Tag: Politics

A Semester in Paris: An impossible adventure that really happened

In just under a fortnight, our Autumn semester begins and we’ll once again be welcoming a new intake of Year 1 students and welcoming back all our returning students. Among the latter will be our 2018-19 finalists most of whom have just spent a semester on Study Abroad, like Stefano who studies International Politics and French and who has sent us this blog post about his semester in Paris:

2018 Intropido Pic I‘Looking back at the last six months feels already like waking up from an incredible, fast-paced, marvellous dream, recalling all the things that happened, hanging onto each moment, not to forget a single memory of what still seems like an impossible adventure.

Yet it has been possible. And yes, it did really happen!

I remember the excitement of getting accepted into SciencesPo Paris, one of the world’s leading universities for political science and international relations, as well as the thrill of living for one semester in the Ville Lumière. When I left for Paris I could not expect how great this period abroad would be. So, let me now tell you some of the highlights of studying at this institution at the very heart of France.

First things first. Whenever going to a new study destination, collecting as much information as possible represents a vital part of process, especially in terms of housing and living arrangements; luckily for language students at Stirling, the French and Spanish Departments organise an informal get-together each year for all those past-present-and-future cohorts of students involved in the compulsory semester in a French- or Spanish-speaking country with the aim of making new friends and connections with those who are going, or have just been, to the same foreign university; my personal advice to all interested language students out there? Just GO along!

In my experience, that was literally the moment when I first met a nice group of Parisian students who I later befriended. Spoiler alert: as well as new remarkable international friendships, I ended up renting a studio at one of my Parisian friends’ place without whom I would have had a totally different French experience.

Another point which is worth mentioning, I guess, is the money side of the story to be considered well before applying for unis abroad. In case you were wondering… yes, Paris is hugely expensive. It is nonetheless fair to say that going to a renowned, private  Grande Ecole as part of a language Stirling degree can be a once in a lifetime experience not to miss.

All sorted then: we are ready to fly to Paris.

2018 Intropido Pic IIIInternational students like me had the chance to attend a week-long orientation programme of activities, classes and socials to familiarise ourselves with SciencesPo’s environment and, most importantly, methodology. Once again, I would highly recommend it to anyone thinking of going to SciencesPo for one semester; leaving aside the scavenger hunt around Paris (where you can have lots of fun and get lost in the capital at the same time), the extra 250€ fee is totally worth it. Among other things, this initial programme allowed me and my international course-mates to enjoy some of most remarkable highlights of Paris, to gain some useful tips and skills for the semester ahead and to deliver our very first diplomatic presentations in French surrounded by the beautiful paintings of the Sorbonne’s lecture theatres.

If you are an art lover, then Paris is the city for you! A part from the fact that most of French museums and galleries are totally free of charge for European students under the age of 25, studying at SciencesPo can make your art-addiction even more irresistible; conveniently located in the heart of Paris, SciencesPo is just 5 minutes walk away from the Louvre and the Jardin des Tuileries and 10 minutes away from the Jardin de Luxembourg where you can easily go to enjoy the sun, read a book or just take a break with your friends in between classes.

2018 Intropido Pic IV

Needless to say, art and culture are not the only attractions for those who study at SciencesPo Paris. This Grande Ecole offers an incredible and almost overwhelming number of opportunities to foster one’s interests in political sciences, law and economics, both from an academic and social perspective. It might sound commonplace, but studying abroad is really all about challenging yourself to get the most out of this unique experience and SciencesPo does give students the instruments and possibilities to do so. If being immersed in a new culture, as well as language, is not enough for you, then I would strongly advise you to consider taking some (if not all) courses in French to live a first-hand experience of the Parisian style of teaching. Moreover, I found the equivalent of our clubs and societies extremely fascinating and engaging. Let me give you some example; from the very first weeks of uni I managed to get involved in associations like SciencesPo Nations Unies, Junior Diplomatic Initiative France, SciencesPo Refugee Help, etc. Just to give you an idea of why I got so excited about these societies, I had the amazing opportunity to attend workshops and classes on the functioning of the UN to prepare ourselves as delegates to the Model United Nations and, most importantly, to participate into meetings and round-tables on current issues with Diplomats at the Embassies of Norway, Belgium, Greece and Canada.

If diplomacy is not your cup of tea, don’t worry; SciencesPo offers a wide range of other societies and they periodically organise socials and events for all sorts of interests, from the Trial of Lord Voldemort to the Drinking Mate Society.

