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painting a picture of my life in Paris

]Sofia Falzoni, Sciences Po Exchange, Fall 2012

Hello everyone!

This post was actually written on October 6th, 2012 but unable to be uploaded due to technical difficulties… I apologize.

It’s a little bit long but there’s too much stuff I wanted to talk about!!

So I’ve been in Paris for a bit over two months. I absolutely love everything about Paris, about Sciences Po, and about my experience so far. To give you a general idea of what I’ve been up to these past six weeks, I’ll break down this blog into sub-parts:

My Apartment:

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…is beautiful. I am really lucky to have found an apartment before getting to Paris; the apartment search is  literally a nightmare! I know people who had to live in hostels for two weeks before they found apartments. I live in the 8th arrondissement, which is a pretty central part of paris and I am close to everything; its a 40 minute walk to Sciences Po, about 20 minutes on the metro. It is very very small.. 14 squared meters.. It`s probably about the size of a dorm roo, in Elder or Allison at NU, maybe a liiiiittle bit bigger, and also has a counter with a sink and microwave and a small bathroom. And two little french style windows.

Welcome Program:

I got here about four days before the Welcome Program, so I had a few days to settle into my new apartment, set up my French bank account, French cell phone, and familiarize myself with the city that would be my home for the next 9 or 10 months.. The Welcome Program took place the last week of August, and it is somewhat similar to Wildcat Welcome at Northwestern. We had “methodology classes” during the day (mine were in French, but this depends on what language level you’re in) and then in the evenings they have what’s called “A Bar a Day”, which is exactly what it sounds like, and it’s just a great way to meet people and chill.

This is my idea of getting to know parisian cafes:

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It’s really easy to get around in Paris. The most common mode of transportation, I would say, is the metro. There are 14 metro lines and they all connect and they literally take you anywhere you need to go. And it’s super fast. Not even close to the El. However, the metro closes at 12:30am on weekdays and 1:30am on weekends, which can sometimes be a bit annoying to get home. So if you’re staying out past those times, you have a couple of options: 1) walk 2) take a cab (which can be impossible to find) 3) take a “Noctillien” night bus (but they run every 40 minutes and don’t go as many places as the day buses) or 4) Take the Velib!!! The Velib is awesome. It’s a bike-rental system all over the city. There’s a lot (I don’t know how many) of bike stations throughout Paris, and you can get a bike, ride it, and return it at the next bike station. It only costs 29 Euros for the whole year and it’s totally worth it, and it’s the cheapest way to get home at night. And it’s also an awesome way to get to know the city, riding around Paris. I also ride Velib to school some times when it’s nice —it’s faster than the metro. For example, it takes me about 20-25 minutes to get from my house to Sciences Po in metro, and about 15 minutes on the bike.

Sciences Po:

I could not be happier with Sciences Po, I love all of my courses and the people and everything it has to offer. I’ll sub-divide this section to talk about different aspects of Sciences Po

This is the entrance of ScPo, the day before welcome program started. I have not seen this street this empty since that day.. it’s always packed with students socializing and smoking

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So I am taking six courses (which is normal for Sciences Po). Each class meets once a week for 2 hours. One of those classes is a lecture course (cours magistral, which means that we also have a discussion section that meets for an additional 2 hours).

I am taking two classes in French and four in English—I figured I would start slow with the amount of French courses, since I am staying the whole year, and take more French courses next semester when I am more acclimated to Sciences Po and the style.

So the classes I am taking are:

Right or Wrong, Politics and Ethics (this is the big lecture course)

The Ethics of War (this is a ‘seminar course’ so it’s like 60 people, lecture-style)

Sciences de la paix, Sciences de la violence—sortir de la violence politique (another seminar, in French)

Sociology of Urban Relegation (small 20 person class)

Boundaries in Europe-Citizenship, Identity, and Immigration

Sociologie des enterprises criminelles


All of the professors are French, even for the courses that are taught in English. Most of the classes have a nice mix of French and international students, except for the big lecture course, which is all international students for some reason..

Unfortunately, Sciences Po does not have anything like CTECs, so when I chose my classes in July I just chose it based on the titles and the description. However, I am very impressed with the level of the professors—they are all so knowledgeable and are experts in their fields.


Evaluation Method:

The evaluation method is different than Northwestern. For all of my courses (except for Ethics of War), the grade is divided into three parts: 1) class participation 2) an exposé and 3) a “dissertation” or long essay.

Exposés are basically oral presentations, and Sciences Po places a lot of emphasis on these.



There’s a lot of students at Sciences Po, undergraduates, international students, and masters students all mixed in the same campus, sharing the same cafeteria, going out to the same parties. The college system at Sciences Po is a bit different, for French students at ScPo, it’s divided like this: 3 years of undergraduate and 2 years of master’s, where they choose the specialization. During their 3rd year, the French students are all required to go abroad. And international students (like me) come to fill their spots. There’s a lot of international students—about 800 I think.  So the French students in my classes are other undergraduate students, so they’re, for the most part, second years. I’ve also met a lot of master’s students, who are only one or two years older than me, and have just returned from their experiences abroad. Most of the people I’ve met are very friendly, and it’s very easy to get to know people if you try, in my opinion.


Student Associations:

There’s also a lot of Student Clubs at Sciences Po. The main ones are the BDE (Bureau des Eleves) and the AS (Association Sportif). They plan parties, weekend trips, etc etc. and they’re open to all students. I actually signed up for two sports classes, which I get ‘credit’ for (but I doubt Northwestern will allow me to transfer this credit….) I am taking a “gym-stretching” class and also tennis lessons. I’ve found that sports classes are a great way to meet other French students.

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I also went to Reims on a weekend trip with a student Association called “Stop and Go”, we went and stayed with students from the Sciences Po campus in Reims. We stopped in a place called Champillon where they make champagne:


So, I think that covers most of Sciences Po.


So far I’m loving my study abroad experience! I can’t believe I’ve already been here for a month and a half! I’ve already done two exposés and the school work just keeps piling up. Paris is magnificent, there’s always something to do.

And next weekend I am going to Italy (Bologna and Florence) to meet up with some Northwestern friends there!

Until next time!


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