Bachelor of Arts/Laws
Bachelor of Arts/Laws

First word on Sciences Po - be open to a completely different experience to UQ. From my experience, and speaking to my Parisian friends, the teaching quality is exceptional. I ended up with six subjects – the standard Sciences Po loading, and found it roughly equivalent. Having the opportunity to study Europeanised European Politics was fantastic, but what made the experience was the professors. I had the privilege to have a former senior advisor to two German Chancellors and German Ambassador teach my Diplomacy class, two EU recognised academics and a tutor that had spent the previous year in Afghanistan, just to name a few.

However, forget the internet – Sciences Po does things quite ‘traditionally’. The lack of ‘always-on’ information sources, marking criteria, 24/7 study spaces and lecture recordings, plus Sciences Po ‘3 strikes and you fail’ policy, whilst somewhat confronting the first week, was a fantastic motivator. Quickly learn the ‘French Methodology’ for your multiple presentations and essays and you’re set.

Sciences Po is very, very international - besides you are a multitude of other European and International students. The ‘Welcome Week’ (highly recommended) allows you to meet all the other ‘new’ exchange students. Studying in English meant that a lot of those people I shared classes with – which brought about some great friendships! In the end, you’ll find that the international crew ends up organising a pile of events around town – that and the numerous cultural events Paris puts on (Nuit Blanche was stunning) you’ll rarely find a quiet evening.

Getting around Paris is ultra simple, the Metro becomes your best friend. Going for European Semester 1, it was warm enough to use the bike share scheme (Velib) for most of the semester, which was fantastic. My route took me past Notre Dame and the Louvre every morning, and, at 30 Euros for a year pass, there’s nothing cheaper – add to that a phone app that tells you the locations of the bike stations (everywhere) and you find yourself exploring all the streets, sights and sounds of Paris pretty quickly. Note however, that almost everything is closed on Sunday’s in Paris, but open late every other night, so plan accordingly.

Sourcing accommodation is always fun. If your planning ANY travel beforehand, I would suggest arranging an apartment before you go - many of my friends ended up having problems once they arrived. Sciences Po, whilst helpful, does not have on-site accommodation. They offer a temporary 1-month solution on the edge of Paris, but don’t expect to be able to stay there for your entire exchange. Most students end up living in a studio or with friends or other students.

Don’t expect anything in Paris to be cheap, except the baguettes (1 Euro each). The Metro is 65-70 Euros for your Month Pass, but that comes with unlimited Metro/Bus travel and free regional travel on the RER/SNCF regional lines on weekends. Accommodation will be upwards of 600 Euros a month sharing, or expect to pay 800-900 Euro’s for a personal studio. I stayed in the 11st arrondisment, and it was wonderful. Try to avoid staying near uni/ on the river as they command higher prices. For phones, their pre-paid plans are not generous; Orange is the best for coverage, SFR slightly cheaper but don’t bank on watching YouTube for hours on end! Your Sciences Po ID gets you free entry to all the Museums in France, and usually discounts in the EU as well. I found that taking in a little culture was a great enhancer to the experience; they do it really well in Paris in particular. I once ended up listening to a choral festival at 1 in the morning – anything’s possible.

Note the French Visa and Immigration system - when you get to Paris you have to get a ‘residency’ permit, which, apart from requiring you to have a medical, is traditionally organised in the manner of French Bureaucracy. Sciences Po will help you facilitate this, or you can do it yourself through the local OFII office. My advise, understand the requirements, do it early, and have a number of French Google translated ‘explanatory notes’ to deal with the immigration staff (who do not speak much English) Opening a bank account is the same – paperwork entirely in French and can take 21 days or more (one point on that, they love cheques still, but Credit cards with chips are usually accepted, and all ATM’s take foreign bank cards – so if you don’t need a French Bank Account, don’t get one) Check out the CAP, the French social security system – as it may subsidise your housing, however whether or not you find it worth your while to complete the paperwork, get the required letters and sort out the correct Visa (there are multiple types, some eligible, some not)before you leave will dictate your eligibility. However, it makes for some great stories – start early and embrace the system!

Top Tips:

  • Get to know your local baker/sweets shop (“boulangerie” in French) – it just makes the local village atmosphere.
  • Learn some French before you leave – even if its ‘hello, how are you today’ and ‘the metro is broken.’ Most people spoke some degree of English, and I found a mix of French-English could get me through manu scenarios (provided you started in French first).
  • Get the Velib Pass (available at Hotel de Ville– the Town Hall) and explore the back alleys and side streets of Paris! The riverfront is a great jem, especially Ile de Cite on a Friday or Saturday night. ‘picnics’ in the many parks within Paris is also a popular thing to do!
  • Go to everything the Uni and the societies put on – everyone is super friendly. Attend the welcome program – it’s the best way to adjust to new people, new surroundings and new ways of doing things.
  • Shop at Picard for Frozen goods, Franprix (cheap) or Monoprix (more expensive, better quality) for a supermarket, the rest at local fruit, bread and other shops – usually all within walking distance. 
  • Have fun and explore Europe. Most things are under 2 hours – the Eurostar to London, Megabus to Amsterdam, flights to Spain and Italy, the TGV to Lille and the French Riveria are just some of the options.

Overall, I would not trade my Sciences Po experience for anything. Living abroad can be a challenge. However, embrace it and there is a lot, and I mean a lot to gain. From life-long experiences, new friends, invaluable knowledge and beyond – its been life-changing!

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