Two Months of College Abroad: Confessions of a New Sciences Piste

Bonjour, y’all.  

I assume many of our amazing and loyal readers already know, but this August I moved from Sofia, Bulgaria – my home for my humble 19 years on this Earth – to Reims, France, which will accommodate moi for the next two and support me in my attempt to successfully graduate from a French higher education institution. So yes, croissants and other donations are accepted at any times.

Although I’ve been residing in the Champagne and King-Crowning capital for a mere two and a half months, the colorful student life at Sciences Po has already got me pondering about what the student experience could or should be like, whether we’re making the most out of it and how this totally new era in our lives will shape us.

During the week-long October break, I got some extra time to reflect on the first half of the first semester in Sciences Po (according to most sophomores – the hardest), while simultaneously getting an objectively deserved break from it. My first thoughts when trying to summarize the beginning of what feels like a new chapter of not only my ever-struggling academic career, but also of my life in general, were the following:

 “We partied a lot. Didn’t ever drink champagne. Yikes, French is hard. I never imagined that getting 10/20 could make me so happy.”

Yet, lately I’ve been thinking that, although in general I’ve been super happy living in France, I could find ways to be more efficient and get even closer to ‘making the most out of it’. Yes, yes, I know it’s early for New Year’s resolutions and adopting a new-year-new-me mentality mid-semester, but you know what – pourquoi pas? 

Overcoming Fear of Missing Out

So the first objective would be to actually get over that integration week mindset that one should attend absolutely everything: every party and social function, join every association, or otherwise you’d be severely missing out. Might be just me, but upon arriving in Reims, the poor naive two-months-ago version of myself might have actually thought that time traveling and being at two places at a time existed in college. 

Basically, what I’ve come to realize is that early student life is beaming with interesting events, it’s easy to make friends and that’s amazing, but if at some point you start feeling guilty for not attending or participating in an event (because there’s always something happening), then that in a way sabotages all those cool opportunities. Not to say watching Netflix every minute when not studying is a better option, but not being too hard on yourself if you don’t go out every night might be. 

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Teaching Yourself a Subject

The second thing I realized is that although people, often rightfully, complain about the quality of the education they’re getting even in a renowned school like Sciences Po (hi there l’élite de la nation), you still have endless opportunities to learn stuff that are actually interesting. Yes, some lectures are chaotic or boring or confusing, but hey, I for one need to remind myself on a daily basis that I spent my last 8 years in a math school and I was dreaming of somebody taking history, sociology or philosophy seriously. Now I have this, and although it’s not perfect, at least it’s legitimized and people are all interested in social sciences. 

I think this could be valid in a broader sense – most people go to college because they’re genuinely interested in their subject of choice, and even if you end up having a lecturer who just reads his notes monotonously for two hours, chances are, it’s still at least partially connected to what you care about. Plus, we have all these books in the library and smart French kids who talk about politics so that was a quick self-reminder that although studying political science sometimes equals studying the art of bullshitting, don’t be lazy, Krisi, learn something – get your money’s worth. 

Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone

Yes, I am aware how cliché this one may sound, but there’s something to be said about how starting university at a new place in a new country for a lot of us is already such a big jump out of the well-established borders of your comfort zone; however, it is relatively easy to fall into a new comfy routine and not hold up to all the pre-college promises. I’ve heard people say how they told themselves they’ll really be unapologetically themselves in college or many other admirable goals and honestly, nothing but wild respect if you feel like you’re getting there. 

My pre-college resolution, as far as I remember, was to do adopt a really do-whatever-you-want-text-the-guy-first mentality and be bold, yet the other day at the library, I asked a friend to go to the restroom with me because I didn’t want to pass by everybody walking on my own. But once you think about it retrospectively and you realise that for instance even though X months could have passed in which you’ve been conveniently postponing making those changes, you could still get back on track. That being said – the rest of the semester, here I come!

Livin’ in a material Sciences Po world and I am a material Sciences Po girl

The last of my semi broad semi private advice would be to sometimes take the time and truly get out of the college bubble. It doesn’t mean that the bubble isn’t a happy place, but the thing with Sciences Po is (and I’m betting it’s not only my university) that it swallows you into its particular self-centred universe where everything, for better or worse, moves on its orbit – you talk, party, eat and breathe ScPo. Days could pass and there might be a wild and loud festival in the center of the city, but I wouldn’t know because I live literally in front of the campus and almost all of my friends live within 7 to 10 minutes of that area. It’s definitely convenient and it makes things easier, but sometimes it gets to the point where you don’t know anything else that’s going on. 

For me, going to study in a quiet salon de thé instead of the overcrowded library from time to time was very therapeutic. Speaking to the place’s owner isn’t like being completely integrated into the Reimois community, but it’s something. And another thing: starting a job outside of campus can always be a good way not only to make some extra money, but also to actually feel as if you’re living in a real city and not just on a campus. Say hello to your new Opera de Reims usher! 

And finally, the last thing I associate with the bubble (or the getting out of the bubble) is that when I was applying to Sciences Po, I was reading a multitude of media outlets for at least 30 minutes a day – Bulgarian, French, U.S. news and more, to prepare for the oral exam. Contrary to my expectations, ever since I actually became a student here, I read way less news. It’s true that in college you have way more work, but still I intend on starting to read the news every morning for at least 15 minutes, because lately the only news outlet has been the Sciences Po Facebook group where associations spam events information – so not too sophisticated, I know. Although the Sciences Po Institute for Shitposting for Bourgeois Teens memes are good.

All in all, during the break, as I got to visit friends outside of France and discuss with them our college experiences – some of whom just starting and others living abroad for more than 4 years, I got inspired to actually be aware of how I spend my time here. Those past two months passed so quickly that they made me think ‘Hey, before I know it, it will be over’. 

So to get back to my initial thoughts, I shared: We partied a lot. Didn’t ever drink champagne. Yikes, French is hard. I never imagined that getting 10/20 could make me so happy. What I would try to do from now on  is to find that balance between going out, but not just for the sake of going out, studying and reading outside of class, staying engaged in the campus life, but also getting out in the city and being informed about news beyond the college newspaper, and generally just be happy. Oh yes, and start drinking champagne!

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