As we all emerge more or less unscathed from exam season, a lot of us are sadly coming at the end of our exchange year. I’m currently finding myself attending a lot more goodbye parties for people who are leaving Paris for the year than I’d like. As I’m staying until the beginning of August, the thought of having to say my own farewells is still far off, and something I will happily procrastinate on as long as possible.
The last couple of months have been among the most intense of my life. While I’m a person who always likes to keep busy juggling many different projects, I can honestly say that it’s been a bit too much, particularly in April. For some reason, most of my courses decided to schedule their finals before the actual last session of classes, meaning that April became the most high-stakes period of uni work of the year, every week’s calendar paged filled margin to margin with deadlines for papers, presentations and exams. I also started an internship with the Marketing and Communications department at Sciences Po. This on top of some rather time-consuming extracurricular commitments that may or may not be the main topic of this blog post meant that I found myself struggling to find enough hours in the day to sleep. It’s been a huge relief to come up for air after all that and ‘only’ focus on my now-full-time internship.
I’m very happy to be staying in Paris over the summer – I think I’ll have to be escorted by force to Charles de Gaulle when my actual departure date comes around – and also very happy about what I’ll actually be doing: after this internship with Sciences Po finishes up in July, I’ll be doing a short gig as a consular assistant at the Swedish embassy. I’m having a lot of fun seeing ‘the other side’ of my host university at the moment, mainly assisting with the events programme. Working 100% in French makes me feel like an idiot 78% of the time, but it’s a good final boot camp for my final months immersed in this language.
As many people are not staying past May, however, a lot of my friends here are currently taking stock of their time here, looking over what they liked the most and what they wished they could have done differently. One of the main things I hear is that they wish they would have left the ‘Erasmus bubble’ and integrated with local students more.
The ‘Erasmus bubble’ is a nearly ubiquitous part of the exchange experience. Everyone sets out wanting to make local friends, but it often proves far easier to stick with other international students once you’re here. Linguistic and cultural barriers prove stubborn, plus the fact that exchange students and local students do not always naturally mix in the same spaces on campus. It’s also almost too easy to bond with other international students over the fact that you’re all in the same boat. This has also been true of my experience as an international student in Glasgow to some extent, but here, the fact that I just can’t communicate as naturally in French as I do in English is a significant added barrier.
That said, I do believe that I have been at least somewhat successful in breaking out of the Erasmus bubble this year, and this can be attributed to one single reason: getting involved in societies that have more French students than international students and where the main language of interaction is French.
This is my excuse to gush about perhaps my favourite highlight of my year: performing in Sciences Po’s musical Notre-Dame de Paris (aka The Hunchback of Notre Dame). I was lucky enough to be cast as a principal role back in October and it’s been a blast ever since. It’s a big tradition at Sciences Po and our production team worked extremely hard over the course of the year to make the show as professional as possible. Throughout the month of April, we performed at Sciences Po and other Parisian universities as well as “proper” theatre spaces.
I feel like pretty much been at least as significant a learning experience as my classes here, especially as French has been the main language of communication in the cast. There were a few other internationals, but since the musical was all in French, it proved to be a really effective way to integrate with the ‘French side’ of campus, make friends, and practice my language skills. I would never have expected that I’d be belting out a solo in French on a professional Paris stage before I left for my exchange year, and I can’t say how grateful I am to have been part of this experience.
Additionally, I joined an a cappella group, mostly made up of French students, which also helped in making me feel more integrated in the ‘normal’ student body. I thus wholeheartedly recommend getting involved with student societies as much as possible. For me, music was the interest I used to bond with local students, but almost any activity that has you work in teams and meet people regularly can have the same effect.
In my opinion, the ideal is to find the balance between having a core of international friends with whom you can complain about the trials and tribulations of Erasmus paperwork or go on touristy trips and another circle of local friends that make you feel like you’re actually studying and living where you are. Right now, as most of my international friends have left Paris for the year (boo!), I’m certainly grateful to still have some Parisians to hang out with.
It’s still not an automatic process to make local friends even when you’re getting heavily involved in societies. It seems to be a challenge for almost everyone – but it’s so worth it.
Looking forward to the final chapter of my year here!
Questions? I’m always available on Facebook or my email (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com).