At 16.45 tomorrow I will walk out of the 28 Rue des St. Pères and bask in the glorious sunshine of a late Parisian afternoon as a free student. The second semester will have ended and with it the final pages of my two semesters at Sciences-Po…
249 days since I first stepped off the metro at Rue du Bac, an avid young exchange student with ruffled hair, blue sunglasses and a pair of terribly outdated leather sandals, what have I actually learnt?
Firstly, forget the beach wear. It was the first remark an ex-ministerial cabinet aide turned politics professor made to me. At Sciences-Po people dress properly and nobody would ever dare go to a lecture in pyjamas or a tracksuit, here in the VII arrondissement, style is as important as substance.
They teach you that when it comes to those damned exposés.
It is just so French. You are assigned a topic, which everyone fights over like rats aboard a sinking ship, in the ‘première séance’ and if you are lucky you get a good topic, if not then that is too bad. Armed with the infamous 2.2 plan you must unveil to the class your findings without stuttering or worse, being irrelevant. When this sorry spectacle ends after an agonizing10 minutes the teacher may decide to toy with you, probing you with delicate questions… Always sound confident, even if talking complete nonsense. It is important once you get to the ‘concours de l’ENA’.
In between classes you scuttle off in search of one of the numerous coffee machines and in exchange for a 50 cent coin get a cup of warm brown coloured water. It does the trick so you can face the next two hours of ‘droit public’, a module you landed because being an exchange student you clearly failed the natural selection of ‘les inscriptions pédagogiques’. Never mind, with Darwin’s help you’ll be faster next semester…
Now this next point is another French exception. The toilets are mostly unisex which is so quite awkward because you are left standing outside a cubicle waiting impatiently beside a girl who probably thinks you are abnormal because you are doing everything possible to avoid eye-contact. So after that you wander off in search of ‘la cafette’ where you hope that you do not need to queue for hours in exchange for a ‘baguette crudité’. Say please and thank you, then walk off, you have work to do.
Outside the 27 Rue St. Guillaume you carefully steer through a thick cloud of smog that would have made Charles Dickens proud. Some coughing and wheezing later you emerge in ‘le Basile’, a Sciences-piste’s favourite waterhole and grab a rare chair to join your friends for a well-deserved pint during the happy hour. Wiping the froth from your mouth you explain to them where you are from and why you chose this place when your friends are abroad in la Guadeloupe or Martinique. They, in between cigarette pauses, tell you their story although they tend to be more intrigued by yours…
Before you know it you find yourself whisked off in a group to someone’s apartment for more drinks, quickly forgetting your ‘droit public’ lesson. Someone has brought some ‘Ricard’ so everyone bursts into some anti-provincial bashing and more drinks are drunk. You end up having some very surreal conversations with a girl who doesn’t understand English humour. She doesn’t understand ‘le second degré’ much either with is not a great help.
French people are not very funny: fact.
You wake up the next morning with a blistering headache, not knowing where you are or quite remembering who owns the apartment. Hastily getting dressed for your 10.15am lecture given by the President of the Conseil d’Etat, you realize that you are late!!! Stress fuelled and with complete disregard for even the basics of appearance you rush off to your lecture on ligne 12.
Upon arriving outside le 13 Rue de l’université you receive a text from the girl who didn’t find you particularly funny: lecture cancelled.
Looking up at the sky in search of an answer you break into a smile. You are at Sciences-Po, one of the best political science universities in the world and although it may take a while to realize the truth..249 days since you first sat down on the uncomfortable wooden benches of ‘Boutmy’, despite all the whingeing about midterms, moaning about deadlines, you actually loved every minute of it.
And I mean every minute.
(Or at least that is what they pay us the flight back home to say)