Dear eighteen-year-old Simay,
You look adorable with that haircut. You are probably incredibly excited to start a new school in France and I wish I could go back in time and warn you –it’s not going to be as amazing as you expect it to be, and that’s okay. You are not going to kiss someone on top of the Eiffel Tower, you are certainly not going to be the best student in your class, and there will be lots of mental breakdowns along the way. However, you are going to change as a person in ways you can’t even imagine and that’s probably worth all the trouble. I should also add that your French will suck by the end of two years but you’ll have that one teacher who will make you read Voltaire and Victor Hugo and even though it will take you ten minutes to read a page, you will be able to say “I have read Voltaire in French,” when you are twenty-five and want to sound highly intellectual at a dinner party.
I have a couple of pieces of advice for you to get through your years in Reims. First of all, the reason you are going to be disappointed is not because Sciences Po does not offer a high-quality education, but because you imagined it as a utopian place upon your arrival on campus. Above all, it’s an institution, which means you are going to have professors who will really change the way you look at the world, and those who can’t form a proper sentence without looking at his/her notes. You will meet people that’ll make you wonder “How did he/she get in here?” and those whom you will admire and look up to as role models.
It is going to be a difficult task to realize that grades do not matter as much as learning. You can get really high grades without learning the subject properly if you know how the system works, prioritize courses that will give you the most credits, and do nothing else. Or, you can settle for an average grade, but actually dedicate your time to learn the things that you really want to learn. It’s a choice you need to make between being pragmatic and ethical, and sooner or later you’ll know which one makes you happier. Do not brush aside your hobbies just because you need to pass that micro quiz. Nobody is going to ask you to calculate marginal utility in two years, but you will regret it a lot if you sit in front of a piano and can’t even play the most simplistic sonatas of Beethoven. If you are going through a depressive episode, do not force yourself to study. Treat it as any other health issue and take care of yourself. You deserve that ice cream. Do not go to your Italian class if you have a fever that is above 38.5 (I am serious that class isn’t going to end very well, go back to sleep). Do not hesitate to ask for help when you need it, some people are going to turn you down , but that is not a reason to stop asking. There will be someone who will finally respond, understand, and be there for you (I would list the names of all the people that I would like to thank here, but I don’t want to turn this into an Oscar speech). Invite people to dinners and movie nights. If you want to get to know someone and don’t have the opportunity to do so, then create one on your own and chances are there are lots of people out there waiting to be reached out to. If there is an association that you want to join that does not exist on campus, start one. Do not force yourself to socialize the way everyone does. You don’t have to go to every single event during the integration week in order to make friends. Go out if you feel like going out, but you can also make yourself popcorn and get a beer and watch How I Met Your Mother for hours and that is an acceptable way of spending a Friday night. Lastly, try to judge people less. Judge yourself less. If you are not happy, stop whining and try to make the best out of a situation. Regarding your third year abroad, don’t worry about it too much. You’ll end up in some place really cool.
Lots of love,
A slightly wiser version of yourself that really needs to work on an essay but instead decided to write this.