By Paula Michelle
The 6 weeks from 01 June to mid July 2014 ranks among the highlights of my life so far; no mean call for a ‘mature’ student with more than a few life experiences under my belt. Fortified by the wisdom of 11 MBA subjects, I landed in France on the last Sunday of May, to commence studies in the summer exchange program within the Master in Management (MIM), at the ESCP, Paris campus. The opening joke of the engaging guest lecturer who presented during our first day orientation was that no-one, including the locals, can remember what ESCP actually stands for. Nevertheless I can tell you that ESCP is the world’s oldest business school, the Paris campus one of 5 European campuses in the ESCP suite, as well as being one of France’s grandes écoles, institutions running parallel to but generally recognised as superior in learning and status to the country’s universities. In short, world class education.
I chose the ESCP Paris program deliberately because it is not a short term, customised course. No-one collects you from the airport, takes you to campus in a mini-bus, organises site visits or manages your study and social calendar. ESCP places overseas summer students into the same mix of subjects as local MIM students, meaning that you are studying alongside regular French students, as well as students within the international exchange program. Given its location and prominence within Europe and the world, even the full time ESCP Paris students were from places as diverse as China, Italy, Senegal, Pakistan, Spain and Croatia, as well as of course from France, while the 9 students in the exchange group represented Turkey, the US, Britain and of course Adelaide, Australia. The diversity was fabulous. The student group was self-organising for social outings (generally pubs with TV to watch World Cup finals!). I was by far the oldest in a group of 20-30 year olds, but it was such a diverse group that it really made no difference.
The exchange group was managed within ESCP by the delightful Dorota, a young woman from Poland with impeccable English and French, assisted by her colleague Pierre. Together they facilitated our enrolments, pre-departure information, welcome, orientation, several lunches and informal social events, and generally made themselves available to help us navigate through what at times was not much short of chaos. Be prepared for the turbulence – from an over-complicated registration process, subject changes, last minute confirmations, erroneous timetables that see you late for lectures and, for some reason that made sense to no-one, lecture rooms that changed for every subject on a daily basis. You will do best to just flow with the chaos and accept it as essentially ‘French’. You are also likely to find that, amid the madness, things turns out just fine!
One particular note: My study period was confirmed several times as 6 weeks, and I booked accommodation accordingly. However it turned out to be only 4 – hence I paid for an extra 2 weeks, lecture-free, in Paris. I can hardly complain.
I took the equivalent of 2 MBA subjects, which comprised one 30 hour (the very popular Negotiation Bootcamp) and 2, 15 hour subjects (Real Estate and Money Markets). All lecturers delivered in English, but one was a local French lecturer, one a visiting lecturer flown in from India, and one a permanent ESCP lecturer originally from Ireland. Delivery styles, pace, organisation, out of hours study load and assessment method were as different from each other as is possible, with expectations ranging from quite manageable to overwhelmingly demanding. There did not seem to be a consistent standard. Again, you just had to go with it. The learning I have to say was all top quality and with great practical application. There is also a vast amount of incidental learning simply being for so many weeks in such a vital part of the world – in my first few days Paris hosted visits from both the Queen and Barack Obama! I was certainly stretched but, equally, quite confident in contributing during class as well as anyone, given the excellent foundations provided by the world class University of Adelaide.
Lecture attendance – generally 3 hours duration – varied from full time (every day, morning and afternoon), to spread over morning, afternoon or evening sessions across 2-3 weeks, depending on the subject. This meant quite a lot of time left for sightseeing (and study of course), including 2-3 days off in a row which meant short trips within France or to neighbouring countries. I stayed on a number of weeks after the course ended so managed quite a bit of extra travel, but still squeezed an amazing amount into my study weeks without detriment to my results. In contrast, some weeks were completely full of study and homework.
Arrangements for accommodation, food, transport and so on are all in your own hands. ESCP does have an arrangement with a nearby ‘hostel’, though this was at the time full of teenage college students on exchange at ESCP from Texas, so I was happy to have found a private apartment a 15 minute walk away. ESCP is in the 11th arrondissement of Paris, a little out of the central tourist area but, better still, where the ‘real’ French live, adjacent lively and affordable shops, bars and cafés, and still only a few Metro stops to everything you would want to see in Paris. Excellent meals are available at amazingly cheap prices at the campus cafeteria, but I generally shopped at local supermarkets and the fabulous open-air markets. Living in the city for so many weeks, it certainly helped that I had reasonable – and now vastly improved – French, but you can get by with English and basic polite phrases. For me, the independence of the program was its biggest draw. I was just a student in Paris going to uni every day – and loved it. One tip – given the length of the program, I was very glad to have brought my own lap top, despite the downside of carting it around. It was my link with home and meant I was not tied to campus for homework, which additionally only has French keyboards.
ESCP Paris is not for students wanting a managed program. It is for people wanting a taste of being a genuine ‘foreign student’, happy to jump into the mix, sort out your own living arrangements, work hard and stretch yourself. There will be an element of chaos, but you can also expect to be absolutely delighted. You will receive world class, eye-opening, truly global learning. The only down side is having to come home.
A final note of thanks to Sarah May and Belinda Kon for their support, availability and professionalism in helping me navigate the process and preparations for program. They are both fabulous.