During the last year of my undergraduate program, I spent the first semester studying at Sciences Po university situated in the heart of central Paris. There are loads of fun, interesting and exciting things I could tell you about, but the following elucidates the bureaucratic but necessary hurdles you must pass through before getting to them:
The application processes for student visas and accommodation is the first and worst part of going on exchange abroad. Be sure to apply for your student visa before leaving the country in case something goes wrong and you have to return to Australia to sort it out. As for finding an apartment, don’t give up! I experienced about a dozen failed offers before I found a really spacious and wonderful apartment just a minute’s walk away from Sciences Po, and a maximum walk of 40 minutes form almost all of the main sites and sounds of Paris (including most of the grand museums, which, incidentally, are free for exchange students, making them a convenient way to have fun and save money that one will certainly need given that everything is approximately double the price). In any case, there are loads of bicycle services you can sign up to as an alternative way of making your way around Paris. The metro system is also fast and fantastic with a metro stop every few blocks. But be warned: to access both the bike and metro services, you will have to confront the dreaded French bureaucratic system that eats up a great deal of your time and sanity. Back to apartment hunting: you may encounter a paradoxical situation in which your prospective landlord asks for your French bank account details, and the French bank you try to sign up with asks for your landlord’s details. In this case, ask the landlord for a photocopy of the apartment’s gas or electricity bill and take this to the bank to open an account with them. I would suggest opening an account with Société Générale as they have loads of branches all over the place (including one very close to Sciences Po), only require that you visit them once to register with them, and give you put 80 euros in your account to start you off.
Don’t forget to apply for CAF, which is the French equivalent of Youth Allowance that pays for approximately half of your monthly rent for the duration of your studies. It is also worth signing up to the Sciences Po student union, called the Bureau des Elévès, which organizes heaps of bar nights, parties and weekend trips to Southern France, Amsterdam, and so on. Although expensive, the Welcome Program is also worth signing up to meet people, orientate your bearings in the city via walking tours and boat trips down the Seine, and get used to the Sciences Po assignment methodology and procedurals.
The final hurdle to overcome is the enrollment process at Sciecnes Po, which is notorious for crashing and disappointing a lot of students with limited class numbers. Ensure that you have a substantial list of backup courses you are willing to take as Sciences Po administration is very adamant that they will not open up new spaces in specific courses you want to take, but only in specific disciplines e.g. history, law, etc. Moreover, make you sure you are logged in and on the enrollment page well before opening time and with a strong internet connection. I was fortunate enough to find a spot in all of the courses that I wanted despite the server crashing for half an hour, but my happy story was by no means the common experience of most students I spoke to. After all this bureaucratic but essential exigencies are behind you, you will find your exchange abroad a rewarding and exciting life event indeed.