Probably no one would discourage you from going abroad, and odds are that if the credits line up and the location sounds appealing, you’ll write any essay that can land you a spot in your abroad program of choice. It’s a haphazard habit, trying your hand at anything to find something that sticks without making an effort to know yourself beforehand. Note, this is the skepticism of an often pathless junior concurrently abroad and submitting resumes and cover letters for summer internships.
I’m the single SESP and, by default, LOC student in the European Union studies program. In my application, I talked about how I might want to work for a transnational organization or in an international capacity in the future, knowing that the four political science credits would fulfill four graduation requirements and two thirds of the credits necessary for a political science minor. My motives were well-intentioned: I’d never been abroad, I’d taken French in high school but only one quarter in college, and I needed credits for my major. Zero thought was put into applying for a direct exchange in France, and even when I was given the option between this program and my second choice—an IPD direct exchange in another location—I didn’t hesitate to choose EU Studies. Being aware of the paradox of choice and prone to neuroses, I felt a burden lift when I relinquished my class (and eventually housing and half my meal) choices to the program.
In the first weeks of the Sciences Po semester, which spans all of September to early December, I attributed my classroom malaise to the vibrancy of Paris relative to the classroom. It’s inevitable for concentration to wane when every hour in class competes with a stroll in a jardin or a tour of a musée. But after my fidgety excitement for the city faded, and I still couldn’t get through the readings, the problem revealed itself as fundamental lack of interest in the European Union. This is not to say that all the sessions have been dry or have failed to hold my attention, but it’s been a challenge for me to see value in studying, for example, the gradual formation of the EU and the specificities of its legislative and executive structures. My predilections are for theory and bigger-picture or social analysis, so while I do appreciate the program’s emphasis, modeled after French pedagogy, on speaking, debate, and group work, the material of the EU courses are an academic low point (the exception being the French Politics, Culture, and Society course).
With this in mind, I would encourage prospective study abroad students to look further into direct exchanges and bespoke curricula to avoid a quarter of academic want.*
It is now November, and classes have just resumed from break. Though the return has been welcome following a long week of travel, I wonder if my current contentment will last through the season.
* If language is a concern, it is possible for exchange students at Sciences Po to take classes in English as well as French, and I imagine this is the case for many other schools as well.