Back to School in Paris
Four years after I started working, I have once again hit the books. I am taking a Masters degree in Public Affairs (or MPA) at the Institute for Political Studies of Paris, better known as SciencesPo. This renowned French institution is situated in the Latin Quarter, the heart of intellectual discourse in the City of Light (or “la ville lumière”).
SciencesPo is the premier institution for political science in France, in Europe, and one of the best in the world. The school counts many former French Presidents (including the current one, François Hollande) and Prime Ministers, former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-‐Ghali, and former IMF chair Dominique Strauss-‐Kahn, business leaders, and many others.
I applied to the MPA program because I wanted a program with a broad scope. I wanted to concentrate on policy formulation and analysis, specifically on migration-‐related issues. I brought to the table a couple of years work experience in an international organization, and in an international financial institution, which is exactly what the program is looking for as well. The professors in the program are respected professionals in their respective fields. Last semester, we even had the privilege of having lectures given by former Greek Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou.
I was particularly attracted to the program’s emphasis on the practical application of the knowledge acquired in the classroom. As such, two of the program’s highlights are the study trip (where we shall be conducting field research in Cape Town, South Africa at the end of February) and the Capstone projects during the second year (think of them as consultancy projects for specific policy fields).
More importantly, the diversity of nationalities in this program is one of its biggest “attractions.” Out of forty students in my year, there are 23 nationalities. There are people in my program who were directly involved in the movements in Tunisia, and Egypt (the so-‐called “Arab Spring). There are political activists from Mexico, former White House staffers, biologists, engineers, and bankers. Each individual brings with him/her a wealth of unparalleled experiences and information regarding the situation in their respective countries.
One of the biggest challenges I initially had to face was the fact that I was returning to school. Returning to classrooms after a couple of years in meeting rooms was an adjustment. The type of concentration needed in the former is different from the latter, and it took me some time to get back into it. Nevertheless, inventiveness in the classroom, in this case, came out of necessity. Once I had returned to the level needed for “academic concentration” (meaning I had adjusted to my situation), I was able to enjoy my classes more.