Weekend culinary delights

This past weekend, I’ve finally decided to make use of the oven in my apartment. It is apparently very rare for apartments in Paris to have an oven, not to mention the full oven that I currently enjoy much to the envy of my culinary-savvy friends. I am not, by far, an excellent cook. Nor does my cooking expertise lie in the art of baking. However, struck by a moment of whimsy and with a friend who actually knows how to bake, I made quiche lorraine and crepes – which doesn’t use the oven, but let’s include it here to make the list look more impressive.

Quiche Lorraine - pretty good for my first attempt

Quiche Lorraine – I would say it’s pretty good for my first attempt

The result of two hours of mucking about in the kitchen was, in my opinion, surprisingly aesthetically pleasing and tasty. I fully believe there is something in the dairy products here that makes them so delicious. Speaking of dairy products, there is a popular cafe across the street from Sciences Po called cafe Basile that has the most amazing butter on their tartines (which is nothing fancy, just sliced baguettes with butter and jam on top, but very good!).

Crepes! I've mastered the technique of flipping crepes. It is very simple to make, and a lot cheaper than those 4 euros you have to pay outside...

Crepes! I’ve mastered the technique of flipping crepes. It is very simple to make, and so much cheaper than those 4 euros you have to pay to get one at a street stand.

More culinary efforts may follow in the future. Now that I have taken the first step, I might try my hands at making other traditionally French food. Maybe one day the smell of the desserts I have made will finally overcome the tempting smell of freshly baked bread from the boulangerie downstairs.

On another note, next week will be reading week for university students in Paris. Classes are starting to become emptier as the weekend approaches as people fly off to their destination of choice. I have friends who are going to Morocco, Iceland, Sweden – all over Europe. There are just so many places to visit, and only 7 weeks left in the semester! No doubt I should be working on my assignments due after the break, but I will be travelling to Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary instead! Photos to come when I return.

Until next time!

The Arts in Berlin: An Attempt to Scratch the Surface

One blog post simply cannot even come close to describing the art scene here in Berlin. Berlin has tons of museums, theatres, galleries, concert halls, classical events, performances, street art, concerts, special exhibitions … the list is literally endless. To cover and to see it all would be impossible no matter how long someone stays in Berlin, mostly due to the fact that this scene is always changing, always evolving. With this blog I will briefly discuss three events and how they relate to my personal experience with what I have seen in here so far in relation to the arts.

The Berlinale logo and I

The Berlinale logo and I

Action on the Red Carpet

Action on the Red Carpet

Firstly, this past week was the start of the famous Berlinale, Berlin’s International Film Festival. Like TIFF, Toronto’s International Film Festival, the Berlinale is one of the world’s leading film festivals in the world. Yesterday I went to see the action live on the Red Carpet with a really good friend of mine who is from Poland. I never saw such a spectacle in real life; usually just on TV back home. To actually see the actors and directors roll up in fancy cars all dressed up was quite the experience. It took place at Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz, one of the most important and major intersection hubs within the city of Berlin. This week we plan to get tickets and see the screening of one of the films. I am really looking forward to seeing further what a film festival is all about! I have never done such a thing before.

Stars rolling up

Stars rolling up

Next. Musical street performers … they are all over the city. From performing live at open-air markets on the weekend, to simply on the side of the street, to playing in parks, to dancing within the subway stations, to even strolling through the public trains, changing cars as they go along- they are everywhere. What is amazing about such performances in Berlin, is the diversity of what they do. I have seen solo singers perform wonderful works. There have been bands ranging from three to about eight members. Those who are really talented, make a LOT of money. I saw once a guitar case filled with what must have easily been at least 300 Euros.

Musical group at Mauerpark, an open-air Sunday market

Musical group at Mauerpark, an open-air Sunday market

A trio band performig in the Tiergarten

A trio band performig in the Tiergarten

There are guitarists, musicians who play every type of brass instrument you can think of, harmonica players, drummers, pianists, and even some foreign instruments which I have never seen before in my life. In particular, I enjoy how they mix genres and try to create new, funky sounds. It is hard to describe with mere words, but these street performers create new alternative music which is edgy and always exciting. One must simply hear it with their own ears. Most of these performers look well off, as if they do it often for money or just for fun because it’s what they love to do. Yet some, I can tell, are less fortunate, and it’s all they’ve got. Quite a few homeless people trying to make ends meet, performing what they can.

