By Alexa Boncimino
My arrival in Reims, now exactly one year ago, was filled with excited expectations of what my Sciences Po experience would be. It turns out that what now seems on par with many of my childhood fantasies was not entirely false, but it was certainly different from my actual experience.
With reflection, I realize that a year at Sciences Po taught me more than I could have predicted. The lessons I learned in my first year will define me for many years to come. They have also shaped me into the person I am today, undoubtedly someone very different from the girl who stepped off the plane at CDG. In fact, I do not know anyone who is exactly the same as when I met them during Integration Week last year.
Here are just a few of the lessons I learned. They are lessons that will likely shape you too, and they come in a convenient list of eight pieces of advice from things I learned at Sciences Po.
How to be comfortable being alone
For me, this lesson was the hardest, so it comes first. Sciences Po is an amazing place filled with so many interesting people, but there will be times when it feels incredibly lonely. The loneliness of living by myself for the first time took adjusting to. It is important to keep in mind, though, that everyone experiences it. Overall, I think it made me stronger. Being alone gave me time to myself that I had never had before. Once I was comfortable alone, I became much more comfortable with who I am as a person and discovered who I am and who I want to be as well. So the lesson is, seize the opportunity for self-discovery. Don’t be afraid to take time to yourself: trust me, you will need it sometimes. And if you have the opportunity to travel, take it, even if it is alone. That being said, remember that you aren’t. Everyone here is in the same situation, so don’t be afraid to reach out to people and to lean on your friends if you need to. The time will come when they have to lean on you too.
Life at Sciences Po can be frustrating, and most things administrative will make you want to pull your hair out. In truth, most everyday tasks will also be incredibly inconvenient. It is easy to complain about the school, about the city, about the administration, and sometimes it even helps. But if you do it too much, you will miss the benefits which are hidden inside every drawback. For instance, your instructor may grade out of 16 while another grades out of 20, but they could also be one of the most qualified instructors on campus with one of the best classes. This brings me to my next piece of advice…
Sciences Po is exactly what you put into it
Academics at Sciences Po can be extremely challenging. That being said, you can also slide by quite easily if you want to. However, you can’t complain that you aren’t getting anything out your academic life if you don’t put any effort into it. Sciences Po is not the type of school to just hand things to you. If you want to learn you will need to be proactive and take charge of your education yourself. If you do so, you can learn incredible amounts here. So take advantage of the opportunity you have to learn from what Sciences Po has to offer, rather than dwelling on what it doesn’t offer.
That being said, work hard but play hard too
You will be busy. Incredibly busy. But you are also a student located in what is a very nice student city (despite the weather). Plus, it is close to Paris, one of the greatest cities in the world. So in the hustle of presentations and grades don’t forget to have fun. And amidst all the complaints about the administration and about your professors and TAs (which you will undoubtedly have) don’t forget that Sciences Po is a great school and that your experience here is one you should be incredibly thankful for.
Leave your comfort zone
Sciences Po will push you. Let it push you in the right direction. Take the opportunity to travel and to discover. For me, it was a chance to discover France. I learned a new language, many new recipes, and gained friendships that will last a lifetime. Through moving to France and leaving my comfort zone I also discovered how to be an adult. I learned how to immigrate to another country and how to live alone for the first time. The point in explaining this, is that you can learn much more than what is taught in your classes here if you push yourself to try new things. So taste different foods. Try different wines (and have a lot of them). Go different places. Overall, try not to spend an entire day in your apartment. Ever. Life is too short not to seize each day.
Make friends with everyone and take care of them
Your friends will be your family and your life lines here, so be there for them. Also, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to as many people as possible. Particularly, try to be friends with people from around the world. Sciences Po is one of the few places this feat is possible, so take advantage of it. Also, try to make friends outside of your program. Diversity and meeting new people every once in awhile will really add to your experience.
Take care of your mental health and do lots of yoga
If there is one thing I learned from Sciences Po, it is that you should do yoga every day. For me, it helped to clear my mind and to get some exercise too. Try it, and you won’t regret it. Mental health is one thing that a lot of people struggled with in their first year. Between living in a different country or just on your own for the first time and the amount of work which will get dumped on you as soon as courses begin it can be easy to get overwhelmed. There were moments when almost everyone felt as though they were drowning. So take some time to breath and to relax. In the end, your mental health and happiness is more important than the extra point on your presentation. Trust me on this one.
You can’t do everything. That being said, sleep is the first thing you can ditch
It is impossible to attend every event, but try not to say no too often. In the end, you will regret it, I promise. Losing a bit of sleep is better than missing an experience, and Sciences Po has so many experiences to offer.
With these words of advice, I wish you a good year! Just remember that Sciences Po may not match all of the expectations you have right now, but it will surpass them in so many more ways than you could have imagined.
Photo: Paul Rentler// Sciences Po