To conclude, my semester at SciencesPo has been one of the highlights of my degree for so many reasons that it is almost difficult to list them all in a single blog post. The friends I met there from, quite literally, all over the world and the memories I made there will be something I will cherish forever and I am deeply grateful to Stirling for having made this semester abroad possible. It has really been an adventure, from learning how to get your head around the Parisian transportation system to the challenging and yet amazingly fascinating courses at SciencesPo. I have come back from Paris with a better awareness of myself, my academic and research interests and of the world we all inhabit; to all the students out there who might consider whether SciencesPo is the destination for you, trust me, it is all going to be worthy if you feel ready to get the most out of it.’

Many, many thanks to Stefano for the great post and we look forward to hearing Semester Abroad tales from all our returning students in a couple of weeks.

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‘Talking to and learning from as many people as possible’

And finally, in today’s flurry of blog posts, Amy, another member of this year’s graduating cohort has sent this article looking back over what her degree has allowed her to do but also where it might take her in the years ahead:

‘I studied BA Hons Politics and French and going to University was the best decision of my life. University has provided a wealth of opportunities that would not have been afforded to me had I not gone. During my undergrad, I travelled to Tanzania to climb the highest free-standing mountain in the world – Mt Kilimanjaro. I then spent a year teaching in Blois, Loire Valley; a semester in Paris studying at Sciences Po and two summers managing staff and kids in a French campsite in the Ardèche, Rhône Valley. The experience and the cultural awareness that these opportunities provided were invaluable and they sparked within me an immense curiosity about people, the world and myself.

University is a melting pot of people from all over the world and a fantastic opportunity like no other to learn from people who have had different experiences from you. If you are like me and want to travel and see the world, then University is a great place to start. Gaining cultural awareness is far more than bag-packing in every country that your summer job can afford, it’s about talking to and learning from as many people as possible, wherever you are.

2018 Amy McIntyre Bill's last class May18My advice to future Stirling students: talk to your tutors and your lecturers. They’re people and there’s not the same hierarchy that may have existed between you and your teachers at school. University is a collective learning environment and both you and your lecturers have something to learn from one another.

Go to the cinema screenings that the French department want you to attend. Go to their mixers and free wine events. Go and talk to the local school kids about your study abroad experience. Sign up to be a Module Representative and, of course, offer to write a piece for Cristina’s blog. These actions of engagement are understandably daunting as a first year, but push yourself to do it.

University is more than studying; It’s more than reading books. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t advise attempting your degree without doing the aforementioned, but I can’t emphasize the importance of other factors at University enough. My advice to future students of Stirling: Get involved. Take advantage of every opportunity that interests you. Join a club or 5, hold weekly stalls in the Atrium and meet like-minded people and people who challenge your views alike.

2018 Amy McIntyre Logie Protest May18During my time at Stirling University I was Co-Convenor of the Socialist Society, Secretary for Stirling Students for Scottish Independence and I co-led Stirling Students in Support of the UCU Pension Strike protest movement which led to a 14-day Occupation of Logie Lecture Theatre.

My time in France

I took a gap year to participate in the British Council English Language Assistantship (ELA) Scheme in the Loire Valley, France. On reflection, I can honestly say I learned just as much from my kids as they learned from me. The simplicity, honesty and innocence of young people’s minds is interesting, inspiring and refreshing. Don’t get me wrong, prepare yourself for insults that are not intended as insults: “Amy, your nose is cool, it reminds me of a witch”. Thanks Pierre, you’ll have to excuse me as I’ve made plans to cry in the toilet…

2018 Amy McIntyre Pic May18

Tip to future language assistants: Get to know your ELA friends but don’t spend too much time with them. They are a great comfort to you when you are abroad but are inevitably a hindrance to your French language progression if you spend too much time alone with English-speakers.

In my third year, I studied at Sciences Po, Paris. I found that Politics in France is very different to the UK in terms of grassroots movements, protests and youth engagement with politics. Manifestations are as common as croissants in Paris and I was amazed at the crowds of youngsters who were politically active.

2018 Amy McIntyre Eiffel Tower May18

What motivates people to act the way they do? How do political institutions and societal factors impact their behaviour? And ultimately, how can we unite people, despite their perceived differences to come together and form a better society? These are questions that are ever-evolving and I suspect they will occupy my mind for the rest of my life, whatever avenue I choose to go down.