Unique music in Berlin's Mitte district

Unique music in Berlin’s Mitte district

A drummer in the Prenzlauer Berg district

A drummer in the Prenzlauer Berg district

Interesting instrument

Interesting instrument

Guitarist playing at Mauerpark

Guitarist playing at Mauerpark

A guitar player under a bridge at Alexanderplatz

A guitar player under a bridge at Alexanderplatz

Finally, I would like to share my experience I had one night at the very famous Berliner Philharmonie. It is a concert hall, home to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.  The building itself is known for its amazing acoustics and its distinct architecture. I was blown away by the interior of the concert hall!  It holds a few thousand people and it looks breathtaking. The orchestra played very well and there was a famous female violinist who had a few solo performances too. One portion of the entire show included a massive organ that was super loud- I felt pretty rattled afterwards. I am normally not exposed to classical music, so this entire evening for me was a new experience and I enjoyed it. I definitely plan to see more such events in the future while I am still in Berlin.

The Berliner Philharmonie, simply breathtaking

The Berliner Philharmonie, simply breathtaking

A dash of multiculturalism

Last Friday was Chinese New Year, and for the next two weeks, there are various public events in Paris to celebrate. The parade near the City Hall the past Sunday was truly a spectacle. At 2:30 p.m., the crowd gathered in front of l’Hotel de Ville surged as the parade moved through rue du Temple.

l'Hotel de Ville

The crowds at l’Hotel de Ville (City Hall)

Parade

Chinese New Year Parade at rue Beaubourg, near Pompidou

Thousands of people turned up on the cool Sunday afternoon, many of them youths and children, but also a surprising number of adults who went alone for a chance to see something they do not see often. The parade was composed of some 20 contingents of performers dressed in festive or iconic clothing, shouting Bonne Année. It was loud, it was busy, and it was a great deal of fun.

I found it interesting that the roads on which the parade passed were not closed off. While I waited at a street corner with my friends and countless others, we saw cars driving through the crowds at glacial speed 30 minutes before the parade was scheduled to pass.

Going to the Chinese New Year parade reminded me of a topic that I feel might be important to briefly address. Coming from one of the most multicultural and accepting cities, Europe may seem a bit homogeneous and unwelcoming. Eurocentrism and orientalism are just some of the terms that come to mind. The reality, of course, is quite complex, and I can only speak from my personal experience. In terms of population, Paris is a very diverse city, and with it comes some degree of cultural desensitization. It is also a large and busy city. People have treated me the same way as they would anyone else, often because they do not have the time to act any differently.

But there have been occasions where people came up to me on the street, speaking the few Chinese or Japanese words they know. And there have been occasions where people invoked negative racial stereotypes in throwaway comments. These occasions are far from the norm and do not occur often, but it has happened enough times to me and to my friends to warrant this discussion. If you are an exchange student who is also a visible minority, you may very well encounter similar situations.

It is up to the individual to decide if these actions are condescending or an awkward attempt to be welcoming. In many cases, I have been told that these people are simply curious. Their clumsy and culturally insensitive approaches can be attributed to the fact that they do not often interact with culturally different people. It may well be that a good way to deal with these situations is to believe in their lack of sinister undertones. Ultimately, these situations affect individuals differently and it would be absurd to tell everyone to just ignore and brush aside racially and culturally offensive behaviour. The individual exchange student will have to make his or her decision on possible exchange programs with this in mind.

Studentenwerk Berlin

studentenwerk_berlin

I will dedicate this blog to educating my readers about the Studentenwerk Berlin (in German, Studentenwerk can be translated into something like “student services”). This is a large organization that operates with all the major universities in Berlin, such as the Humboldt University, the Free University and the Technical University.

The Studentenwerk Berlin provides different services to all its students. They cover student health insurance. They offer psychological counseling for students who need help. Those students seeking accommodation can apply specifically for a student dorm. Assistance is provided for students with children or those who have learning or working barriers. The Studentenwerk can help students find jobs, serving as a link between possible employers and students. There is also help for those international students who are dealing with language barriers.

It was actually through the Studentenwerk that I was able to secure my accommodations during the duration of my studies. When I applied for this exchange, I received messages from them asking if I would like to stay in a student hall of residence. I did not want the extra trouble and stress of trying to find my own apartment before arriving here so I let them do it for me. The accommodations within the Studentenwerk are mostly old buildings which were renovated into student dorms and most of the students who occupy them are international students from all over the world. There are about a dozen and they can be found spread throughout the city. There are different styles of flats, such as a WG (WG or Wohngemeinschaft in German means “flat share” in English) and single room apartments.

