By Alina Yalmanian
It has been nearly a month and a half since integration week started: by now we have become familiar with Reims, we don’t need to ask for directions to our classrooms anymore, we have come to accept and maybe even enjoy the coffee from the cafeteria, but more importantly by now we have come to understand what studying at Sciences Po means: trying not to drown under a huge workload while balancing association duties and social life. I don’t know about you, but when I had the chance to talk to Sciences Po students before applying, this is exactly the experience they had promised me. And it seems to me that everyone is managing to balance all of this with perfect ease, making it look like no big deal.
This is why I was surprised to see more and more people on Facebook saying that they feel overwhelmed by the workload given to us, and that Sciences Po used to be their dream, but now they think that they have aimed too high. I shook it off, thinking that this was just because students were getting nervous as midterms are approaching.
However, I then found out about a survey led by a Sciences Po student on the Paris campus in January 2017, saying that 23% of the 328 asked students have seriously thought about dropping out. This surprised me. Not because I haven’t had any doubts myself – to the contrary, I have often felt like I am watching people run a marathon without breaking into sweat, while I am panting and trying to keep up. What shocked me is the large number of people who have felt this way; especially because one of my first impressions of the campus was that I was among many determined and confident students, who loudly and proudly sang our campus chants with no worry in the world.
I can’t help but ask myself: are some of the people on campus really as confident as they seem and act? Or are some students projecting an image of themselves for whatever reasons? Before we go any further, let me be clear: I don’t think that everyone is putting on a façade while silently crumbling inside, in fact, I am more than certain that many students on campus are as confident as they seem, and I am truly happy for that. However, after talking to some of the people here and seeing the results of that survey, I know that there is a large number of students who sometimes feel like they don’t deserve to be here as much as others.
Maybe this is not solely due to a lack of confidence: after all, one of the first things we were told as we were nervously sitting in that majestic room in the city hall on our very first day of integration was that we are all here because we were at the top of our class, but that this was going to change, that it wasn’t going to be easy, that a thirteen was the new seventeen. While I understand that they had to make clear we knew that attending a “Grande École” was going to change a lot for us and our academic habits, I believe that this strategy, while mentally preparing us for hard work and some academic disappointments, did affect the confidence of some of us. I must say that I find this amusing – not in a condescending or belittling way since I myself am a doubter, but rather in the way you would find human nature and behavior to be amusing: we have all done a thousand different things and our CVs are three kilometers long, we have worked really hard to be where we are, and now that we finally are where we wanted to be, we feel like we don’t deserve to be here.
I am aware of the fact that the people making up these 23% had various reasons why they considered dropping out: for some, it was maybe their disappointment in the courses, for others it might have been the realization that Sciences Po wasn’t the right path for them. But, after talking to some students, I do believe that a big part of those 23% believe that they do not belong here because they let the speeches by administration members or teachers get to them.
I want to say to these students that the next time you see one of your classmates shoot their hand up the second after the lecturer asked what you thought to be a complicated and gruesome question, instead of being disappointed because the answer did not seem instinctive to you and instead of thinking that it shows that you can’t keep up, be proud and lucky that you have the opportunity to study in a place filled with incredibly intelligent people. And know and remember that you are here because you are just like those people. Maybe you haven’t had the chance to shine as bright as you did at high school: it’s ok, this is not high school; you are walking the same path as François Mitterand, Emmanuel Macron, Christian Dior and many other names. This is meant to be difficult and that is fine. Think about it: only 18% of undergraduate applicants were admitted in 2016; you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t deserve to be here.
Let me also share with you what I have come to understand in this short month and a half after having had some moments where I also have felt overwhelmed: you don’t have to be the best at everything you do; remember – you already are among the best. And once you realize that and give what you think to be your best, you can start enjoying all the things Sciences Po has to offer. The university experience takes place as much outside of campus walls as inside a classroom; when you go back home for Christmas, none of your friends will ask about what grade you got on that last history paper.
So, to all the doubters: you worked hard and made it here. Now, try to shake the pressure off, and go do what students do; eat too much pasta, get drunk on cheap wine with your friends, go do whatever you believe is fun, and do not worry too much. You are here because you deserve to be here. These experiences will shape you more than that extra hour spent at the library.
Alina Yalmanian is a first year student, whose origins and nationality are too complicated to be explained in two sentences. Plays the drums and does martial arts even if she really does not look like it. On The Loose runs the second Thursday of every month.
Photo: BDA Facebook Page