For the moment, I am fascinated by examining policies in different countries and finding out what works and what doesn’t. To change society for the better, I believe we need better policies at the heart of it. I hope to do a Msc in Public Policy and Management this year at the University of Glasgow. Ultimately, I want to make a positive contribution to the world, no matter how big or small that will be.’

Many, many thanks to Amy for this fantastic post and for the great tips for future students. We wish you all the very best for the MSc and the future beyond! And, of course, we would encourage as many as possible of our current (and former) students who might be reading this to take Amy’s advice and get in touch about future blog posts…

From Stirling to Rabat…: ‘I couldn’t recommend a semester abroad enough!’

The blog has been a little silent of late – busy Autumn semester, hectic start to the new Spring semester, Christmas break in between – but we’re back now, with plenty of news and updates on life in French at Stirling. And given that we’re resurfacing on a rather grey and cold Scottish Tuesday, it’s particular pleasing to be able to kick off our 2018 with a post about far sunnier climes thanks to current final year student Fergus who, this time last year, was starting his Semester Abroad in Morocco:

“When it came around to choosing where to go for my semester abroad there wasn’t really much of a choice for me. Both academically and personally I felt in somewhat of a rut and needed a big change. Somehow, I misconstrued how the applications went, wrongly assuming that the choices were ranked on merit or academic performance, so when I saw I was (the only one) going to Morocco I was a wee bit surprised, albeit elated.

2018 Voigt Kasbah des Oudayas RabatI filled out all the application forms with an equal degree of anxiety, excitement, and haste. It took a while to hear back from EGE Rabat, which as I quickly found was normal upon my arrival there, and I started to get organised to go. I went out almost month before the term actually started to try to get accustomed and it only dawned on me that I was going to Africa whilst I was sat on the plane. After arriving in Tanger via Malaga, I got a taxi to where I was staying, met the owner of the flat, then went out to look about sans phone, map etc which was fun. I bought a sim card and had some tea, got lost, then went home for an early night before the 4-hour train journey to Rabat in the morning.

Everything had happened pretty quickly up until this point where it all slowed down and I experienced ‘Moroccan time’ as I was to become very accustomed to during my time there. The train was almost empty on departure but 3 hours in we sat waiting until another train stopped next to us, all its passengers joined us and I found myself standing for the rest of the journey. Tall, blonde and impossibly pale, packed in like a sardine, and not understanding a word around me – I’d found the change I was looking for. 2018 Voigt Place du 9 avril 1947 Tanger

If I felt at a loss upon arriving, that feeling quickly disappeared as I started university and made friends. Everyone I met – teachers, international students, and especially Moroccan students – were extremely friendly and welcoming. The warm and welcoming nature of people in Morocco is one of the fondest memories that stays with me. Unlike the UK or large parts of Europe, where no-one has time for anyone else it seems these days, almost everyone I met, friends to be and strangers alike, had time to stop and chat. Whether that chat was helping with directions, proudly telling you of their country, or being eager to learn more about yours, there was always a smile and a ‘mharba’ [welcome] offered.

2018 Voigt Sunset during Ramadan RabatAlthough L’École de Gouvernance et d’Économie, is primarily focused on economics, politics, and international relations, I had the opportunity to follow some amazing courses such as Anthoplogie des Religions and Genre, Féminisme et Sexualité, which previously I hadn’t had the chance to take. As well as this, there was Classic Arabic and Moroccan Arabic [Darija] classes offered for everyone from absolute beginners like myself to experienced speaker. These classes were a wonderful help during my time there, as it was amazing to learn some Arabic as well as dialect specific to the country, but it also went a long way when out and about interacting with people.

We were able to get out and about every weekend, and with plenty free time from university, there was plenty opportunity to explore the country. Exploring Rabat itself, there is so much to do, whether wandering through the medina and trying the various foods being produced in the street, visiting the various historical sites, surfing, or just hanging out at a café, there is no shortage of things to do and see. Outside of the capital, Morocco has so much to offer! I was taken aback by how varied the country is. Every 100km the landscape changes, from beautiful beaches with huge waves to vast cityscapes, to the spectacular snow-capped Atlas mountains, or the western Sahara desert, it has it all. Most exchange students I met were always keen to get out and visited different parts of the country whenever possible, my first weekend I found myself visiting a snow-covered, European looking town in the North dubbed the ‘Switzerland of Morocco’!

