Halley Knigge (Griffin)

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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.

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With only 6 school days remaining of spring semester at Sciences Po, my workload of the past few weeks is finally winding down. I’ve completed all my exposés, débats and dissertations, and with the exception of a one-page note de travail due on Thursday, all I have left to look forward to are completing three finals and the freedom of Paris without classes getting in the way of my fun.

The past few days have been particularly busy, as 10h this morning was the deadline for my final 15-page Urban Governance paper. To earn a francophone dîplome from Sciences Po, you can take up to one elective in a language other than French, but everything else must be strictly français. This is lucky for me, because it saved me from having to register for a French finance class when I was missing 5 credits in my schedule at the beginning of the semester.

I signed up for “Urban Governance: Steering the complex city” with absolutely no clue what I was getting myself into – all I knew was that whatever it was, it would be better than finance in French (or in English, for that matter). After the first class I still had no idea what the course was going to be about, but the instructor was a visiting professor from Germany and was super tall and one of the nicest people I’ve encountered at Sciences Po.

Okay technically after 13 classes, I still have no idea what we were learning all this time – something about case studies, subsidiarity and the L.A. school versus the Chicago school of thought. All I know is that we each chose a city to study for the semester, our own hometowns or any urban area we found particularly interesting. I chose Seattle (surprise, surprise), without any real idea of what I was supposed to focus my essay and research paper on. We were supposed to focus on some political or planning issue in our selected city and prepare both an exposé and an analytic paper on it. I decided that the Alaskan Way Viaduct debate would at least be interesting to research, even if it turned out to be the opposite of what Professor E wanted.

I spent weeks of my semester trekking all over the city looking for some kind of resource to use for my paper. The Sciences Po library actually had a few books that discussed Seattle’s urban government, but the most recent was written in 1968. Not only were they devoid of any mention of the viaduct, but they devoted pages to the “negro and oriental” communities developing around the city. I went to the library at the Pompidou center, the Bibliothèque Nationale and poured over the University of Washington online journal catalogue (thank you jstor). Finally I had scraped together enough information out of books, the website of the Washington State Department of Transporation and the Seattle Times archives to put together a respectable exposé. I thought the subject was interesting, but up until I actually stood in front of the class to talk about the deterioration of the seawall that supports the Seattle waterfront and part of downtown I was terrified that I’d created a presentation that had nothing to do with anything we’d studied in class.

The class seemed riveted, but that was probably due more to the horrifying sequence of slides I’d just shown them of the collapse of the Cypress Street Viaduct in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

As the lights came up, Professor E gave me his feedback. At first I was thinking, earthquakes and bridges, what does that have to do with Urban Governance?. I could feel myself blushing and braced myself for what was coming next. But after a moment it becomes very clear – this is a perfect example of the failures of a city’s politics in… What? He’d liked it? I’d succeeded in giving an exposé that fit perfectly a course that I didn’t even understand? Victory! He gave me a few suggestions for the paper and I went home thrilled and feeling like I might actually know what I was doing.

And just because I love this view:

Creative Commons Attribution 2.5

That was three weeks ago. Ever since then, I’ve been working away at my final paper, much more diligently than I’d ever manage to be in an environment with an abundance of useful sources – if I was actually writing about Seattle in Seattle, for instance. I stayed up until 4h the past three nights in a row revising and finishing my paper – I need all the points I can get if this is half of my final grade. I got myself out of bed after 4 hours of sleep this morning and made it down to Sciences Po a half hour before class started to print my paper and highlight State Route 99 and the Seattle Fault Zone on the graphics I was including with the project.

Feeling exhausted but like I was one huge leap closer to summer vacation, I handed in my paper with what I thought was the rest of the class. After counting the stack though, Professor E looked back up at us and wanted to know why he only had seven final papers out of a 15-person class. Two people immediately raised their hands to tell him that they didn’t have printers and that they’d emailed their papers to him this morning. That was fine. One girl raised her hand to say she had believed the deadline to be next week but was almost done with her paper and could email it in that night. That left five people unaccounted for. Poor Professor E looked around the classroom looking very confused. Does anyone have a problem turning in their paper today? he asked.

