Student Stories

Exploring politics and grassroots organizing in Paris, France

July 14, 2020

Written by Alexandra Senchyna, Simons Foundation International Travel Grant recipient for Spring 2020.

For the fall and spring semesters of my third year of study, I was fortunate to have been accepted to study at Sciences Po Paris in Reims, France. Sciences Po was my top choice university for exchange because it is an institution which specifically teaches political science, international relations, history, and economics. As an International Studies major with a minor in History, being able to live and study in France has been the most significant moment of my academic career.

With the courses that I took, I was able to complete a certification in International Affairs and Strategy. As I am completing the first stream in IS (International Security and Conflict), this certificate allowed me to explore security studies deeper. One of my professors in particular, served on a peacekeeping mission in Cyprus, and as such, having the opportunity to learn about peacekeeping efforts from someone who had firsthand experience was invaluable. Furthermore, as Sciences Po is an international institution, I was able to learn political theory from the perspective of professors who are from all over the world. Sciences Po has a variety of campuses throughout the entire country, with each campus offering courses with a particular focus on one region of the world. My campus, the second largest, had two separate programs: the European-African and the European-American programs.

As a history minor, I had the opportunity to take a variety of courses in either American, African, or European history. I took two history courses that year which personally defined my year abroad. The first was African American history, and the second was African Americans in Africa which focused on the African diaspora. During my year in France I was also a part of my school’s Black Lives Matter organization, as one of the English Communications Representatives. Taking these two classes in conjunction with working with BLM was imperative in shaping my understanding of history and its correlation with present issues.

Moreover, I did my exchange during one of the more politically strenuous years in France. For the two semesters that I was there, I was able to witness the “Gilets Jaunes” protests firsthand and see the physical responses of the French government to these demonstrations. As a student of international relations, the concurrence of my study abroad with this political event was interesting to observe.

Further, having the ability to live in France greatly improved my speaking and comprehension skills of the language. Growing up in Vancouver, there are limited opportunities for me to practice my French in daily situations, so being fully immersed in the language was personally very important. Finally, the courses that I was able to take, and the grassroots organizing that I was able to engage in, shaped my critical understanding of politics and society in ways that I would not have learned in the classroom in Canada. Having the opportunity to study abroad and allowed me to grow both academically and personally.