Name: Guillermo Lopez
Major: Political Science; French
Location: France - Sciences Po, Paris
Program: UC Education Abroad Program
Why did you study abroad?
I wanted to get to know the world better! I am studying Political Science, with an emphasis in International Relations, and French. With increased globalization, I felt that I had to travel in order to gain a better understanding of my surroundings, plus it would complement well my studies. I wanted to improve my French, live in Paris for a while, travel, meet people from other parts of the world, and just enjoy myself! I had always heard from people that had done study abroad how it had been the most incredible experience in their lives, and so I wanted to see for myself. And it was!
What impact did studying abroad have on you?
I definitely became a more open-minded individual. I came to appreciate diversity a lot more, and I came to realize that there are a lot more similarities that unite us as humans than there are differences. Perhaps the most important impact that study abroad had on me was that I got to know myself better, I became more aware of my strengths and weaknesses.
What was the most memorable/meaningful aspect of your time abroad?
I think that the most memorable aspect of my time abroad was walking, drinking wine, and eating along La Seine in Paris! I spent fabulous moments there with friends and by myself. The most meaninful aspect was getting to know people from other parts of the world. I got to meet some amazing individuals, and I cherish their friendship.
Describe a typical day for you abroad.
I had class four days a week, and my day started early. I would walk or take the metro. Walking was amazing! It would take me about 20 minutes to get to school. I would walk on the streets of Paris, admire the architecture, the French, les Petits Cafés, La Seine, gardens, it was incredible. Taking the metro was fun. There were times when it was a bit crowded. I had to transfer to get on the right lane, and so transferring was a whole different adventure in itself. There wasn't a single time when I didn’t hear someone sing. People were also always on a rush. And then I would get to the school. Sciences Po is in one of the fanciest neighborhoods in Paris (the Saint Germain area). There would always be students standing outside the entrance. I took four classes, 3 in French and one in English. After class I would either meet a friend and eat, or just go straight home. I walked back home most of the time. I really loved walking. Next to where I lived was a really good boulangerie, and so I would buy delicious fresh baguettes. It was fabulous! I did a lot of cooking. Later I would work on some homework. Some evenings I would go out with friends, most likely to a bar or a restaurant. But then there were nights when I stayed home. I normally went to bed at around 1 am. And then it would start all over again!
Describe your academic experience abroad.
Going to Sciences Po in Paris was a bit different from Berkeley. Many people say that the French education system is very rigid and inflexible; and Sciences Po has a little bit of that. Compared to Berkeley, a lot more emphasis was given to structure and form. For writing papers there was some sort of scheme that we had to follow. Oral presentations were quite common (which is very different from Berkeley). So I had to adapt to their system. For the first month or so, I did not have much work, but during the second and third month, I was really busy (and so were other students). Overall I spent less time in class compared to Berkeley. About 40% of the students at Sciences Po are international, so it was easy to slack off and not speak French (but it really depends on the individual). I would say that I had a good academic experience. I got exposed to the French system of education, and I learned new ways to approach and do work. I generally enjoyed all of my classes and did well!
What was the most interesting cultural experience you had abroad?
When I was in Rome I got to see the Pope give mass! I went to the Vatican a Sunday morning with a couple of friends, but we were not expecting to see the Pope, or even go inside St. Peters. The previous day we had taken a tour of the Vatican, and had already been inside, and the tour guide had told us that the Pope never really gave mass on Sundays. But then, that Sunday morning, we were able to get inside (and were actually several of the first ones). They were handling out little booklets with the mass schedule, we opened it, and to out surprise we saw that the Pope was going to give the mass!! We were extremely excited! We got to see him really close up, and had the chance to take pictures. The mass lasted about 2 hours and a half, and it as all in Latin and Italian. It was an incredible experience. We kept telling one another how we couldn't believe that we were there!
What financial advice would you give to future study abroad students?
It really depends on each individual case. For me, I took the financial aid I would normally receive in Berkeley with me. The amount I was given was adjusted for the higher costs of being in Paris. I also applied for the Gilman Scholarship and got it. Also, I had been saving money from my jobs. My parents also gave some money. I didn't have to take out loans. Studying abroad can be really expensive, but if you plan your finances well you can be fine. Students with more limited budgets found ways to not spend so much money, such as not traveling as much (or going to the more affordable places) and cooking (I did this a lot). I think that students looking to study abroad should save money, look for scholarship opportunities, and consider taking loans.
What was the biggest challenge/concern of your study abroad experience? How did you respond?
I would say that the biggest challenge/concern for my study abroad experience was finding housing in Paris. It was really difficult! It was a result of a lack of familiarity with the city, lack of good planning, the inability to accommodate for everyone's preferences, and also the fact that the program did not really help students find housing. I lived with two other people, and we ended living in like 4 different places in Paris, and paid a lot of money (but I just think that we were unlucky because most people didn't struggle as much). The only way to deal with this was just to stay calm and patient. My advice for students considering this program is to plan in advance, and to be aware of the options that they have. After going through all of this I think I can give pretty good advice on the subject.
What would you recommend to students considering studying abroad, especially to your country and program?
This program is often seen as one of the more 'academically challenging' abroad programs because it is at Sciences Po, one of the premier teaching institutions in all of France. A lot of prominent politicians have gone through Sciences Po, and the school is very prestigious. For students looking for a perhaps more 'serious' program, than this would be a good one. Also, Sciences Po mainly specializes in Political Science and Economics, so it would be a good match for students interested in those fields. Now to a different aspect. The program is in Paris!! Paris is one of the most incredible cities in the world. The city offers a lot in terms of food, entertainment, cultural learning, and fashion. I had always dreamt of going there, and I did it! Also, living in Paris really facilitates traveling since it's pretty much in the middle of Europe. The city itself is also very international, so it's is highly likely to meet people from all over the world. If you are looking for a program that is academically challenging, then Sciences Po would be a good match. And if you want to be in one of the most amazing cities, Paris may be a good option.
Anything else you would like to share about your international experience?