Peter Hourston: Study Abroad at Sciences Po

Wednesday 1 April 2020

Hello! Thank you for taking the time to read this Study Abroad blog.

I am Peter Hourston and I have been studying International Relations (IR) at Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris (the Paris Institute for the Study of Political Science, commonly known as Sciences Po). Sciences Po is a specialist institute covering the core social sciences (law, history, political sciences, sociology, economics and IR). It has seven campuses around France as well its headquarters in the cool Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighbourhood of Paris. This blog will explain some of the application stages of the study abroad programme, how I prepared for the placement and the things I have been doing in Paris.

Bridging new horizons

My first piece of advice when applying for study abroad in second year is to decide what you want to do. This may seem obvious but having a good rationale for going abroad simplifies things down the track and should (hopefully) make your time abroad more enjoyable. It should go without saying that St. Andrews is a very good university and so you need to have a good reason to leave St. Andrews for a semester/year – how can you make your study abroad placement amplify and augment your student experience from St. Andrews?

Blue Sky Thinking over Paris

Why did you apply to Sciences Po?

In my case I had some quite clear priorities which guided my application. I wanted to study at an institution that was well-regarded in IR (as St. Andrews is) but allow for a different range of course choices. I also wanted to go somewhere where I could develop my language skills. I had studied French and a little Spanish at school and wanted to be able to use that. Finally, I wanted to live in a global city. I love our coastal town in the East Neuk of Fife, but I wanted to have a different living experience that I have in St. Andrews.

Sciences Po ticked all these boxes. It is extremely renown for political science/IR and is actually quite famous in France. I imagine you probably looked up Sciences Po on Google after reading the first paragraph (don’t worry, none of my non-IR friends in St. Andrews had heard of it either). However, in France everyone knows Sciences Po. Emmanuel Macron went here and so did four of his predecessors. And of course, being in the heart of the capital of France, it was the perfect match.

Sciences Po HQ

How did you prepare before departure?

Simply put, you cannot be over-prepared. Plan, plan and plan again. The French like their bureaucracy so make lists of all the documents you need, make photocopies and save scans of them on a cloud drive. Speak to previous study abroad students – just ask the Global Office and they should be able to put you in touch. Also, find out if there are any other St. Andrews students going to your location (again, ask the Global Office) and help each other.

If you are specifically interested in finding out more about how I prepared for Paris – finding accommodation, setting up a French bank account (top tip – you can never have too much paper) etc. just get in touch at [email protected] .

So, we all want to know – what is Sciences Po really like?

I have very much enjoyed my time here. It is very different from St. Andrews, but in a good way. I feel my semester here has complemented my time in St. Andrews. I have enjoyed being able to use my knowledge and skills from St. Andrews (such as in IR theory) as well as learn new things.

Sciences Po puts greater emphasis on the link between theory and practice. There is much opportunity for class presentation and many courses will include a presentation. I feel this is useful preparation for life beyond academia. Of course, there are still essays to write.

Courses here have far fewer credits than St. Andrews (10 ECTS for a ‘lecture’ course and 5 ECTS for a ‘seminar’ course). Therefore, I have been able to take a broader range of courses had I been in St. Andrews, where an IR module is 15 ECTS. I take one lecture class (which has two two hour sessions a week) and four seminars (two hours per week each). Therefore, I have 12 hours of contact time a week, which is more than I would have in St. Andrews. I quite like this, and it gives me a good structure to my week. I have been able to take really interesting classes that would not have been available in St. Andrews such as a French Politics lecture course in political science and an inter-disciplinary Policy Studies seminar.

What about extra-curricular?

Sciences Po probably have a smaller range of clubs and societies than St. Andrews for the simply reason that there is only 3,000 students on the Paris campus. However, there is still a really good offering. I have joined Sciences Po Nations Unies (the Model United Nations society). As well as participating in Model UN conferences with other universities they also organise visits to some of the many embassies and diplomatic missions in Paris (another advantage of living in a big city). Earlier in the semester I went to the Embassy of the Republic of Bangladesh with some of my fellow students. We had a very interesting discussion with the Ambassador, His Excellency Mr. Kazi Imtiaz Hossain, and his Political Counselor Mr. S. M. Mahbubul Alam, about current Franco-Bangladeshi diplomatic relations, South Asian regional affairs and Bangladesh’s relationship with China. Next year is a major anniversary for Bangladesh as it marks 50 years of independence from Pakistan. We very much enjoyed our time at the embassy and were grateful for the time and hospitality we received from our hosts. I also enjoyed meeting with some of the local students at Sciences Po. Regular Sciences Po students must spend their third year overseas, so they were very interested in learning about St. Andrews. I tried to persuade them to come here!

At the Bangladeshi Embassy. The Ambassador is fourth from left and the Political Counsellor is far right.

Anything else?

My final advice to incoming exchange students at Sciences Po would be to do the Welcome Programme. It did cost €250 but was well worth it. As well as the opportunity of meeting other exchange students we also visited the Musée d’Orsay, and had a boat trip on the Seine! Also, we had a few methodology classes where we learned about Sciences Po assessment method which a trip to the old Montmartre district.

Musée d’Orsay

Thank you for reading my blog and do get in touch if you have any questions!

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