The Mobility team at the University of Bath has asked their students to share stories about how the Turing Scheme helped them. Alastair Nicol, a BSc (hons) student in Politics and International Relations, writes about his time at the French university of Sciences Po.
Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things no one can imagine.
– Alan Turing
Starting August 2021, I was lucky enough to embark on a year of cultural exchange, academic refinement, and professional empowerment. Before going to university, I knew I wanted a year abroad to be part of my degree – the temptation of a year exploring a new way of life was too strong to resist, despite the Herculean nature of French bureaucracy that I needed to get through! My year abroad was with a French university called Sciences Po and, in my Anglican naiveté, I didn’t know what this meant. Thinking it would be fun to see if there were any famous alumni I might have heard of, I typed in ‘Sciences Po, Famous Alumni’ into the search engine. Sciences Po made my enquiry easy by having a specific webpage dedicated to such a search and it’s easy to see why. On said webpage, there was a section about French Presidents, another section about French Prime Ministers and one about others who dedicated their work to international spheres. It was at that moment I realised that the year ahead of me wasn’t going to just be an elaborate excuse to indulge in ‘pain au chocolat’!
To explain in more detail, despite its name suggesting a focus on Political Sciences, Sciences Po is more of a leadership school. Its aim is to empower and prepare its students for a world of business and politics. It also has multiple campuses across France, and I was fortunate enough to go to their campus in Reims – the cultural capital of the Champagne region and home to Veuve Clicquot and Taittinger. Functioning in a renovated Jesuit college, the Reims campus was a wonder; there was a piano near the entrance where students regularly played between lectures, a small green space outside the library and in summer, through old and carved wooden doors, you could find the budding ‘crème de la crème’ of the French education system chatting and conversing under cherry blossoms.
The Turing Scheme and its associated grant let me experience Sciences Po and France at its fullest. I was able to make friends and travel to places like Paris, Lyon, Avignon, Annecy and Geneva with them. I was also able to network with young people from across Europe and the wider world at galas and parties in Champagne Houses and Palaces.
The academic side of the year abroad was nothing to sneer at either. Two lecturers in particular stand out in hindsight. One taught a module on ‘Strategies of Influence’, which gave students a better understanding of how to navigate a professional life in the field of politics and business. Another shared his experience of living under ISIS in Mosul and how he had supported the regrowth and cultural heritage of his home country both locally and internationally. Both lecturers highlighted how empowered you feel through the people you meet and by what you are taught.
It’s easy to feel briefly inspired by other people’s lives and international experiences but ultimately come to the conclusion that this is the sort of life that other people live. It’s easy to keep your vision narrow and restrained since it seems more reasonable and realistic to do so. It’s also easy to feel intimidated by an institution like Sciences Po, particularly when you don’t speak a word of French beyond ‘bonjour’ going into the experience. But, had it not been for the Turing Scheme and its funding, I wouldn’t have been able to viscerally realise how wrong that approach was. Perhaps you’re a bit of a hobbit like myself. Perhaps you are content with your shire and small, peaceful corner of the world, like Bath or wherever home is. But, even if that is the case, there are adventures to be had!