What the hell is Reims? What is it, actually?

Choosing a university is an incredibly complex process, and prospective university students may select their institution of choice for a plethora of reasons, but for sciencespistes, Reims never seems to be that reason. Most of us chose the university, and got stuck with the location. Reims is merely where Sciences Po happens to be. 

Consequently, the sciencespiste experience of Reims is ultimately defined by our university. We live Reims through Sciences Po. 

Through the lens of the sciencespiste, Reims seems to be a foreign nation. As such, and possibly due to the apparent distance between Sciences Po and the rest of Reims, the microcosm of Reims does not seem to be “real”: it is not where we live, but rather just the setting of the play of our lives. The city has become a decorative background with a pretty cathedral to admire on our way to and from campus.

We have precise locations – campus, our apartment, our friends’ colocs, Carrefour, etc. – that we visit mechanistically, like bovine herds shepherded from one hill to another. Little time, thought, or energy is expended to decipher what lies in between these destinations.  

There is little about Reims as a city that seems to significantly permeate the lives of sciencespistes. When we go out, we go out to Science Po parties (association-driven or otherwise), or we escape to Paris. When we want to meet people, we might force ourselves to chat with someone new outside of the Bibliotheque Universitaire, but we won’t go to centre-ville. When we want to study, we default to the BU (or the old-library), and – save for times of Bloccus – I highly doubt many of us are going to the Carnegie Library or the Mediatheque Falala. Going to those public libraries isn’t treated as a special experience by sciencespistes, but rather as a chore; we dreaded the inconvenience of leaving our Sciences Po circle.  

Reims, essentially, is an exclave of [insert your city of birth here] around 30 to 40 minutes north-east of Paris.

Indeed, save for champagne tastings, a remarkably miniscule amount of Sciences Po events have any connection to Reims – nearly everything we do could be done in any other city of the world. Even champagne tastings (despite my obsession with them) are not really “Remois.” Our tastings are not representative of how the other half of Reims lives. The “real” Reimois experience does not consist of weekly private dégustations hosted by the chef de cave of powerful grandes maisons. It is only due to the Sciences Po brand that these champagne houses even bother dealing with the CTC. 

The one event at Sciences Po with any link to the city we live in is an event that exists only because we are Sciences Po, not because we are in Reims. 

This “Sciences-Po lens” through which we see Reims is also self-imposed. We observe ourselves through Sciences Po, and thus we define our stay in Reims through the university. By attending this campus, we begin to regard ourselves more and more as sciencespistes, as different, as outsiders. This “otherness” is also self-perpetuating: we see ourselves as outsiders, so we don’t integrate with or meet individuals outside of the Sciences Po bubble, which makes us feel further “outside” of Reims; rinse and repeat. 

 Ingrained in Sciences Po, and to an extent, in sciencespistes themselves, is an air of superiority. Not in the sense of being superior to people or individuals outside of Sciences Po, but rather in the sense of “superimposition”. We, sciencespistes, superimpose ourselves – and Sciences Po as a comprehensive, full idea – onto Reims. We do not experience the city holistically, mixing with the rest of Reims or its inhabitants. We exist on a different plane than them, a plane that we have tacked on top of the city of Reims, without so much as a minimal effort to ensure some blending of the worlds. 

Even during the (admittedly incredibly fun) Discover Reims integration week event, we were not a part of the city, we were a group of students – a large number of whom didn’t even speak the language of the country they were in – running around like headless chickens, day drinking, screaming about having sex, getting drunk, and doing it all over again. We superimposed our desires (to drink, have sex, and scream) over the city.  

It seems shocking to me that the Science Po bubble is so powerful that even when the BDE collaborated with Neoma, attempting to bring us together for a party at Atrium, there was little to no communication between the two universities. It may be that Neoma students are in their own bubble as well. The question then becomes whether anyone in Reims is Remois at all. 

However, I am not here to dictate that this sciencespiste lens is “right” or “wrong,” but I would argue (knowing that I am just as much of an offender as anyone else) that we should attempt to become more integrated into Reims. 

The Parcours Civique may seem to be an attempt at this integration, by making second-year students participate in a volunteering programme in Reims, there is a clear attempt to “integrate” these students into the Reims life. However, not only is the efficacy of this integration doubtful at best, but by the beginning of second year, it’s already too late – you have already ignored Reims long enough that it becomes second nature. 

An apathetic attempt to become “one” with the city simply won’t work. 

To make matters worse, second-years do not treat their Parcours Civique globally. It is not something that permeates their daily lives, but is rather a task to complete, like homework or a presentation. They go to their Parcours Civique, complete a set number of hours, then turn around and go back home. Again, this is understandable, but for whatever reason (be it too much work, a general sensation of “doneness,” or a dissatisfaction with their Parcours Civique activity) the Parcours Civique is completely half-assed. There is no integration, just further superimposition, a superimposition that – as Grace Vera eloquently explained in her article on the topic – simply manages to further Science Po’s elitism, further distancing its students from the city they live in. 

All in all, there is no indulgence in Reims. As sciencespistes, we do not allow ourselves to indulge in the life of this city. We become transitory elements in the city, and it becomes a transitory place for us. Indulging would mean forcing Reims to play a principal role in your life, and attempting to play a role in Reim’s life, letting it become more than a backdrop for Sciences Po. Indulgence is a process of awareness, both of yourself and of what surrounds you. It must begin with an understanding of the schism between the reality of Reims, and an understanding of the vision of the city as constructed by sciencespistes. 

Take hold of your Reims experience, no matter how much or how little you have left. Attempt to see the reality that unfolds in Reims, not just what happens in the halls of Sciences Po. As David Foster Wallace said in his famous “This is Water” commencement speech, “If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options.”

We must build, for ourselves, a new vision, one forged by forcing yourself to partake in all elements of the life of the city, boring or otherwise, instead of defaulting to an “exterior” experience – or Paris – whenever you get the chance. I am not sure what this would look like, where or how or when you can begin this journey of Remois self-discovery, but by slowly learning to pay attention to Reims, these “wheres” and “hows” and “whens” will slowly begin to show up. It won’t all be bad in the city of kings and champagne. 

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