At that, four people raised their hands. I plan to send you my paper tomorrow evening or Thursday morning, said one French boy who was wearing a dark red velvety blazer, I’ll send it tonight if I can manage, but it’s more likely to be sent tomorrow night. Our professor looked so bewildered by this casual and unapologetic announcement that he couldn’t say anything. Then the next girl spoke up. Yeah, I’m going to need to take a few more days on mine. Professor E couldn’t believe this and neither could I. Being an English elective, the class is full of French students. French students who have to pass an incredibly selective concours to be admitted to Sciences Po. French students who supposedly carry around a grudge toward the international students who have lighter workloads and can get away with much more. French or not, I couldn’t believe that anyone could have such a lack of respect for a professor that they would demand extensions on the papers they’d supposedly been working on all semester without even a please or I’m sorry.

When Professor E, who’d finally regained his voice, began to question the fairness of allowing half the class to turn in late finals for full credit he was pounced on by the two remaining students. According to these girls, it was Professor E’s fault that they hadn’t completed their papers. He’d set a due date of June 12th and been terribly unclear about requirements for the paper. Their arguments made even less sense – if they were true, how did most of the class know when and how to turn in their final papers?

The icing on the cake was when our final classmate arrived panting 45 minutes late. He burst into the classroom, found a seat and quickly pulled out his notebook. Professor E paused the discussion to ask if he had his paper to turn in. Oh sure, was the reply. I can email it to you later.

Professor E was so taken aback by the number of incomplete papers that he merely set the late deadline for Friday afternoon and told us he needed to think about grades. I was so confused by the whole situation that I came straight home and emailed him with the reassurance that the deadline and requirements had been absolutely clear (even if the subject of the class had not been) from the get-go.

Dear Mrs Griffin, [sic, sic, SIC! I am so not married. Yet.]
Thank you very much for your feedback which is very important for me. I was
really confused about the statement that this was not clear.
Kind regards,
Prof E

I’m glad I could make him feel better, but now I feel worse – it seems that half of our class thought they could take advantage of both our prof’s niceness and the fact that he’s a visiting professor and unfamiliar with the Sciences Po system. I kind of want to write him back demanding half-credit for all the jerks who are trying to play him, but I don’t think that’s really my most, uh, mature option.

And a few more odd Google searches:
temperatures, anecdotes
cashier had cut on hand hiv risk
my revenge most embarrassing moment
SKIPPY peanut butter Light pARIS
crazy exercises


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As the French (and everyone else) like to joke, les manifestations (protests) are the unofficial national sport. Up until now, I’ve only been a witness. At first I was fascinated, then amused, then irritated, then just plain bored with them. What seemed so interesting because it was so uniquely French is now just a nuisance – I don’t care if they’re protesting for national solidarity or anarchy, I just want the bus 39 to run on time.

They protest everything – it’s their right, and they exercise it. And judging by the coup that almost took place in my L’Europe en crise class, the exchange students at Sciences Po seem to have adapted the same habits.

My maître de conférence for my European Union class is often absent. He’s cancelled three classes out of the 12 we’ve had this semester for various reasons – he works for the Sénat and often has unexpected work emergencies. None of us mind – our conférences are held Friday mornings at 8h, and we’re more than thrilled with the occasional opportunity to sleep in.

The problem is that for every cancelled conférence we’re scheduled a cours de rattrapage (make-up class), and it is not so easy to find another time when an entire class is free to meet. Our quick-thinking maître took the easy route and has scheduled all of our cours de rattrapage for Saturday mornings – when there are no other classes scheduled at Sciences Po. That’s why we made up a class from the beginning of May this morning.

There are strict rules regulating the cours de rattrapage at Sciences Po. Each class is supposed to meet exactly 14 times during the semester, and if a professor or maître needs to cancel a class, he is responsible for finding a time to make it up. Because cancelled classes are considered to be the fault of the teacher, the cours de rattrapage are attendance-optional for students. Professors are not allowed to base any grades on the make-up classes, schedule any tests or have any homework due – if a student can’t (or doesn’t want to) be present for cours de rattrapage, he can not be penalized in any way. That’s why our maître caused a bit of a scandal yesterday when he informed us that we’d be having an hour long galop (like a midterm) during our class this morning.

