By Justine Micheli Mallou , Exchange to Institut d’études politiques de Paris
August 21st, 2013 marks the departure date that soon changed the course of my undergraduate career at Simon Fraser University. I am a third-year student in the French Cohort Program pursuing a double major in Political Science and French. Making the preliminary choice of destination is one of the most important decisions of my exchange experience. There are three main reasons for which I chose Sciences Po in Paris, France. Firstly, it was the desire for pure academic challenge. As a world-renowned Grande École, Sciences Po is one of the top French universities in France which classifies as a leading institution in Social Sciences and Humanities.. Secondly, because the main campus is located in the heart of Paris, I was reassured that on top of taking a full-course load in French, I would also have the opportunity to immerse myself in French culture by living within the central metropolis of the Parisian periphery. Lastly, I had also envisioned creating and establishing numerous ties through meeting different students from all over the world.
During my one-year formal exchange in France, I was aiming for a more enriched and cultural experience where I would have an opportunity to communicate with the local people. I also wanted to improve my spoken French so I rented a duplex to live with a host family. To say the least, my experience was definitely different compared to the majority of Canadian students living either at the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris (CIUP) or those renting a studio with a roommate. I had a fulfilling experience with my host family because they treated me as one of their own and that gave me the opportunity to fully immerse myself in French culture. It was not too long after I realized that being a resident in France is completely different than being a visitor. Tourists who visit Paris for the weekend don’t have the same experiences as the local citizens. While we may all think that Paris is the city of lights and that almost everyone eats a buttered croissant and coloured macaroons for breakfast underneath the Eiffel Tower, the reality of living behind this colourful expectation can be easily hidden. Just like any other city, everyone works hard to make a living – or as the French would say, to win their life.
Having been granted the opportunity to study and live in France was beyond a dream come true. In an academic level, the bar was raised high and to say the least, I was challenged. I was faced with students who mastered the art of exposés. Nonetheless, it was with great pleasure to have been surrounded with like-minded and ambitious students who strive hard to reach their goal. I learned so much not only about international relations but also about intercultural relations through the social exchanges I’ve made with my peers. In fact, one year of formal exchange is already a first-hand experience of diplomacy and exploration. In a personal level, I was encouraged to further develop an open-minded spirit in order to absorb the uniqueness and the diversity of the cultural differences between my peers and myself. I learned the importance of liberty and independence and realized the value of stepping out of my bubble to discover the beauty that lies somewhere once unknown. If you are reflecting about taking part on an exchange program, I can assure you that the best decisions are made when you feel that you will be put outside your comfort zone. Taken from the words of Theodore Roosevelt himself, “Believe you can do it, and you’re halfway there”.