On studying in Paris, ‘une expérience très précieuse’
Stories From Paris
Exactly one month from today, I will begrudgingly tote a slew of belongings down to Charles de Gaulle. I will hoist my suitcases onto a conveyor belt and watch them disappear. My passport will be glanced over by an overwhelmingly disinterested Frenchman. I will feel a pang of melancholy as I pass by gaudy souvenir shops and the in-airport Ladurée.
Slowly and over several hours, I’ll carry out these many rituals which have become — during the course of the year — regular and comfortingly mundane.
Then, I will board the afternoon direct-flight to Newark, New Jersey. I’ll stare out of my tiny window, at the uniformly grey scene, and desperately wish I could see Paris. That I might meander through the Louvre. Order ice cream from Bertillon, even if it stains my blouse again. Walk along the Seine and smirk (in my faux-Parisian naiveté) over the giddy, non-francophone tourists examining the bouquinistes’ selection of classics.
And even after all of the problématiques and exposés, I will want to pass la péniche at Sciences Po one more time. To witness a flood of immaculately-clothed students encircling a table that’s distributing tickets to hear Ban Ki-Moon or Koffi Annan.
While I still have six more countries worth of travel before this imminent departure, I nonetheless find myself already reflecting on this collective experience, facing the unanticipated disparity between who I was in August and who I am presently.
Of course, human beings, by our own nature, are neither static nor fixed. We all arrive at moments in which a past incarnation of ourselves appears as a detached, distant figure. Even perhaps, a caricature. And it’s this sense of space which stresses the striking magnitude of our own personal development, whatever the direction.
Fellow upperclassmen, recollect yourselves as a first-year. Or if you dare — in high school.
So while change is inevitable and derives from numerous sources, I propose that the amount of complex, individual growth that you’d accrue from studying abroad is likewise unfathomable. After all, life in Paris can’t just be a Camembert-“tradi”-and-Bourgogne picnic, where you frolic through enchanted rues or contemplate Beckett over a crème and pain au chocolat.
It’s more than that, in both the best and worst way. Life abroad is dealing with bed bug infestations. Leaks. Malfunctioning plumbing. Roommates who do not speak your native language. Navigating an entirely foreign academic structure (socially, culturally and practically). Even scrambling to find out what you can do for food on a Sunday afternoon.
La vie à l'étranger can also be: Distinguishing a haze of twenty-syllable German street names in Berlin or interpreting the Italian national rail, the British tube or the loop in Glasgow. It’s quite literally finding where you are in the world, as an individual and embracing it. It is for this reason that I strongly recommend pursuing any international opportunity — which, I would like to emphasize, is not necessarily expensive. Beyond the wealth of scholarships that exist, you can methodically select locations and accommodations (like homestays) which make studying abroad more than feasible.
In closing, these a few of the reasons why you should seriously give thought to a semester or year in Paris, France, studying at a French university like Sciences Po.
One: Paris is a student city. All major museums are free, and there are discounts on cultural events (e.g. opera tickets), transportation (like cartes jeunes, which can reduce train travel in France by over 50%), etc. I have studied in the garden of the Rodin museum, across from the Thinker. Two: the food, culture, architecture, art and history. Three: The beautiful people. Four: Exposure to the fascinating sphere of French politics. Five: Contemporary Paris is not “just” French. It’s an international city, with neighborhoods and cuisine that reflect the globe in all its diversity. Six: Paris is conveniently central to both French and European travel. It is also highly connected with the many destinations of Ryan Air. A 26-euro flight to Dublin tomorrow. Why not? Seven: Nature. Paris hosts numerous, truly extraordinary parks throughout.
Eight: Sciences Po. I strongly endorse Sciences Po, the Political Science Institute of Paris, for anyone who aspires to leadership or creating change to consider this university. According to QS’s 2015 report, it ranked as the fifth best university for political science and international politics in the world. Moreover, its environment is pervasively “poli sci.” The professors are renowned in academics or come from impressive, professional careers. For example, the newly-elected dean of its PSIA division is a former PM of Italy. Students are constantly campaigning, voting and organizing — there’s a profound atmosphere that everyone on campus is going to do something. A contagious environment of momentum. And as an American abroad in a school of politics, you will reach new heights of diplomacy and sensitivity.
And so, I hope you think of Paris. It has changed me for the better, and it’s something which will always be with me.
No matter, I’ll always have Paris.
Tess Rosenberg is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in English and political science with a minor in French. Her column, “Stories From Paris,” runs once a month on Thursday.