When he announced the galop he reasoned that he was getting us into the zone for finals with a midterm during the second-to-last week of classes. We all groaned a bit – not only were our Friday night shot by having to wake up for a class, but we’d be spending them studying – but we resigned ourselves to no fun this weekend and retreated to our various arrondissements to study the European crisis.

At around 22h last night, I’d just finished eating dinner and was just gearing myself up for a bit more revision when I received an email from two girls (from Portugal and Poland, respectively) in my conférence.

(Translated from French) Greetings everybody,

We’re writing to you concerning the galop tomorrow morning and to propose a solution. We don’t think any of us had enough time to revise for this galop. It’s neither moral nor legal to give an exam during a make-up class, especially because we just found out about it the day before and normally a galop is announced with at least one week’s notice.

So the solution that we propose is to demand, under the name of everybody in the class, that we don’t proceed with the exam and instead concentrate on the final subjects that we’ll be studying this semester.

Considering that we’re all in the same boat, buried with work and exams, we demand your support tomorrow.

I was thrilled – a coup! A revolution! An excuse not to study out of solidarity with my fellow étudiants intérnationaux! I spent the rest of the night watching old episodes of House on my computer and went to bed far later than I’d intended.

As I climbed the stairs to salle 301 at 10h15, I was excitedly imagining our mini-manifestation. When I walked into the classroom, though, I found everyone sitting docilely with their notes and the prompts for our galop in front of them. Apparently it wasn’t a real galop. We weren’t even being graded – this was just our maître’s way of trying to help us prepare for our final exams. A test test – one that he’d correct and hand back next week to help us recognize our weak points before the final.

No Sciences Po student in their right mind would protest extra help for finals, so just like that, our revolution fizzled. Instead we spent an hour writing our faux galops on the subject of Pensez-vous qu’on puisse résoudre la crise actuelle de l’Union européenne uniquement en réformant ses institutions? (Do you think the current crisis in the European Union can be simply resolved by reforming its institutions?) I answered no, and I’ll find out what our maître thought of it next Friday morning.

So much for my first manifestation participation. I still have two months though, and I can only hope that the Cité universitaire will try to ban males from the women’s dorms again just once before I leave.

And, just because it entertains me so, here are a few of the Google search terms that have led people to this site in the past few weeks:
hunting locations tacoma
girl getting dressed in the morning
ballet tights hypnotized
girls licking with rubber flip flops
under the skirt of Segolene Royal


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After three months of facebook poking and emailing lists of questions and answers back and forth, R and I finally managed to meet up in person with the four Sciences Po students heading to UW next year.

Our rendez-vous was scheduled for Sunday afternoon, so at 15h I was waiting in rain boots and a trench coat in the pouring rain outside of métro Odéon. I’d been there for less than a minute when Thomas (one of the Seattle four) came strolling out up the métro stairs with two unrelated French boys. One of them had apparently “visited Seattle once,” but other than that, they had nothing to do with Washington and were just along for the café. A few moments later Marie and Gabrielle (two and three of the SciPo in Seattle group) arrived simultaneously from opposite directions and the six of us decided to move on to les Étages, a student-friendly café on rue de Buci, to shelter from the rain and wait for the rest of our party.

It’s been raining a lot here lately:

We sat outside on the covered patio, and as we watched the rain pour off the edge of the roof and waited for R and Leila (number four) to show up, Thomas suggested that we might be getting a good preview of life in Seattle. Just then, Rachael and Leila arrived, and R and I settled into our usual pattern of her railing on the Seattle weather (she’s a California girl, what can you do?) and me defending it as forcefully as you can possible argue the virtue of 240 overcast days per year. It’s really not as bad as everyone says, I told them – Seattle weather is actually pretty pareil with Paris weather. I feel like it rains just as much in Paris as it does in Seattle – and the summers here are not nearly as pleasant.

I love Seattle:

Creative Commons Attribution 2.5

We spent an hour answering questions and giving advice, trying to explain the Greek system (Just watch the movie Animal House, it’ll explain better than we ever could…), lauding the joys of the IMA, and telling them that they simply have to get tickets for the Apple Cup, give us their reviews of the French boulangerie in Pike’s Place Market and make sure they live close enough to campus that they’re still immersed in student life.

