It seems pretty fitting to me that my last experience with Sciences Po was confusing, horribly planned and exasperating. Monday afternoon I had my last final of my junior year of university and my year abroad at Sciences Po– Grands débats de l’Europe en crise.
The European Union by itself is a daunting subject for non-European students – even the exchange students with EU citizenship in my classes are often confused and frustrated. In my EU class fall semester nearly half of the students were Americans – something that amused our German, Dutch and Polish counterparts to no end. But why are you taking this class, they wanted to know – and after a few weeks of class we were asking ourselves the same question.
After studying the European Union for a while, you begin to notice a pattern. Even if you have no idea what to study for a three-hour written final on Europe in crisis, you can bet it’ll come back to one of a few things. As long as you make sure to read a few choice articles about l’élargissement et approfondissement (enlargement and deepening) of the EU, something about the institutional crisis stemming from the rejection of the proposed European constitution and formulate an opinion about the European identity crisis, you’ve got your bases covered.
My final was Monday afternoon, and though our two midterms for the class had been open note I had no idea about the final. A few hours before the test I went to my and Anna’s usual study spot of La Croissanterie on Saint Germain to buy sandwiches and pastries from the waitress who looks like she’s suffering from a severe case of leprosy – as in, weird sores all over her body. By 13h30, the time I needed to leave for my exam, I still had no idea whether we’d be allowed to use notes, so I was carrying all of mine around with me in my giant Nine West bag.
I also had no clue where my final was being held, so the first order of business in the Sciences Po penîche was to consult the bulletin board. All international students were in amphi Emile Boutmy, where at least a hundred students were milling around trying to find their assigned seats. Everyone else seemed to think this was an open-note test, so once seats had been found everyone began stacking piles of notebooks, loose leaf paper and French-langue maternelle dictionaries on their desks.
A few minutes before 14h one of the test proctors took the stage to inform us that the test would, in fact, be closed note. This announcement was met with a wave of groans and protests from students who had based their studying (or non-studying) on the idea that there would be notes to consult for precise dates and figures. One particularly upset girl from Sweden who was in my conférence raised such a stink that one of the proctors went to the Sécretariat to phone the professor. Five minutes after 14h, she was back to announce that we could use our notes, and since we were now five minutes behind, we’d get an additional three minutes at the end of the exam (nobody quite understood how that was supposed to add up).
The next big flurry came around as we each received our exam subjects and began to read. According to this piece of paper, we had three hours to write four essays about four big crises facing Europe. In addition to the expected élargissement and institutional crisis questions, there was one about the budget (a subject I know nothing about) and another about the Franco-German relationship. Realizing that left us about 45 minutes for each essay, the room was again filled with groans and the flustered test proctor ran outside to phone the professor for the second time.
The time was quickly ticking away, so with the exception of the one loud Swede, we all started scribbling frantic outlines for four essays.
Okay, did the past two enlargements toward central and oriental Europe through the EU into crisis? Ummm, no, but the speed of the enlargements did. Talk about the history, the Schuman declaration, the aims of enlargement, then the problems facing the EU today – TURKEY!!!
Next, is the Franco-German couple outdated? Yes, but it’s still important. Talk about the history of the couple’s importance in European construction and integration, don’t forget to mention the specific partnerships between Giscard-d’Estaing and Schmidt and Mitterrand and Kohl.
Right then, the budget. Uhhh, I’ll come back to this one.
Okay can the current crisis facing Europe be resolved solely by reforming its institutions? Ha! This one’s like a trick question – the institutional crisis is just a symptom of much deeper problems. The real crisis comes down to the question of European identity and the future of the EU, not resulting problems with its institutions.
Okay now back to the budget. Uhhhh….
At that moment the proctor returned to inform us that there was a typo on the subject paper – we were actually supposed to treat just three of the four subjects. Phew, there goes the budget. This was again met with groans all around – one fewer essay to write is great, but not if you’ve just wasted half an hour outlining four essays and planning the next two and a half hours around them. Again the Swede was up in arms, but by this time the proctors had had enough. It was time for us to settle down and write our exams, and they’d appease us with ten extra minutes at the end.
I finished my test with three minutes to spare and no time to correct my hasty French, but I’m not complaining. As long as I pass I’m happy – and besides, now I’m officially on summer vacation.