Roughly a month into my first semester at Sciences Po and I’ve managed to settle into some kind of routine. If you’ve been following the uofgabroad Snapchat (which you should) this week, I’ve been sharing some highlights. What I haven’t been as upfront with is that most of my days involve quite a bit of studying, as Sciences Po employs a more continuous rhythm of assessment, as is the case in many continental universities. This means that I’ve already tackled a fair bit of written assignments, quizzes, and presentations, glaring with envy at most other exchange students who are only here on a pass/fail basis and don’t have to think about that degree classification looming on the horizon.
That said, I’m thoroughly enjoying all of my courses here. Sciences Po is very big on having a practical approach to all its subjects to complement traditional theory-heavy academics, often resulting in quite a different learning environment, particularly in the more niche elective courses. In a typical week, I find myself developing app concepts for refugees, simulating the day-to-day tasks of UN human rights monitoring staff, and statistically analysing European voting behaviour.
I’ve still had plenty of time to explore other pastimes – so far, I’ve joined a weekly creative writing workshop, an a cappella group, and I’ve also been fortunate enough to be cast for a principal role in Sciences Po’s big musical theatre production for this year, which is the French musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I’ve also managed to squeeze in catching the obligatory September cold, banging my head into the wall over lengthy and bewildering paperwork tennis with the French authorities, and bleeding money all over the place. I like to keep busy.
With the obligatory updates out of the way, I’d like to talk about something that came up a lot among my international student friends back at UoG when discussing study abroad options for our third year – isn’t going on an exchange year while you’re already studying abroad a bit overkill?
I’m the kind of person who should probably seek help for my national commitment issues, so for me it was never even a question, but fact remains that this is a concern for many international students at Scottish universities. It’s definitely true that going on an Erasmus year when you’ve already moved abroad for your studies once or twice or fifteen times is a different experience than it is for those who have never lived overseas before their year studying abroad.
Here at Sciences Po, it’s almost more common than not for exchange students to have their ‘home university’ outside of their home countries. It’s hardly unusual to meet people like me who have to hesitate a bit before answering where they’re from and who find the whole idea of a home country a rather flexible concept. These people tend to testify that going abroad a second time is a slightly more sober experience. We don’t necessarily feel the need to treat our Erasmus year like THE BEST YEAR OF YOUR LIFE™, we don’t always begin our sentences with ‘well, back home…’ and we know it’s fine to not spend your days chasing photo-opps to emphasise what an extraordinary time you’re having – it’s still just your life, even in a different setting.However, I know I was a bit overconfident in estimating the impact of moving here for my Erasmus year. I’ve done this before, so I know it’s not that big of a deal, right? The truth is that moving abroad is not a generalisable skill. Each new place brings its own unique challenges and opportunities. My moment of self-doubt and oh god how do I France?? hit me when I was having trouble with a self-checkout machine in a supermarket and all the paperwork headaches, language issues, and social faux pas of the past month came rushing over me. I thought I was immune to that feeling, but it’s always going to be part of the package of settling into a new place – and it’s really a good sign that you’re upping the difficulty level of your life and getting some XP out of it.
My point is that going on an exchange year while you’re already studying abroad does not entail trying to invent the wheel twice. Your exchange year will find its own ways to affect and improve you, as moving to Scotland as a fresher once did. This is especially true if you go on exchange to a country where you won’t be speaking English. Think about your reasons to come to Scotland in the first place – a lot of them will still be important to you and will constitute good reasons to go on exchange as well.
My strongest argument for studying abroad while studying abroad is that you will probably not get this opportunity again anytime soon. Especially if you’re going through Erasmus, where you even get a very helpful monthly grant to help you out. You probably already know how to keep in touch with distant friends and family, and you’ll be back in only a semester or a year, as opposed to four years for a full degree in Scotland. You might as well!
I’m not saying that there isn’t a wide range of perfectly valid reasons to choose to stay in Glasgow, whether or not you’re an international student. This is specifically directed to the international students who are on the fence about choosing to go abroad once again during their degree, feeling it might be ‘too much’. I can only encourage you to send in your application. You won’t be the only one.
Questions? I’m always available on Facebook or my email (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com).