When we’d exhausted our list of must-dos in Seattle, we transitioned easily into other topics of conversation. We spent a bizarrely long time discussing the political ability of Arnold Schwarzenegger with the fascinated Victor, before moving onto the ever-important question of “Which Ninja Turtle is the coolest?” (Michelangelo, of course). The Frenchies quizzed us with names of small and obscure towns in the middle of France to find out which we’d heard of or visited. I won quite a few points for having been to Collonges-la-Rouge, a tiny, odd and completely red (hence the rouge) town in Limousin.

After we passed our obscure French towns test, it was only fair that we moved on to the Washington state name pronunciation quiz. Marie found a pen in her purse, I dug out an old envelope, and R and I chuckled evilly as we wrote out our list. Not surprisingly, all six Frenchies tripped over Sequim, Puyallup and Oregon, but they did unexpectedly well with Chehalis, Enumclaw and Tukwila. I forgot to grill them on Hoquiam, but I suppose I can save that one for another day, another coffee.

We finally split up after two and a half hours of talking in rapid-fire French (it was excellent practice) about anything and everything. As we headed for the metro, R and I had the feeling that the two of us might be a little more excited to show the SciPoers around Seattle than they actually are to be shown around Seattle, though that’s probably due more to age than anything.

R and I are here for our third year of university – and as all French Sciences Po students are required to spend their entire third year abroad, you’d think the four future Huskies would be just a year behind us. School in France is arranged a little differently than back home – instead of preparing to spend a year abroad at the age of 20, as R and I did, our new French friends are only 18 years old. As excited as they are to spend the year in the U.S., all four seemed kind of terrified underneath their anticipation – which I completely understand. This year has been hard enough, moving to a foreign country with nothing but an acceptance letter to the university and having to find an apartment, figure out school and learn how to build a life in French – and I’m 21. I don’t think I could have done this three years ago – at least not without a lot more crying.

These kids are brave though, and they’ve been learning English since middle school. They knew when they applied to Sciences Po that they’d be spending their third years abroad, and choosing a program that allowed them to travel was a big plus for most of them. As nervous as they are, I think the hour R and I spent trying to pump them up about Seattle actually worked. Not only are they anxiously awaiting a year of concerts, free movies, interesting classes, the resources of a 50,000-person university, outdoor sports, Starbucks and the best Thai, Vietnamese, Indian and Japanese food that I’ve ever experienced, but Rachael and I are now completely psyched about going back. Especially now that we’ll have four Parisian friends to take camping, ply with lattes and Ivar’s, invite to authentic American college parties and practice our French with.


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Being at Sciences Po between the two rounds of the French presidential election is like being thrust into a hub of political hyperactivity. The dueling Sarko and Ségo camps have hung up jeunes pour Ségolène Royal/Nicolas Sarkozy flags in penîche (main hall) and spend every free moment trying to turn another young French voter and professors have cancelled classes to go off and debate or campaign for their preferred candidates.

Actually, the mood has been electric since mid-February, when François Bayrou crept up from behind to challenge to two main contenders for the Élysée (the Palais de l’Élysée is the presidential residence – basically the French White House) and turned the fairly predictable election into something much more interesting.

The way the French présidentielle works is by a run-off system. Each political party has the option to present a candidate who must gather 500 signatures from elected officials in at least 30 French departments (regions). The only other requirements to be a candidate are to be of French nationality and be at least 23 years old. After the official candidate list is announced, the candidates enter an official campaign period, the rules of which are strictly enforced – each candidate must be allotted the exact same amount of television time, whether through commercials, interviews or debates. The day before the elections campaigning is forbidden – no speeches, appearances or ads are allowed in order to give voters a “day of reflection.” Citizens vote on all candidates in the prémier tour of elections (which took place here on Sunday, April 22nd). If no candidate receives an absolute majority, there’s a run-off election between the top two two weeks later.

This year 12 offical candidates were announced, the favorites of which have long been Ségolène Royal from the Socialist Party and Nicolas Sarkozy of Jacques Chirac’s party the UMP. A run-off between Ségo and Sarko as they’re popularly called, has long been the expectation, but the emergence of the centrist candidate François Bayrou in the polls in February and March threw a serious wrench into the predictability of the election. As the first voting round drew closer, France was mainly concerned with four candidates – Ségo, Sarko, Bayrou and Jean-Marie Le Pen, a racist, fascist, holocaust-denying, extreme right-wing candidate with one eye, who shocked the country and the international scene when he made it into the second round of voting in the 2002 présidentielle. As extreme and offensive as Le Pen may be, he consistently manages to garner a hefty percentage of votes. Last Sunday he received around 11 percent of votes, compared to the inoffensive Green Party candidate’s 1.5 percent.