I live in a student WG with two other students. We have become good friends and I like it this way, as it enables me to have daily contact with fellow students. Nasr, one of my roommates, comes from Yemen and we communicate in German. Georgy is the other and he is an Australian native. We hang out quite often together and sometimes cook together. We live in a former East German-style apartment building. It is bare bones, but it serves its purpose and I could not be happier with my situation. There is a bathroom, a common kitchen, and we each have our own bedrooms. We have a student pub in the basement which is opened on the weekends and there is even a small gym which I frequently visit. It is not in the middle of the city, but for what I am paying (190 Euros per month) in comparison to other students I know, what I have is great.

Nasr and I eating Arabic food

Nasr and I eating Arabic food

Georgy and I enjoying Arabic food too

Georgy and I enjoying Arabic food too

Another service that the Studentenwerk Berlin operates is the Mensa (German word for university cafeteria). There are Mensas located all over the city close to the universities. A Mensa is provided to serve extremely cheap meals and snacks to all students and staff members. The food is pretty good and I can fill myself to the max with only 3 Euros. Little kiosks and mini-cafes are also located around campus and in some libraries for example where small foods and drinks can be purchased. Everything is paid electronically through a Mensa Card. It is kind of like the T-Card that we use back home. Students must load money onto their card at certain machines and then they can pay for their goods. Library services such as photocopying and printing are used with the Mensa Card as well, so it is very convenient.

My Mensa Card

My Mensa Card

Well, I have been checking the weather back home in Toronto and it looks quite cold lately. We finally had snow fall here and the temperature has dropped a bit, but I can’t complain. Wish me luck for the next two weeks- I got essays, presentations and tests that I need to write before the end of the first semester!

Prost!

One of the workout rooms that we have in the basement

One of the workout rooms that we have in the basement

Simple, but does the job

Simple, but it does the job

 

Of mornings, classes, and sports

Paris

Notre Dame

The semester officially started for me on a dark and chilly Monday when I struggled to get out of bed at 6am. For the first time in my entire schooling career, I have not one, but two classes at 8am in the morning. At this time of the year, the sun rises in Paris at around 8:30am. I walked to Sciences Po along curiously silent streets, accompanied by rows of darkened storefronts. Above ground, Paris is quiet. There are far less cars on the streets than in Toronto at the same time. And there seemed to be a silent solidarity of misery amongst the few darkly dressed pedestrians that I encountered.

I am pleased to announce that my 8am classes are interesting, although one of them requires getting up early on Saturday for supplemental field trips. However, when a professor offers to take the whole class on a walking tour of Paris to get to know the city better, one simply does not refuse.

The first week of second semester, in many ways, is similar to the one I experienced back in September. And I have neglected to blog about one of the features of this opening week. Sciences Po offers a variety of sports classes, ranging from the conventional tennis, volleyball, and dance classes to martial arts, fencing, and a few slightly less common fields such as polo and pétanque. During the first week of each semester, all sports classes are open for trial. Students can attend as many classes as they desire with absolutely no restrictions or fees. But, if you want to take a sports class for the rest of the semester, you would have to pay additional fees. And though students do not receive any actual grades, missing more than two classes will still result in a “fail” on your transcript.

All of these classes happen outside of Sciences Po, in various facilities throughout the city that host regular classes of their respective sports. This allows you to explore a new part of the city, but it does create inefficiencies. How many people would actually take the metro for 50 minutes just to get to an one hour skating class?

I tried out a class on canne de combat, which is a type of martial arts originated in France around the 19th Century when the bourgeoisie sought to defend themselves from the less savoury elements of the city with their walking canes. As a class for the totally lost, fumbling beginners, it was surprisingly fun. Sadly, as I have only attended one class, I cannot offer any observations of how canne de combat reflect the national psyche and cultural identity of France, or even of Paris. Perhaps at the end of this semester, I will be able to provide a more insightful reflection.

Until next time!

A New Year, A New Experience to be had

Welcome back everyone to 2014 and Happy New Year!

For the Christmas break, I made the journey back to my hometown of Toronto. It was weird to land at Pearson Airport, as it felt like I had just left for Brelin back in August- time flies way too fast when you are studying abroad! But I have to say, it felt welcoming and good to be back on Canadian soil.

I spent a lot of quality time with family, relatives, friends….. and the cold weather. It was one crazy ice storm we all experienced this year. I arrived just in time for no power and life-by-candle light for a few days. Yet after my two and a half weeks back home, I had to say that I already started to think about returning and looking forward to getting back into the learning routine.

