If you search on Google the reasons why you should go on an Exchange abroad, the first thing that pops up is a graph of how living and studying overseas will increase your future prospects in the job market. Apparently studying in another country decreases your chances of long-term unemployment by fifty per cent, whilst the unemployment rate of Exchange students five years after graduation is a fourth of those who stayed at their home university.
When I chose to send my application for an Erasmus exchange in Paris, such data was as irrelevant as the R in Marlboro.
Don’t get me wrong, working towards shaping your future is dramatically important, yet I believe that the opportunity to live in a different country with different habits and culture cannot be reduced to a faulty line to be added on your CV. Exposing yourself to various cultures, finding out the predominant customs in a new country and bounding with people who have a different view of the world is crucial not just for your personal growth but also in shaping a world in which values of tolerance and friendship topple hatred and inane nationalism.
Pardon me this broad idealistic digression, but as I write this article I’m sitting in the same Parisian café where Hemingway came to compose his novels and Jean Paul Sartre discussed with his fellow intellectuals the underpinning concepts of Existentialism, probably I thought that through osmosis I would sound as bright as they did. Therefore, before I make a fool of myself, let me get back on track and tell you a bit more of my life as an exchange student in Paris.
Paris is a beautiful city, from the most typical Eiffel Tower and Louvre museum to the less renowned touristic attractions there is not a place where you can stand without appreciating the magnificence of the history that took place here. The tiredness you experience when you get out of Uni at 9:30 p.m. after a long day of classes quickly vanishes as you look at the majesty of the City of Light. Every single corner here has a story that waits to be told, in those rare moments when you manage to isolate from the city’s frantic daily routine you can hear the sound of silence whispering unwritten tales. When assignments are not approaching and deadlines are just a distant threat, there are few things I enjoy more than wandering without a precise destination until I get lost discovering new places.
Apart from its cultural heritage, Paris is amazing for the different realities that merge and mix in the city. As you walk by the streets, you can find Starbucks next to a traditional Boulangerie, McDonalds competing with a French Brasserie, enjoy a German pint or pour sparkling champagne. Paris is the crossroad where the efficiency of the Anglo-Saxon world meets the warmth of continental Europe, despite the stereotypes, people are kind and friendly without being intrusive.
Similarly, French higher education combines a firm and effective organisation with a pleasant degree of independence. The impression here is that you are being shown the path to follow without anyone forcing you to do so, books are suggested but not mandatory, the choice of which and how many readings you should do belongs to you.
The biggest difference between French universities and The University of Manchester, instead, concerns student life. Societies at Sciences Po are not as relevant as they are in Manchester, there are fewer social events and far less occasions to meet new people, an aspect that definitely makes me miss UofM. Yet, with a bit of effort, making new friends is anything but a challenge.
Just a couple of days ago, as I was exchanging a casual chat with a French student I had just met, we started talking about what happened in November. The friendly smile on his face quickly disappeared as he remembered and started talking. He told me about the nightmare he experienced that night, the panic that pervaded him as he couldn’t get in touch with his girlfriend and how fear characterised the followings day. Then something slightly changed in his eyes, he stared at me and said “The 13th of November hit us pretty bad, we were all scared, it was hard for us to get back to our usual life, but as soon as spring gets here things are going to change; we will be back, happier and more cheerful than ever, we will go out and make this city alive. Trust me, you could have not chosen a better time to come here”.
And I, as a student, as a human, cannot way for that.
Edoardo Tricerri writes for The Manchester Magazine on topics from sport to international politics. He is a Politics and International Relations student at the University of Manchester, currently on a semester abroad at Sciences Po Paris