Sciences Po – 3rd Year Arts/Law – Semester 1 2013

Living as a student in Paris offers so much to love, and only a few things you need to learn to love.

There are, of course, the well-known tourist destinations (most of which are free to under 26 year old students!) and all the wonderful smaller museums. For me though, the highlights were the little things that made you a Parisian – befriending the local baker, cheese maker and wine seller, and losing myself in the tiny cobblestone streets that are a world away from the Champs-Elysées. Exploring these sheltered nooks is very enriching, and allows you to delve deeper into a city that is so often visited, but so rarely lived in. Picnicking in the magnificent parks with friends, cheese, wine and baguette also became a staple in the warmer months.

Sciences Po is also an incredibly academic university that offers many advantages. My teachers were all leaders in their fields, whether politics, diplomacy, government or research. There was even an International Criminal Court prosecutor, who spent 4 days a week in The Hague prosecuting war criminals and the other day teaching our class of 20 about international justice. I also enjoyed the chance to meet only students who, rather than being bored by politics, thrive on it, and who have many different global perspectives on it.

Alongside this excellence, however, come certain challenges. There is a very strict attendance policy (3 absences for one course leads to automatic failure) and a bizarrely formal essay and exposé structure. But it's all a part of a rich tradition of French academia, and a part of the French student experience. The stereotypes about French bureaucracy are also all true, but you survive so long as you never ask the question 'why does this have to happen?'

All in all, an exchange to Sciences Po gives an unparalleled opportunity to discover the true Paris, meet like-minded people from all over the world, be taught by diverse senior professionals, eat and drink the best food and wine and have the time of your life. You'd be crazy not to apply.

Five top tips

  • Use the colder wetter months (January/February for spring semester) to explore Paris’s (then empty) art galleries and museums. When spring comes, you’ll then have the time to picnic with friends in the beautiful gardens and parks scattered around Paris.
  • French students are notoriously reserved and tend to keep to themselves. Coupled with the fact that classes taught in English are predominantly only taken by foreigners, there is little integration between exchange students and French students. If you want to meet ‘real’ Parisians, a good way is through either taking classes taught in French, or by enrolling in sports and arts elective courses, which are mostly taken by French students.
  • Housing is relatively expensive and sometimes difficult to find. Unless you have a couple of weeks in Paris before the semester that you’re willing to spend solely looking for accommodation, it is a good idea to pay the ridiculously high agency fee and have it secured before you come. Expect to pay around 500-700 euros per person per month for accommodation, and agency fees will usually be about the amount of first month’s rent. Homestays were common and a good way to improve your French. I would advise against living alone if you can avoid it. Look for a place with an easy metro trip to Sciences Po, and on the nightbus (noctilien) routes N01 or NO2 (which circle the bar districts) if you are a night owl.
  • Sciences Po will warn you many times about how hard the subjects and standards are. The workload is heavy, but the difficulty is overstated. Remember that you’re taking the subjects pass/fail, and this is your chance to experience Paris. Also, if you book early, you can get very cheap tickets to other European destinations- I managed to get to Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and other French cities throughout the semester.
  • Saint-Michel is a very student friendly area with cheap (10-15 euros) three course meals. The main bar areas are Rue Mouffetard, Oberkampf, République and Pigalle. For good coffee made properly (the only thing the French make badly), check out KB Café, 10 Bselles and Sugarplum.

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