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Studying at Sciences Po

Amy Glazier-Torgerson, Sciences Po Exchange, Fall 2013

Normally, course registration is an exciting time for me at Northwestern. I love browsing through the course catalogue, imagining myself the courses that I systematically add to my shopping court. After finalizing my schedule, I take a screenshot of the first week and post it on my Facebook page, along with a nerdy comment about how excited I am for Special Topics in SESP: Race and Ethnicity next quarter (to any students reading: this class was amazing!) When I registered for Sciences Po classes, I got more of a rush of anxiety than joy.

Course registration was pretty scary. Unlike Northwestern’s tiered registration times, Sciences Po undergraduates register all at once, exchange students and native French speakers alike. I didn’t know about the need to register exactly at the minute registration opened, so when I tried to register, every English speaking class was closed. Since Sciences Po is officially bilingual, I had been hoping to take at least one English class. I registered for classes that looked very interesting– Punishment in the 20th Century, Introduction to Ethics, The Fifth Republic- Constitutional Law, a French language class, and the History of European Construction– but I was more than a little nervous about them all being in French.

Luckily, the welcome program calmed most of my nervous. I hope every future Sciences Po international student given the opportunity takes it to participate in the welcome program. During that week, my group “Daumesnil” (not the easiest French word to pronounce on your first day in France if you’re a timid French speaker like me) learned about the unique methodology of Sciences Po, becoming familiar with assignment terms like “exposé,” “etude de cas,” and “dissertation.” We all shared the same fear of understanding nothing, and thanks to such a realization we supported one another’s French and helped each other progress. I met plenty of other native English speakers taking on all French classes, and knew that I was up for the challenge of studying in another language.

Now that I am nearing the end of my academic semester, I can safely say that my classes went just fine. One class was completely wrong for me: I was the only international student among 120 French law majors in a class where the professor did not know that I existed. Luckily, you don’t leave Northwestern completely when you study abroad, and my IPD advisor was very helpful in finding a solution. My other classes challenged me in new ways. I’ve given oral presentations on the history of the legal term “Crime Against Humanity” and its implications in the trial of the Nazi Klaus Barbie, practiced understanding a French-Canadian accent, and figured out how to focus for back-to-back two-hour lectures. Classes run in a very different manner here and are more grounded in 2-4 big assignments, such as oral presentations, than any weekly homework or readings. My classes have been at the core of my experience in Paris, as they have exposed me to both native and non-native French speakers, unique morsels of history in very specific domains, and given me the opportunity to immerse myself in a new environment. Although I love being a Sciences Po student, I’m looking forward to being a full-time Northwestern student again.

Yesterday, I registered for classes at Northwestern, and it was an exciting time, just like I remembered it. Having struggled with expressing myself in my native language this semester, I’m thrilled to be returning to an intellectual environment where I am confident in my contributions to the class. I even miss the usual twice-weekly readings. When I posted my schedule to Facebook this time, I commented that the screenshot proved that I would be returning in just a few weeks. It is such a bittersweet feeling to return to my NU home by leaving Paris. I have to admit, I mostly posted the comment to believe it myself.

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