I spent my time abroad in France at The Paris Institute of Political Studies, also known as Sciences Po. In BA (Hons) International Politics and Modern Languages, it is compulsory for students to either do a work placement or a study abroad in Year 3.
Living in France was a dream of mine, so this opportunity just made sense. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
Finding my new normal
A normal week would consist of around 10 hours of classes. Normally, I’d go to the university for these, have lunch with some friends and then go home.
The course load was intensive. During my free time, I’d do lots of work at the university’s library, but I also went out for long walks often because Paris is very pretty. I managed to complete around 20,000 steps a day!
In France, the main way to socialise is by eating and drinking, so my friends and I tended to either go out for lunch or dinner. I had to take advantage of the nightlife and enjoy the bars and clubs, and even though it was expensive, I managed to learn some student hacks to get good value for money.
Also, as you begin to get immerse in the culture and make new friends, you find the hidden gems and the places where local people go, which are often more affordable.
A different university experience
The French education system is a bit different to the UK. I didn’t have any lectures, as classes were all seminars. These were two hours long and really competitive, which was very hard to get used to. Every week, you’d receive your own ranking amongst the class, which is something you don’t see in the UK.
Another thing is that 10-20% of your grade was based on participation, so missing classes wasn’t a good idea.
It felt like everyone was striving to be the best all the time. This really motivated me, since I felt like I was studying with some of the best students and academics in France. My teacher for one of the courses was the French Prime Minister of Education! Other French presidents also came and gave speeches. This seemed like an opportunity I would never have.
Coping with loneliness
Starting a new chapter in a different country sounds exciting. However, the first few weeks were very challenging. I felt very lonely, I had no friends, and my mental health dipped because of this. This is something you can’t prepare for.
But, by week two, things were a lot better. I made lots of friends quickly and felt like I had started to find my place. It’s hard, but you have to be strong and remind yourself that this feeling isn’t permanent. Things will get better.
Growing and maturing as a person
My time abroad has really brought out the best of me.
Things were challenging and it was difficult to get used to, but I am proud of myself for not quitting.
Sometimes, you feel like you have imposter syndrome. At times I questioned why I was doing it and doubted my language levels. However, people say resilience is so important, and I now really know what they mean.
My biggest achievement, other than growing as a person, was receiving the highest marks in my class as an exchange student. To be top of the class after struggling and feeling like I wasn’t good enough was amazing.
I’m a lot more confident and happy, and I feel like I’ve unlocked a great part of myself that had been hidden away for so long.
Developing my language skills
Being surrounded by the language every day made such a difference. Before, I didn’t have much confidence when speaking, but once I got to France, the difference between learning French and actually interacting in the language was so noticeable.
I didn’t anticipate how hard it would be trying to understand people speak. Getting used to the pace and learning to listen are skills I've really developed. I’ve become a lot more confident in my French.
My advice for students considering studying abroad as part of your degree…
Go for it! You will grow so much as a person and you won’t regret it at all.
Don’t underestimate how difficult it will be, but at the same time don’t let that put you off. Remember that, if you’re struggling with something, it will get better and it all will be worth it.
You need to put everything into context and constantly remind yourself that what might feel like the end of the world often won’t matter in a few weeks’ time.
Take the opportunities, put yourself out there, and enjoy every moment.