Polling stations opened at 8 am Sunday morning and officially closed at 6 pm. Unlike the U.S. elections, where voters watch the slow roll of blue or red across the country as polling stations close in each state and see the votes mounting up as they’re counted, the estimated results are not allowed to be announced until 8 pm the night of the first round. At 7:50 Sunday evening, Rachael, our friend Tom and I arrived at a friend’s parents’ Moroccan restaurant, which had opened early for the election results. Faris (the Moroccan friend) and a few other people had set up a projector and speakers so the news was playing 10 feet tall against the wall of the restaurant when we arrived.

The scene reminded me of New Year’s eve, with a countdown clock ticking away the seconds in the corner of the screen, and the camera views alternating between the different candidate’s headquarters. When the clock reached 7:59:30, a collective “SHHHH” rolled around the restaurant and everyone began counting down with the ticker, clutching wine or beer in one hand and frantically silencing cell phones with the other. At precisely 8:00:00, the screen was filled with two headshots – those of Ségo and Sarko before switching once more to the headquarters of each candidate. The whole scene was almost ridiculously theatrical – from the countdown to the winners’ pictures to the photo montages set to inspirational music that played homage to each candidate. I was reminded more of the Academy Awards or New Year’s with Dick Clark more than a serious political event – but I guess the French are used to doing it with flair.

The restaurant where we were was smack in the middle of the 11ème arrondissment, not too far from place de la Bastille – an area that is distinctly left-wing. When Ségo’s picture flashed on the screen the restaurant erupted in cheers – which shortly turned into boos and irritated Sarko insults when the percentages of votes tipped less and less in her favor. Over in the 2ème arrondissement, on the other hand, Sarko’s advance is being celebrated. As I find myself surrounded by some of the most politically aware kids I’ve ever met, I didn’t bat an eyelid when Paul (7) told me that he was “so happy” that Sarko made it, and was only mildly surprised when Ella (10) went off into a tirade about how “everyone wants Ségolène because they think she’ll give money to poor people, but really she’ll make everything more expensive for every one else with too many taxes!” Even 2-year old Georges knows, in direct accordance with the politics of his parents, that “Ségolène bad.”

While I’m sure 99 percent of what I hear from the kids is regurgitated straight back from their parents, it still amuses me to no end when Paul tells me he can’t wait for May 6th to find out who will win. Though Sarkozy came out of the first round with 31.18 percent and a clear lead over Royal’s 25.87 percent (numbers that three of my four nannying charges had memorized to the 100th), nobody knows where Bayrou’s 18 percent will go. At the moment, he’s endorsing neither candidate, and has instead declared that he’ll be founding a new political party – the Parti démocrate. The rest of the votes are easy to assign – Le Pen’s extremist votes will most likely go to the immigration-unfriendly Sarkozy, while most of the little leftist parties will be casting their votes for Ségolène. It’s the middle 18 percent that has everybody aflutter – and while my personal prediction is Sarkozy in the Élysée, we won’t know for sure until next weekend.

Meanwhile, Paul and I are counting down the days.


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It turns out that it is not that easy to date someone who lives on a different continent from you. First of all, there’s that word – dating, the very nature of which implies that you have someone with whom you go out in the world and do things. You’d think dating someone you’d go out to dinner, see movies, go to parks on nice days like today (it’s 60 degrees out and gorgeous), but when the two of you are on opposite ends of not only the Atlantic Ocean, but the North American Continent, all bets are off.

I didn’t expect it to be a problem when we started – yeah, it’s a “long-distance relationship,” but there’s still the phone, email, skype and even La Poste. Maybe we won’t get to see each other every day, but I’d rather be a girlfriend than not, and I’ll be home by August anyway. Besides, I have all of Paris to distract me.