2018 Voigt Outskirts of ChefchauoenParticular highlights for me where, trekking in the desert and staying overnight with the berber guys we were with, enjoying an amazing home cooked meal with me class at our French teacher’s house, surfing constantly for two weeks after term finished, and changing a flat tyre at 2500m above sea level in the Atlas mountains (believe it or not), and arranging an exchange of sorts with the guy that helped as way of a thank you, as well as a week-long solo trip around the North after everyone else had left. All these times and more, combined with the real and lasting friendships formed during my time there helped to make the experience unforgettable. I couldn’t recommend a semester abroad enough, or just visiting Morocco otherwise, in case you couldn’t tell already.”

Many, many thanks to Fergus for sending us this blog post and for patiently waiting for me to get round to adding it! With many of our Year 3 students currently off on their Semesters Abroad, we’re looking forward to being able to post more tales of travels and languages over the weeks ahead.

 

 

 

 

International Politics and French: ‘I couldn’t be happier with it!’

And, following on from Stuart Close’s profile, another great article, this time by Margareta Roncevic who has just completed the first year of her BA Hons in International Politics and Languages:

“These things used to be so much easier to write. I used to have a blog until I was about 15 and then high school reputation smacked me in the face and I couldn’t afford to have a blog anymore. Shame really, I might have been one of those popular blog people who eat, and travel, and have nice Instagram profiles…

Well, now that I think about it, I do eat. I travel quite a lot. And I just opened an Instagram account – so, hey, I’m not that far off. But even better is that I am studying what I adore at this magnificent place called Stirling. I’m one of those students who are inexplicably happy with their choice of studies, and who try to be as engaged as possible in the student life. I have only finished a first year of my degree in International Politics and French, and I couldn’t be happier with it.

You hear students talking how they picked their universities: how they went for the open days and visited campuses, how their parents heard good things about a certain course, or they liked the fact that it is far away from their hometown. Well, none of that quite explains what happened to me…

Croatia, the wee country I’m from, only joined the European Union in 2013, when I was 17. Until then, the idea of studying somewhere else was foreign to me. I had my mind set on the University of Zadar, in my hometown. And then suddenly, Croatia signs some papers and voilà! Dozens of new things you can do!

We had people from the UK and other parts of the EU coming to give presentations at our school and explaining how we could enrol at the universities there. And all of a sudden, I wanted to go abroad. In my last year of high school, I worked with the agency that was helping students enrol in universities in England. I obtained my Cambridge certificate, wrote my personal statement, got my recommendations, translated my transcripts, prayed and more. On my prom night, I checked my e-mails, because that’s what you do when you are celebrating the end of your high school years and are having last few days with your class, and funnily enough I found out that said I had been accepted to all of the universities that I had applied to. I was good to go!

Or, not really. See, since we were the first generation of students from Croatia going to England with this programme, some mistakes were made. Long story short, they didn’t quite explain the financial aspects of studying there and a few of us realized we don’t have enough money to cover for… anything. We were just about to sign the papers for the loan for our tuition fees, but our accommodation would not be covered for the first year – as was initially promised.

What to do now? My ticket to London is already bought. I am packed. I have a new raincoat. I don’t want to stay in Zadar. But I also can’t go to study.

So, naturally, I took a gap year and spent the first two months of it volunteering on a farm in East Grinstead, next to London. The university was kind enough to save me the place for the next year, until I saved some money and came back to study. Life on the farm was reinvigorating. I was learning about beekeeping, sheep…; I was painting the shed and the cottage; I was pruning those little green bushes while being attacked by some bees because I put almond oil in my hair the night before and forgot about it…

2017 Margareta Roncevic Luxembourg Pic IIIt was time to find a job. I managed to find one, in the heart of the Europe – Luxembourg. I became an Au Pair and took care of one little girl who was 1.5 year old at the time. In Luxembourg everyone speaks at least 3 languages. And when I say at least, I mean the older generation of people who didn’t learn ‘any foreign languages’. German, Luxembourgish and French are the norm. And when you speak only 3 languages fluently and find yourself there, you don’t feel good about yourself. As the little girl was starting to talk more and more, so was I. We were learning French together, so for the first period of time, I used a lot of baby words like: dodo, lo-lo, pi-pi… I know, quite a vocabulary!

In the middle of my first gap year, I had an epiphany and realized I don’t want to be in debt for the rest of my life. So, as I was lying in my bed at 1am, I decided to e-mail the university in England and say: hey, I’m not coming. As I was lying in my bed at 1.20am, I realized I had no Plan B, and thought: merde.