To compare climates, the weather in Germany is currently very mild for this time of year. The German people I have spoken to all say it is abnormal. Usually around this time, the weather is around -10/15⁰C with some snow on the ground. Yet this year (to my luck), there has been no such weather. The daily average is about 5⁰C and the grounds are dry. Everyone over here just wishes for it to snow. For me, I like it just the way it is! I’ve always had my fill of cold winters back in Canada.

I only arrived last week in Berlin and not much has happened since. One of the sights I always wanted to visit was the Berlin Wall and to experience its history first hand. So my Berlin Perspectives class (the program is described in a previous blog) met last weekend and checked out the wall.

As most of you probably already know, the Berlin Wall was constructed by the East German socialist government to prevent its citizens from escaping into West Berlin. It was built in 1961 and lasted a few decades until its fall in 1989. There were many escape attempts and many people died trying to make it to the other side. The majority of the wall has been removed since its collapse, but there are still some pieces still standing today.

One part is called the East Side Gallery. This is the longest still-standing stretch of the former Berlin Wall. In 1990, artists from around the world painted murals to depict themes of the Cold War. It stretches 1.3 km and it really is a wonder to visit. There are murals of Berlin related themes, political messages, messages of freedom, violence and oppression for example. Anyone who plans to visit Berlin MUST pay a visit to the East Side Gallery.

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

There is another part of the wall which is located at the other end of the city. Here the grey, dull wall is not displayed as a beautiful piece of artwork. Instead, it replicates how the wall used to be when it was in operation. Guard towers are left erected, the “death strip” is still replicated, there are barbed wire and signal fences, there are anti-vehicle traps, patrol roads, and so on. Visitors are able to walk this part of the wall and learn along the way at information points all about its history and the brutal ways in which it kept citizens imprisoned within East Germany.

I hope that the studies are going well for those of you who are just starting the second semester. As I mentioned before, I am still in the winter semester for another month. I am starting to feel the pressure of final papers and assignments that are due soon. I will be of course exploring more of Berlin the next weeks and I will keep you all updated with my experiences. Until next time!

View from an observation platform overlooking the "death strip" section

View from an observation platform overlooking the “death strip” section

A new year, a new adventure

Happy 2014, and a wonderful new semester to all U of T students! I offer my condolences for the deep freeze that seems to have gripped Eastern Canada. We’ve noticed here in France! In a true display of schadenfreude, everyone has been asking recently me how cold it is in Toronto.

Since there were no blog posts over the winter holiday, I’ll give an update on how I spent my Christmas and New Years. December was pretty much a month of travel once exams were done. Besides London, and Milan (which I blogged about in my last post), I visited the famous Christmas markets at Strasbourg.

Strasbourg

Strasbourg – Christmas Decorations

Strasbourg

Strasbourg – Christmas Decorations at night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spent Christmas eve in Frankfurt.

Frankfurt

Frankfurt – Christmas Eve at Romer Square to hear the bell toll with hundreds of Germans

Frankfurt

Frankfurt – I also had my first taste of the hearty German portion. I don’t think I have ever seen this much food served for one meal before.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas day in Heidelberg.

Heidelberg

Heidelberg – It was raining for the whole day I was there, but it was still an amazing trip.

Heidelberg

Heidelberg – the view of the town from Heidelberg Castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last four days of 2013 in Berlin.

Berlin

Berlin – I have so many photos of Berlin I wasn’t sure how to even choose. So, have a photo of my favourite group of museums on Museum Island. The Neues Museum with the beautiful Nefertiti, and the Pergamon Museum. The Old National Gallery was unfortunately closed on the day of my visit.

Berlin

Berlin – the Weihnachtszauber at the Gendarmenmarkt was still going strong past Christmas. This is probably the best Christmas market I have been to (even compared with those in Strasbourg and Frankfurt), with the most interesting and diverse stalls and lively but orderly atmosphere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And back in Paris just in time for New Year’s eve.

One disappointment in the amazing last 11 days of 2013 was the lack of official fireworks in Paris to herald the arrival of 2014. The light show at the Eiffel Tower was amazing (and I have heard good things about the one at Champs Elysées as well), but there is something to be missed about the noise and fanfare of city-wide fireworks.

