Raiya Kishwar Ashraf, studied at the Sciences Po Paris Reims campus in 2013-2014
“I’ve enjoyed the rhythm of the French way of living, the food, the music and above all, the language”
– Raiya Kishwar Ashraf, 19 years old, from Dhaka, about her experience at the Sciences Po Paris Reims campus in 2013-2014.
“I wish to share as much of the Bengali culture, food, music and language as I learn and live the French” – this was what I started my year in France with, what I told Monsieur Frédéric Mion, Director of Sciences Po Paris on my first day there. It was no surprise that on my last day there, I was asked if I’d succeeded. I had.
My year in France has been a very rich and informative experience. While I had traveled in other countries before, living in another country was a first for me and I tried to make the most of this cultural and academic exchange! During my stay I immersed myself in the French culture and more specifically the Franco-Euro-American environment at my campus at Sciences Po Paris “Campus Euro-Américain de Reims”. I’ve enjoyed the rhythm of the French way of living, the food, the music and above all, the language. I’ve also shared just as much of the Bangladeshi food, culture, music and language with my peers. I’ve traveled across France, met locals, shared cars and shared conversations. It was a pleasure to learn their perspectives on life and share mine with them - to find similarities, differences and consolidation.
One of my goals in studying at Sciences Po Paris was to acquaint myself with the European methods and study courses more specifically concentrating on European issues. I was an exchange student from Asian University for Women (AUW), a liberal arts college in Chittagong, Bangladesh. My major in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) fit in beautifully with my program at Sciences Po where I took classes with the students in “2ème année” (2nd year). I challenged myself with courses designed on the European Union and fully immersed in conversations, debates and discussions with my multicultural classmates on Euro-American politics and economics. This allowed me to put my Asian perspective in context and provide further points of view to the discussion: this made for a very interesting learning environment. I took heavy course loads and challenged myself with the French system, and while it took me some time to understand the problématique style of writing and presenting, I believe that learning it enriched my experience.
I frequently found myself in the middle of discussions about the South Asian culture, our people and religions. I realized I was no longer representing just myself, my school, my country or my family – no longer did I have conversations where I spoke for my own pleasing. Every word, every expression was constructive, imparted unique knowledge about my perspectives and bore the responsibility of shaping someone else’s.
One challenge was to coordinate around the several procedures related to the transition, namely, understanding which documents and deadlines we should be prepared for in order to navigate around EDF (French electricity network), Social Security and OFII (French agency in charge of migration). Opening a bank account was essential and that was the first job I completed. This allowed me to get myself a phone connection and the free wifi at my residence (pre-booked and paid for), and ensured that I was well connected with my family back home. I understood that organizing and preparing myself was key in ensuring a smooth transition as I settled into a new life.
While I did not speak French before coming here, I knew that learning the language would be on top of my agenda. It was a significant part of my experience here. Before I left for France, I made sure I understood parts of the language, the numbers and all other essentials that would be required while travelling (basic words, places, questions, directions, etc.) I took a few classes at Alliance Française de Dhaka. This helped me a lot in my first few days. Once school started, I had 6 hours of French every week and that was my best class here! The exposure and fascination to French culture and life that I got in that classroom was amazing and I was very happy to be learning it. I chose France because I had spent my childhood learning so much about its history, on being so close to its people, I felt I learned a lot more than I thought I would. Getting to know people in their own language is a precious experience and I used it well during my travels around France and Europe. At the bakery, supermarket, on the streets, during my travels, practicing French made this experience a lot easier and more nuanced than it would’ve been otherwise. I hope to continue learning French and forever enjoy the wonders of French patisserie at the comfort of my own home.
I had the unique exposure to French research and opportunities that lie in education there. I was fascinated by the work my professors were accomplishing and that inspired me to pursue my own research back at home. I will be starting my senior year of college at AUW from Fall 2014. I am currently doing a research internship with BRAC Research and Evaluation Division in Dhaka and over the next year plan to apply to jobs and graduate school. I hope to eventually learn and work in the field of public policy making, development and market research, ideally with international and regional organizations. I would love to go back to France and do a dual-degree with LSE-Sciences Po or Columbia University-Sciences Po, or study in any other university with such provisions provided I am able to finance it with a scholarship.
Being from Bangladesh and having a middle class background, scholarship opportunities such as those awarded by the French government give an incomparable and important opportunity for self-discovery.
Would I recommend this experience to other international students? Absolutely! This is a wonderful opportunity to live, learn and observe life at its best as one explores oneself and others. France is made of warm people and beautiful traditions. Its sights, sounds and studies will forever keep calling me back.
— Raiya Kishwar Ashraf