Right. The situation is not so easy breezy when you’re having a bad day and all you want to do is see your boyfriend – but you can’t, because he’s 10,730 kilometers away. You can’t call him either, because it’s 5am in Seattle and besides the fact that he’s probably asleep, the long-distance charges on your cell phone would be ridiculous. Then you realize that because of the 9-hour difference between time zones and your conflicting schedules you can’t even talk to him voice-to-voice until Saturday. This is when it sucks.

I’m the red square – make sure to check out step #18

Being boyfriendless because you’re single in Paris is fantastic – there’s a never-ending supply of amorous French boys to take you out, you can go dancing and stay out all night without anybody worrying, you can give your phone number to any cute boy who asks for it. But what happens when you’re boyfriendless and not single? When there’s supposed to be one particular American boy taking you out, waiting for you when you come home from dancing with the girls, glaring at the boys who ask for your number on the street – and he’s not there?

I spent four months being single in Paris, and they were fantastic. I spent my weekdays dancing all night at Sciences Po parties and le Queen, and my weekends splitting bottles of wine with French boys with names like Alexi and Jacques (I kid you not) who gave me flowers and wanted to touch my hair. All of those complimentary French boys combined can’t compare with the one boy waiting for me back in Seattle – but the situation we have here is the pits.

There’s a pretty extensive “Weepy girlfriend” club at Sciences Po – at least once a week the subject of the boyfriends left behind crops up in one of my classes. I am never the instigator of these conversations, but I always end up joining in. The girls are different every time, but the lame conversation is always the same:

Sigh, I miss my boyfriend.

Sigh, me too, where’s yours?

(Insert random U.S. or Canadian city). But he’s coming to visit me!

Oh yeah? Mine too? When’s yours coming?

(Insert random week and month)

Sigh, yours is coming before mine – lucky girl!

The cities vary, as do the names of boyfriends and dates of reunification, but nothing else ever does. The recurrent nature of these conversations is due in large part to the fact that nobody ever wants to hear some girl moan about missing her boyfriend while she’s studying abroad – unless the listener has a boyfriend of her own tucked away at home and can’t wait to get through the obligated sympathy comments to moan about her own.

Things are a lot easier now than they used to be – international telephone calls are expensive, but Skype is free, and if you happen to have a webcam, you can pretend for a few minutes that you’re actually in the same room. Despite all your best efforts though, you’re never actually in the same room. If I had a euro for every time I’ve heard “I was webcamming with my boyfriend the other night, and…” somewhere at Sciences Po, I could…um…buy another webcam.

What can you do, though? There’s an empty spot next to me where a boy is supposed to be, so instead of calling him when I’m having a bad day, I flirt with the bus driver, pause a little longer than I should watching the French boys play soccer in the jardin des Tuileries, develop an inappropriate crush on my vie politique professor and devote entirely too much time and energy to finding Rachael a French boy. There’s nothing else to do – except wait.


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I’ve been terrified of my European Union final since the first lecture of the semester. After sitting through one Cours Magistral, I realized that it was completely pointless for me to be in the lecture – not only was the class held for two hours at 8 in the morning, I could not, for the life of me, understand the French of Professor DeWost. Going to my conférence only confirmed my assessment – none of the other international students got anything out of the lectures either. The man just mumbles, and there’s nothing to be done about it, aside from filling out less than favorable course evaluations.

Fortunately, the teacher of my conférence was very knowledgeable and a clear speaker, so I figured I’d get more out of paying good attention during her section classes on Monday afternoons. All was well until we found out that at Sciences Po, completely unlike the system at UW, you receive two separate grades for each course – one full, five-credit note for the conférence and one full, five-credit note for the lecture.

This is when I began to get even more apprehensive – I’d been going on the assumption that even if I blew the final, I’d have my exposés, débats, fiches and participation credits to balance out my lack of familiarity with the French system of oral examination. Apparently not. Instead, the final that I took for L’union européenne et droit communautaire would yield a full grade – and since that grade was based on a mere 20 minutes of assessment, I could very easily fail a five-credit course.

Fears grew even sharper among the international students when we learned the full format of the exam. Apparently we were each to receive an appointment time for an individual exam. Upon arriving at the site, we’d be called into a room to receive our topic and 20 minutes of tense preparation. After that, we’d go into another room to present a 10 minute exposé – yes those oral presentations that I’ve been preparing and giving all semester (but with days and days of prep time).

