end of semester reflections

Sofia Falzoni, Sciences Po Exchange, Fall 2012

I would like to dedicate this last blog post to reflect on the academic work I’ve been doing while abroad. I’ve noticed that most of my recent blog posts have been related to travel and other outings of the sort; however, I do dedicate a good percentage of my time here to studying. Sciences Po definitely requires a lot of effort and is quite demanding.

The thing about the work load, though, is that most of it gets pushed back to the end of the semester. Except for a few exposes or midterms in the middle.

This semester, I took a total of six academic courses, and I had a final paper for almost every class, and two final written exams. Because everything is a “final” paper or a “final” exam, it all falls within the same two weeks. Also, the final papers are 8-10 page, SINGLE SPACED papers, which I was not particularly used to. And when I had to write them in French, it took a lot of time and effort, but was definitely worth it and I learned a lot in the end.

I am going to take some time here to mention some of these projects and to reflect a bit on some of the ones that have affected me the most.

Sociologie des enterprises criminelles: first French paper EVER. In this class we talked about criminal organizations, focusing on the Russian and the Italian mafia, and talked about their relationships to the economy, politics, the justice system, etc. And another part of the course was dedicated to financial delinquencies and fraud, money laundering, etc. We were allowed to choose our own topics, and for my final paper, I wrote about women’s role in the Italian mafia—it was a very interesting project to do. I was not very familiar with the subject beforehand, so it was all new information and I learned a lot! And writing a paper in French was also a nice exercise, although it did take a lot of effort and time.

Sciences de la paix, Sciences de la violence-Sortir de la violence politique. This was a larger seminar course on political violence. I also wrote this paper in French, and I wrote aboutGuantanamoBayand international law—whetherGuantanamois a “legal black hole” as it does not abide by the Geneva Conventions and its detention and interrogation practices violate human rights

Sociology of Urban Relegation. This was a class on urban sociology, and we studied discrimination, marginalization, and ghettoization of cities. For our projects, we had to do field research in the banlieue of Paris. To give a quick overview, banlieue means ‘suburb’, but it usually carries somewhat of a bad connotation, especially the banlieue in the northeast of Paris—such as Aubervilliers, Saint Denis, La Courneuve, etc. These banlieue are highly North African neighborhoods, and it’s where the 2005 riots took place. They’re considered the dangerous parts of Paris and no one really goes there unless you live there.

For my project, I went on a Saturday afternoon to walk around St Denis for a few hours. The overall atmosphere is very very different from Paris, and there are some high-rise buildings and projects. This class and the project were interesting because it helped me understand Paris from a different angle. If it wasn’t for this class, I probably would have never gone to Saint Denis, and I would have stayed with the same pre-notions I had about the banlieue without actually understanding the why and how of its current situation.

Boundaries in Europe- Citizenship, Societies, Identities. This was my favorite class. The professor was great, and it was a small 20 person class, which gave way to interesting discussions. And I now understand the European ‘crisis of immigrant integration’ in a different way. For my final paper, I compared how Islam and Spanish affect immigration policies in France and the US, and I did so by looking specifically at institutions, namely schools and the labor market. For example, I illustrated how the banning of headscarves in French public schools parallels the disintegration of bilingual education programs in theUS, as well as the rise of the English only movement. I talked about the perceived “threat” of Islam and Spanish in France and the US, respectively, and how these perceived threats shape policies and practices in both institutions. This course was very enlightening, and I plan to take this project as a ‘starting point’ for my Sociology senior thesis, which I plan to complete when I return to NU next year.

All of these final projects were very interesting to write, and I loved all of my courses at Sciences Po this semester—the quality of the professors, the courses, and the discussions were excellent.

Now, we have a month-long winter break until the start of the next semester! I will be staying in Europe the whole time—my family gets here later this week, and we will be doing a road trip to Prague, Budapest and Vienna for the holidays.

I have absolutely loved my experience in Paris and at Sciences Po thus far—I could not be happier that I am staying here for yet another semester!! I am very grateful to have had this opportunity, and I plan to keep taking full advantage next semester as well!

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!