2017 Margareta Roncevic Campus Pic June17After an intensive session of googling and trying to find the perfect university, I stumbled upon the SAAS page. I checked out all the uni portals and pictures, and what not, I had my mind set on Stirling. First of all, the programme. Secondly, the campus. Also, Scotland’s national animal is a unicorn…

Here I have to mention my mother, who loved to wear tartan since I was a child and has two tartan suits, one red and one green. They both have matching hats and shoes. No, it is not a thing in Croatia and yes, my mom is a very creative person and has her own style. I think that she subconsciously led me to study in Scotland.

I ended up taking another gap year and worked in Denmark as well as Luxembourg. I applied again to the universities in Scotland, by myself. At this point, I could already speak a lot of French and understand it better. Me and the little one had proper conversations about the horses and snails, the usual nanny talks. But, Luxembourg being Luxembourg, it did not allow me to practice my French more. People there are so nice and helpful, and when they see you struggling with a word or explaining something, they immediately start speaking English to you. Mais non, je voudrais pratiquer!

Even before I lived in Luxembourg, I wanted to learn another language. French became my obsession after reading Les Misérables, so the goal is to read it again in its original language. After experiencing a bit of francophone culture, Scotland was a great addition to my story. To study at its heart, in the current political climate and with all the benefits of the multicultural environment – some of the many reasons I’m happy here!

I should probably mention that I had never even visited Scotland before coming here in September last year. But hey, it turned out fine.

Even though it took me a bit longer to get here, I am very content with what I managed to do in my first year of the university. I was a course representative for the Introductory French module and I became the new president of the Politics Society. I am happy that the university let us settle in and discover our interests before pushing us into strict academic mould.

Hopefully, in the future I will write all of this in French. Until then, I’ll stick to my comfort zone with horses and snails.”

Many thanks to Margareta for finding the time to write this post and we do, indeed, look forward to future blog posts (whether in English or French, or maybe even a bit of Croatian!) as your degree progresses.

French Presidential Election: Experiences of a ‘Primo Votant’

For David, one of our final year students, the end of teaching and assessment was particularly significant this year because it meant a return to his home in France in time to join the ranks of the primo votants (first-time voters) in the first round of the French presidential elections. We’ve asked him to share his thoughts on this experience and we’re delighted to be able to share this post:

2017 David Primo Votant April“I voted in a French presidential election last Sunday for the first time and it felt exhilarating. Voting in France has always been an essential element when it comes to being a citizen. It is not only regarded as a right but, first and foremost, as a civic duty. Elections are always held on a Sunday so, in my family, as in many others, we all go to the polling station, which is usually in a local school hall. As I cast my vote by placing my sealed envelope in the ballot box, the officer solemnly announced “a voté” (has voted) and I signed the register. I felt apprehensive, yet excited, at the prospect of voting as I was aware of the importance of my choice, especially nowadays with the current climate of political uncertainty.

On leaving the polling station, we bought croissants and pains au chocolat (ouh la la!) and discussed the possible outcome of the elections with the results due to be announced at 8 o’clock that night. People discuss politics quite openly in France and the French can be very vocal about their political views which can be a source of tension and heated debate during family meals. The situation was especially tense this year as several non-mainstream candidates were in the running for the Elysée. The atmosphere as we waited for the results on Sunday evening was one of excitement and impatience. And it was nerve-racking when the results were actually announced. I was in front of the telly with my family, glass of wine in hand (bien sûr !), watching David Pujadas, one of France’s most famous TV presenters, who already knew the results, commenting on the atmosphere in the headquarters of the various candidates, with the countdown to the results behind him.

After what seemed like an interminable wait, voici the results: Macron and Le Pen are through to the second round. A shockwave of disappointment, fear, joy, excitement is felt throughout France. For the first time in the history of the 5th Republic, politicians representing neither the traditional left nor right wing parties are through to the second round of the presidential elections. The next morning, the streets were empty; people were either at work or stayed at recovering from the shock of the results perhaps, or from the hangover from the wine the night before. Overall, this presidential race has created an increase in political awareness among French people, especially the younger generation, not unlike in the U.S. elections. It is however worth noting that more than 20% chose not to vote. The two remaining candidates now have a little more than a week to convince voters who did not vote for them in the first round that they should be the next French President. Whatever the result on Sunday 7th May, we can safely it will be a first for France! Vive la République et vive la France!”

Many thanks to David for this blog piece and we look forward to an update after the 2nd round!