Everyone in my conférence emailed each other their notes for the entire semester, but still I had no idea what to study. The only advice I’d received was the not very reassuring (and kind of insulting), “Make sure to tell them your American (or from the programme international) so they know to expect less from you.” I read through the European Union’s website to remind myself of the functioning of the Parliament, the Council and the Commission; the ratification dates and objectives of each treaty and the demographics of the EU. I read the BBC’s European news coverage from the past week, but other than that, I didn’t know what to do. So instead of studying efficiently, I sat around and worked on giving myself a hernia.

To add to everyone’s stress about this test, the fact that individual exams had to be scheduled for each of the 300-some students in the lecture meant that for weeks after Sciences Po had posted the final exam schedule online, we were still waiting to find out when our appointments would be. We finally received an email from the sécretariat, with an attachment that would supposedly give us our assigned times. Instead it was an Excel chart with the names and email addresses of all the international students in the course. After many frantic mass emails were sent out, someone from the class finally emailed the sécretariat back, and on Monday we finally received our appointments. Mine was today, February 7th at 14h40.
When I arrived at the ENA building, I found out from the line of classmates waiting in chairs outside of the preparation room that exams were running late. Like everyone else, I pulled out my class notes, but instead of reading them I stared blankly at the opposite wall, feeling my legs and hands twitch rhythmically.

I was finally called into the salle de préparation at about 15h10. I presented my student card to the woman overseeing the preparation time, signed my name on a contract stating that it was really me taking my exam, and she offered me two manila envelopes. From each envelope I was to select a strip of paper with an exposé topic on it, choose the one that interested me and return the other. My two options were l’élargissement et approfondissement de l’union européenne (the enlargement and deepening of the European Union) and le processus juridique entre l’union européenne et les états-membres (the legal processes between the European Union and its members).

I grabbed the slip about l’élargissement and ran to a desk as I was already down three minutes of prep time. Since this was supposed to be a formal presentation, not an interactive examination, I needed some kind of coherent structure, not to mention a problématique and a thesis, so I sketched out a sloppy outline and begin writing down everything I could remember from the week we’d discussed the EU’s enlargement and any other useful information I could come up with.

After twenty minutes of frantic scribbling, I was escorted into the actual examination chamber. I shook hands with the examiner, signed another contract and began to argue my thesis, that enlargement, rather than being a detriment and complication to the EU was a necessary project to not only unify Europe, but inspire a greater confidence in the power of the EU by not only its citizens, but outside countries as well.

While I’m not sure my actual presentation made any sort of sense organizationally, I had a thesis that, if not always being completely logically supported, was strong and I finished with a solid conclusion. I also pulled out some of my old International Studies written exam techniques and threw as many hard facts into the presentation as I possibly could – so that even if my on-the-spot French and exposé were at times shaky, the examiner would at least know that I’d attended class and knew what I was talking about. I hit a rough spot when I stumbled before remembering that the newest additions were Romania and Bulgaria, but hopefully made up for it by discussing the Bolkestein Directive and quoting Jacques Delors and Winston Churchill (when he called for a “United States of Europe”). I even found a way to work in the article I’d read just before my final, about the busting of a child pornography ring in Austria.

My examiner followed up with a few questions about the relationships between the Commission, Council and Parliament, and whether the judicial system of the EU could be compared to that of the U.S., which I answered adequately, if not brilliantly. My final question was something along the lines of “what do I want to be when I grow up,” so we spoke for a few minutes about journalism and whether or not there would be any demand for an American foreign correspondent whose specialty was French politics. We came to the conclusion that, as horrid and convoluted as it is for us non-Europeans to learn, my best bet is to stick with my studies of the European Union.

As I left the exam, my legs were shaking so badly I could barely walk up the stairs, but I managed to tell a German friend from my class that he’d be fine. When my muscles finally began to relax, I treated myself to a pastry from my boulangerie (whichever neighborhood boulangerie you shop at the most automatically becomes “yours” when you’re describing it to anyone else) and couldn’t think anything but “I survived!” Now all I have to do is make it through one more marathon night of studying for my three-hour essay test on contemporary French politics tomorrow morning.