I’ve now lived in Paris for a week and a half, and school just started for me this Monday. In this piece, I’m going through what I was thinking of before leaving, and how my experience has corresponded with my expectations and anxieties so far.
Living and studying in Edinburgh has prepared me for being on my own in another country, and in the last two years, I’ve learned to know more people living in Paris next year. Despite the life experience, I’ve gained in the past two years, leaving my home in Finland didn’t feel much different from moving away from home for the first time.
The language barrier
When I was moving to the UK, things felt simpler in a sense. I knew the language, and I was somewhat familiar with the culture and politics of the country before going. For France, it’s different: I’ve studied the language for six years but I’m not feeling fully comfortable with it, and I don’t feel familiar with what’s going on in French public discussion. I had never been to Edinburgh or Scotland before moving, and neither have I properly visited Paris. What’s different, though, is that the metropolitan area of Paris has a population of more than 10 million, while Edinburgh has a cosy little city centre where you can walk everywhere.
Many have fallen into the Erasmus trap of only speaking English with fellow exchange students. As I’m hoping to learn French better, I’m throwing myself in the deep end a bit. Half of my courses will be in French, which will mean French-language lectures where I’ll be struggling to catch what the lecturer is saying, especially as there are notes to write at the same time, too. I will also engage with the local Jeunes Européens (Young Europeans) group which operates in French, and where I get to meet French people not only from Paris but also from elsewhere in France.
So far things have worked out more or less. I’ve learned the basics about the Paris underground, and I get by using French. The Jeunes Européens group has invited me to be an editor on their Le Taurillon en Seine local print magazine, which will be unique language practice. In the JE social gatherings I’ve been to, I’ve been slightly awkward, but I’ve also been capable of contributing to the discussions.
As regards school, I was able to follow the lecturer in both of my French-language courses in week 1, although when I spoke myself, I probably sounded like I was a bit stupid. I was surprised by how many international and exchange students there were in both of my courses – it feels comforting to know that there will be many others who are in the same boat as me.
New academic environment
In Edinburgh, I’ve successfully combined academic success and heavy involvement in European affairs; if I was studying medicine or engineering instead of political science, this might have been different. Sciences Po will be a jump into the unknown in this regard, too. Grades won’t count towards my final mark but I do still need to pass. I’ll see if getting 11/20 will take a lot of effort – however, another thing is if I’ll be satisfied with barely passing. Seeking a balance between having a life and being able to live with my grades will be one thing for me to do.
The new environment is a positive, too: In Paris, the opportunities for studying European integration are more diverse than in Edinburgh. Edinburgh has been good for learning about British history and politics in some depth – in Paris, I’ll get to hear more about ‘la construction européenne’, without forgetting the history of the Fifth Republic.
At Sciences Po, the school seems to be more demanding than in Edinburgh. The reading lists are longer, and at least my EU-related course seems to be going somewhat deep academically. In a month I’ll be doing a 10-minute oral presentation in French about the role of Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand in the Single European Act and in the creation of a single European currency. I’m looking forward to learning more about the topic, but “wish me luck” is still my first thought!
Like everyone who’s going on Erasmus, I’m hoping to learn about life and grow as an individual. In a year’s time, maybe I’ll be a person who can call three countries home, who won’t dread doing a talk in French, and who knows more about Europe. The start hasn’t always been easy, but if everything was easy, maybe I wouldn’t be pushing myself enough. Overall, this looks like a start for a rewarding Erasmus year!