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"Baguettes and Beans: A French Exchange on a Student Budget"


Alison – Canberra, Australia

I was in my fourth year of a Bachelor of Arts/Laws degree at the ANU when I took the plunge and jet-setted off to Paris to study International Relations at Sciences Po. It was at times a bumpy ride but has been one of the most transformative experiences of my life, through which I have made lifelong friends and memories that I will carry with me forever.

My journey started in Canberra in late 2014, where I nominated to study in France and began the gruelling and somewhat quagmire-esque experience of navigating the ANU exchange application and French visa process. At times this task seemed daunting, but was ultimately worth every minute I spent sending frantic last minute emails, poorly photocopied documents, and arranging meetings with ANU staff. Once this was completed, I was ready to head off on exchange in Semester 2, 2015.

After a 36-hour flight (stopping for a brief layover in Kuala Lumpur and Dubai), I landed in Paris. From there, haphazardly bouncing from one squeaky floored Airbnb to the next, I found myself renting a (rather compact) Paris flat in the 7th arrondissement. It was absolutely beautiful. The hike up seven flights of stairs was definitely worth it (and necessary, as I proceeded to eat my weight in bread and cheese) when it meant I could sit out on the roof at night, looking over Paris.

Starting at Sciences Po was where my exchange really kicked off. I had met a few fellow students in the weeks leading up to semester, but was lucky enough to take part in the Sciences Po Welcome Program. This is a must do: I was able to meet so many people from all over the world, many of whom became some of my closest friends. Together we explored Paris, played Pétanque in les Arenes de Lutece, went clubbing at l’Opera, hiked in Fontainebleau, had Christmas and dinner parties, picnicked at les Buttes Chaumont and le Parc Monceau and had drinks on the banks of the Seine. I also travelled with them to Rouen, Lille, Auvers-sur-oise, Provins, Mont-Saint Michel, Rennes, Monet’s Garden in Giverny, Prague, Bologna, Amsterdam, Rome and Florence. After semester ended, I was lucky enough to travel further: to Cologne, Berlin, Copenhagen, Sweden and Edinburgh.

The university itself was incredible. Situated in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Sciences Po inhabits a number of buildings in this area. The teaching was of the highest quality, and it was at Sciences Po that I discovered my strong interest in strategic studies and geopolitics. This sparked my interest in Australia’s position as a middle power in international relations, and geo-strategic relations with China and the US, which later led me to successfully apply for an internship with the Australian Institute of International Affairs. I was also able to participate in extra curricular activities at Sciences Po, including mixed martial arts, horse riding and activities with Sciences Po Environnement. Studying in French was at times a challenge (mainly for my teachers when it came to interpreting my rather inventive attempts at French grammar), but I found doing half of my courses in English and half in French allowed me to both immerse myself in the language, whilst making the most of my exchange and the subjects I was studying.

My experience on exchange was undoubtedly marked by the November terrorist attacks. This was a tragic and devastating event that will leave its mark on all of us. However, I was so humbled by the strength and determination of the French people, who came together and stood for what is so important in life: doing the things that you love with the people who mean the most. If I learnt anything from this experience it was the importance of embracing life head on, and making the most of everything it has to offer.

I am now back in Canberra and have almost finished my degree. My exchange at Sciences Po has opened up so many paths in life, and no matter where I end up I will remember Paris, the friends I made and the incredible experiences I was so lucky to have. It may take awhile, but I’ll definitively see Paris again, and eat a ridiculous amount of croissants in one sitting. A bientôt Paris.