By Isabel O Brien
If you, like many other Sciences Pistes, are looking to spend your third year at a top school in the United States, look no farther than Houston, Texas. Rice University is tied with Brown and Cornell as the 14th best school in the United States, and for more than just its beautiful, sprawling campus. The Sundial Press contacted Marianne Herve, a third year Euram currently studying at Rice, to learn more about her year as an exchange!
I chose Rice for three main reasons. First, it is an excellent university, even though it might not be the most famous one, especially in France. Some people even argue that Rice is the ‘‘Harvard of the South’’ and indeed, it is always ranked among the top 20 universities in the United States. Second, this is a relatively small university with a residential college system, meaning that each student is affiliated to a college which has its own dining halls, public rooms, and dorms on campus, but also its own traditions and events. Therefore, as an exchange student you get the chance of being integrated as any other student would be. This system offers the opportunity to easily meet people and hang out with them. Lastly, Houston is very cool and accessible which would allow me to travel easily during my year abroad.
Would you recommend Rice to aspiring 1As?
I would definitely recommend Rice to people wanting to live the true ‘‘American college experience’’. There is usually only one spot each year for Sciences Po students, so you’d be going in alone. If you’re trying to get out of your comfort zone you’ll love it! Personally, I absolutely don’t regret my choice — in fact, I couldn’t be happier with my year abroad.
What departments do students have access to in their third year abroad?
As an exchange student you are allowed to access all of the departments except the School of Management. However, Rice is pretty flexible on this rule and if you are interested in a class on management you might be able to get a special authorization by the professor in order to take it. That being said, this department only teaches classes at the graduate level, so you may need to prove that you have the necessary skills.
How do you find the quality of your classes? How are they different from Sciences Po?
Overall, I think that the quality of classes is very good, and the professors are very knowledgeable. I noticed that contrary to Sciences Po professors don’t hesitate to give you a high grade when you did everything that is expected from you. While at Sciences Po getting a 18/20 is very rare and only if you surpass the expectations, professors at Rice will give you that kind of grade on more regular basis. I don’t think that is specific to Rice, but it rather reflects the differences in grading between France and the United States as a whole.
What is the workload at Rice like?
You are required to take at least 4 classes which equals to 12 hours per week. The workload depends on what classes you are taking. Some of my classes were really intense, others less so, but I would say that overall it is a lighter workload than at Sciences Po because you can focus more on a lower number of classes.
My social sciences classes are similar to what I had experienced at Sciences Po; they were usually reading and discussion based but could also be in more of a lecture format. I appreciated the fact that I knew what to expect from a class when I registered because I had access to the reviews from students who had previously took it. Also, Rice is really flexible about adding and dropping classes, therefore if a class was too hard or too easy there was a possibility for me to change my mind a few weeks after the start of the semester.
What is university life like at Rice?
From my perspective I would say that Rice meets a lot of different expectations in terms of student life. Indeed, Rice would please the most “party-hard students” but also the ones who prefer more quiet activities. Rice doesn’t have a greek life, however it is a wet campus which means that alcohol is allowed on campus for any student over 21. Therefore, partying is tolerated on campus as long as you are responsible and reasonable. But parties are not the only way to be involved in student life at Rice, as there are a lot of associations you can get involved in, as well as day events happening all year long.
The facilities at Rice are very good. I have access to a fully equipped gym where I can work out on my own or participate in free fitness classes. This gym also has two swimming pools, some squash courts, and multisport areas. It is also possible to join sports teams within Rice or within your residential college.
What are your housing and meal plans like?
As an exchange student you have priority to live on campus and, according to me, that is a must-do! The quality of the housing depends a lot on the residential college you are assigned to. This year I was extremely lucky as I was assigned to one of the best colleges in term of facilities and I had the chance to get a single room, but that is absolutely not guaranteed, and I know that previous exchange students fared worse. When you live on campus you have to pay for a complete meal plan that encompasses breakfast, lunch and dinner. The quality of the food is relatively good and quite diverse.
How is Houston?
Houston is a huge city made for cars. Therefore, I must admit that I didn’t have the opportunity to really get to know the city deeply. I am to blame for that, but the university does have a campus bubble which is sometimes hard to leave. However, I still had some occasions to go outside and there is actually a lot to do once you make the effort. If you ask the people from Houston, the best thing to do is to try all of the good restaurants! It is a very diverse city with many types of food, each one more delicious than the last. As far as the cultural aspect of the city, Houston has very good museums of Art located quite close to Rice. If you like music, Houston has a very good opera and you can also go to some concerts at the Rice Shepherd School of Music (sometimes free for students). There is of course the NASA museum, which is pretty famous, but also a lot of opportunities to attend sport games.
Many people may not know that Rice University is actually one of the top schools in America. What advice would you have for Sciences Po students who might be wary of attending because of its name and location?
I would recommend people not to restrain their choices too much based on what they think they know about a city or a state. Houston is far from the stereotypical ‘‘Texas city’’ that people have in mind, namely that everyone is a cowboy listening to country music and supporting Donald Trump. Houston is actually the most diverse city in the United States, and people are particularly nice and welcoming. What you should have in mind when choosing your destination is that it’s different to visit a place than to actually live there. My advice on that matter is to really think about what kind of experience you are looking for. So, yes, maybe Houston or Texas in general is not mind-blowing when you think about it first, but Rice fit perfectly with what I wanted for my year abroad. I had a really good time this year and bonded with people that I am sure to see again.
While world-class academics and sprawling metropolises may not come to mind when you think of Texas, don’t be deceived — Houston has all of that and more to offer! If you’re looking to broaden your horizons and get the true “American College” experience, follow in Marianne’s footsteps: consider Rice!