—–

The new semester at Sciences Po starts on January 20th, but our course enrolment was today. I have written about course enrolment before, but it just goes to show that one can never be completely prepared with student exchanges. At 2pm Paris time, one hour before the official registration starts, the Sciences Po website crashes (the consensus seems to point to overcapacity from too many people trying to log in at once). Panicked posts start appearing on the Sciences Po exchange group on Facebook. The general level of hysteria among exchange students rises as Sciences Po administration admits that they have no idea when the website will be back up.

3pm, the time of course registration, comes and passes with the website down to all. Now there are posts from students who are waiting in airports, with flights in an hour, frantically looking for alternate options. While I track the general going-ons on social media, I have been refreshing the course enrolment page constantly, because the website can be fixed at any time, and all the courses would be fair-game. I was rewarded for my perseverance when at 3:11pm, the website loads for me, and I immediately went in and enrolled in courses. Woe be the students who decided to take a break and came back to discover most of the courses were full.

To be honest, besides the anxiety caused by the malfunctioning website, course enrolment seems to be a lot smoother for most students in the second semester. There was no posts from students who weren’t able to enrol in even one course. And Sciences Po administration seems to have learned from the pitfalls of last semester and blocked off some seats for each class, and released some after every few hours so students who were late still have some courses from which to choose. Now, if UofT professors would kindly reply to my emails about pre-approving courses, that would be great.

All said, I am incredibly excited about the start of the second half of my exchange in Paris. I’ll try to do the blog, and the city justice. Until next time!

It’s only just begun…

I have finished my first semester at Sciences Po today. How time flies!

I remember my first day in Paris in all its minute details, but the four months of my exchange seems to have fast-forwarded without my noticing. A year-long exchange is really only 9 months, and the time passes deceptively quickly. I am aghast to realize that many things were left undone (such as attending an opera performance at the Palais Garnier) because I believed I had plenty of time. Regardless of lingering regrets for time misspent, my first semester abroad in Paris was a joyous experience that I foresee will only improve.

Les Mis

Queen’s Theatre

The past weekend, I had the opportunity to visit London and fulfil one of my long-time dreams – watching the West End Les Misérables production. To all theatre-loving students out there, TKTS is the official discount ticket store for all your West End musical, dance and plays. For anyone watching Les Mis, I would recommend avoiding the holiday seasons and Fridays and Saturdays if you want to be able to buy discount tickets. I had splurged on a stalls ticket about eight rows from the stage, and had an altogether amazing three hours there. Since I had made a resolution to actually read the original French version of Les Mis, the West End production was a wonderful motivator. It is not the most holiday-spirited musical out there, but if the chance presents itself, I would highly recommend it (those in Toronto, there is a wonderful production at the Princess of Wales Theatre until February!)

Como

Water of Lake Como – photo taken from Varenna

My London visit was followed by a visit to Milan, and Lake Como. Mostly visited by people during the summer, the little villages on the shores of Lake Como are mostly deserted in December. This may be off putting for some (and it does get quite eerie at times) but it is the perfect time to take photos. There is barely anyone around, and the view is just as breath-taking. From the hectic city-life in Paris and London, Lake Como is a highly recommended place to slow down and unwind. A word of advice, it was warm when I visited the lake, but the sun starts setting around 4pm, and it gets a little nippy afterwards. Plan to arrive early, and leave early.

Lago di Como

Lago di Como

This will be my last post in 2013. Good luck to everyone who still have exams, have a great holiday season and a happy new year!

Grace

Hamburg

Last weekend I went on a trip to the second largest city in Germany, Hamburg. It was a trip hosted by the international club at the Humboldt University. It was a great group trip for a mere 80 Euros. I received transportation to and from Hamburg, two nights residency in a hostel, a walking tour, a boat cruise, entrance to two museums and a weekend pass to use the public transit system. Hamburg is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to in Germany, definitely worth a visit.

One of numerous water passages

One of numerous water passages

View from our hostel overlooking the port

View from our hostel overlooking the port

The first part of the itinerary once we arrived was a walking tour through the Innenstadt (the German word for “downtown” or “city centre”). We learned all about its history. Hamburg is a major port city located on the Elbe River and it is one of the wealthiest cities in Europe. What is interesting about Hamburg is that it is a city-state, like Berlin. That means that it is both a city itself as well as a Bundesland (“state” or “province” in English). So imagine the City of Toronto held the same standing as Ontario – that is what it is like.

