was not all an idyllic French fantasy.  A certain amount of patience is required to survive French society.  Efficiency is not their strong point and there is a series of rules and regulations deliberately designed to make life difficult.  That being said, being a Sciences Po student is an advantage: an example is a special relationship between the university and the LCL Bank which allowed me to bypass what would have been an impossible procedure in opening a French bank account.

My time at Sciences Po was very enjoyable.  The university is smaller than UQ and is considered the most prestigious in France.  As such, all the students there are extremely bright.  I studied six subjects and an additional French language course (which equated to four subjects at UQ).  Many classes are in a seminar format with mandatory participation. These smaller class sizes reminded me of being back at school as it was very easy to build a rapport with both fellow classmates and the professor.  The workload expected is very high. Each subject had at least three pieces of assessment; I had around 20 pieces of assessment throughout the semester.  However, the standard that is required is not as high as that expected at UQ.  The content is adjusted because many of the students in the class speak English as a second language.  Coupled with the fact I only had to pass my courses, academic life did not prove to be hugely stressful.  The university also has a vibrant student association which stages numerous events and activities which are well frequented by the university population.  They are a great way in which to meet other students.  A particular highlight was the Sciences Po Gala, replete with free champagne and chocolate fountains. 

Finding a place to live was an extremely trying ordeal.  I arrived in the cold of January with no permanent accommodation and little knowledge of the city.  It was not an auspicious start and I had an extremely stressful time trying to find an apartment. I was knocked back from no less than 8 landlords because I wanted the property in question for less than 5 months.  I eventually went through an agency and paid the costly price tag.  This is typical of accommodation in Paris.  Landlords take advantage of the high demand for properties within the periphery of the city. However, while accommodation may be expensive, there are ways to avoid spending too much money in other areas.  I cut costs by shopping for fruit and vegetables at the local market, where farmers from Brittany and Normandy came to sell their wares.  The produce is much cheaper (and fresher) than that found in supermarkets and I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in a classic French culinary activity. Another way to save money is to utilise the discounts that are offered to students.

Top tips

1.    Oral presentations are a big part of assessment at Sciences Po. You are often given the choice of selecting your presentation date. Volunteer for as many presentations at the beginning of semester as possible. The high volume of assessment means that they often pile up at the end of semester. 
2.    This is for people going on exchange in Semester 1 (I can’t comment on the situation for Semester 2): organise accommodation from Australia.  Unless you have the luxury of time before your exchange (i.e. you arrive in Europe months earlier to travel), it is an extremely stressful experience to arrive in Paris and have less than 2 weeks to find a home.  Landlords are reluctant to rent for less than 6 months. While agencies are expensive, they provide certainty and (usually) an assurance of quality. 
3.    Go for a picnic on the Seine in the evening.  It is a popular activity for Parisian students and as such, it is a great way of meeting locals our age.
4.    Eat falafel at L’As du Falafel in the Marais District (on rue Rosiers).  I have developed cravings for it. It is that good.
5.    Don’t spend too much time studying.  You only need to pass and that is not hard to do.  You have Paris on your doorstep. Enjoy it. 


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