The Innenstadt- looking ready for Christmas

The Innenstadt- looking ready for Christmas

Two museums were included within the trip. The first one was the International Maritimes Museum. It was approximately 10 stories of pure fascination about all types of naval interests. There were artifacts, models, scene recreations, an art gallery, naval warfare displays, uniforms … I simply cannot begin to describe all the attractions this museum contained. It was simply amazing. The other museum we visited was the Hamburger Kunsthalle, which is the city’s art gallery. We had a guided tour and I learned a lot about the different genres and types of art. But the downside for both museum visits was the amount of time we had. Only one hour was given respectively to each museum, as our daily programme was packed with events. I could have spent a few hours in each of the museums alone, especially the Maritime one.

Hamburger Kunsthalle

Hamburger Kunsthalle

The nightlife in Hamburg is one of the defining features of the city. The most famous area is called the Reeperbahn. This street is lined with restaurants, nightclubs and bars. The action is not only on the main street, but the neighboring streets in the vicinity as well. The Reeperbahn is also the largest red light district in Germany. At all hours of the night the street was crowded with people, partying the entire time. It seemed like the energy just never left the area.

One morning we did a boat cruise along the Elbe River and through the harbour itself. This allowed us to get a great water-level perspective of the daily operations of the port and the sheer scale of its size. We saw everything from the endless rows of massive cranes used to unload the freight ships to the docks where repairs are made to all types of vessels. The amount of logistics behind such naval operations is mind blowing.

Boat cruise, a real up a close view of the harbour

Boat cruise, a real up a close view of the harbour

IMG_3480

Not only was the sight-seeing experience great. The best part is that I met a lot of really cool students along the way. We got to know each other pretty well and we will stay in contact for sure during the rest of our studies in Berlin.

One thing is for sure: the next trip that the international club offers next semester, whatever destination may be, I will take part in again for sure!

The Rathaus (city hall)

The Rathaus (city hall)

Inside the Rathaus

Inside the Rathaus

 

On winter holidays and exams

Though Christmas is not yet upon us, the streets of Paris have been recently given a very festive uplift. Lights now hang over most streets. Many shops have also busted out their Christmas lights.

Boulevard Saint-Germain near Sciences Po

Boulevard Saint-Germain, near Sciences Po

But before Christmas travels and celebrations can even happen, one has to get through exams at Sciences Po. For most exchange students, classes have ended this week. The official exam period starts on the week of December 9th and continues until the few days before Christmas. As an exchange student, many of your classes will have in-class exams, or just a final assignment instead of an exam. So a large part of your December can be devoted to travels and other non-academic aspects of your exchange experience. But in the spirit of all the exams we have to get through before the holiday season, I will briefly describe the general forms of evaluations at Sciences Po.

Exams at Sciences Po are not very different from those at U of T. You have the typical essay exams and multiple choice exams. There are, of course, also those non-exams that come in the form of essays and presentations. I have noticed that all my assigned essays have not asked for more than 2500 words (this is a marked contrast to my first essay ever at U of T, which was for HIS103 and already passed 3000 words).

For the lucky few who land themselves in certain French courses, you might have a Grand Oral exam. The exam is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of a typical written exam, you will be given some materials and a few minutes to prepare (there are also cases where you will be given the topic a week beforehand) before you head in to the room and give a 10 minute presentation followed by a discussion with the jury (which could just be your professor). This sort of examination is more common in the masters level at Sciences Po, but certain undergrad professors like to challenge their students. For those who get to experience this uniquely Sciences Po tradition, Bon Courage!

The most distressing fact for assessments at Sciences Po is that you do not know how you are doing in a course until you see your transcript. Professors at Sciences Po are not obligated to, in fact they are encouraged not to, reveal your mark for any of your assignments and tests, because these marks will not reflect your final mark. You can imagine how this may present some difficulties in identifying gaps in your knowledge or the amount of time you should allocate to any subject.

This scuffle over grades stems from the fact that Sciences Po is one of those schools that subscribe quite ardently to the concept of bell-curving and grade distribution. There is a cap on the number of students that can be in a particular grade-range. And to be honest, this is something that deeply bothers me as a student. At U of T, I try to avoid courses where the first thing the professor mentions is that only a certain number of students will receive an arbitrary grade without even knowing the intellectual composition of the class.

This system is fully and strictly in place at Sciences Po, though the professors here are better at diplomatically explaining it. I can overlook the grade distribution because of the many other positive aspects of my exchange. And if you do not really care for how you do on exchange as long as you pass your courses, this will not be a big issue. But if you do care about your academic performance whether for scholarships or for graduate school, you should keep this in mind prior to making your decision.