Surrounded by les lumières de Noël and fuelled by vin chaud, croissants, and coffee, December in Reims is magnifique. Or at least it has been the times I have dared to peek out into the real world, after being locked away in the library for 8+ hours. As I am finishing up my first semester at Sciences Po in Reims, also know as the “city of kings” or the Champagne capital of France, I have seen Reims transform into a true Christmas city. With its medieval French charm, Reims during the December is the host of France's third-largest Christmas market (very impressive I know). And even though my Danish threshold for hygge is quite high, strolling by the wooden stands with a couple friends after a full day of studying, is very hyggeligt. It also helps that mulled wine is excellent for combatting the cold, relieving academic stress, and reinstalling some of the Christmas spirit exam season has stripped away.
True to the Sciences Po spirit, I entered December with the annual Winter Gala at a local Champagne house. On a glorious Thursday it was also the night before I had an Anthropology of the Enlightenment test and my Applied Maths final. Whether waltzing through a Champagne house at a gala is a legitimate extracurricular activity during exam season, is debatable. Nevertheless, I believe my fairly creative interpretation of Hume, Rousseau, and Condillac, likely had more to do with the Champagne and sleep deprivation than optimal preparation. With an intense workload consisting of 24 to 27 hours of lectures and seminars every week, 200+ pages of mandatory reading, tests, presentations, and way more ECTS points than necessary, I have come to the harsh realisation that it is impossible to do everything at Sciences Po if I want to leave my apartment and also get more than 3 hours of sleep. The learning curve for adjusting to student life at Sciences Po has been steep, but looking back I am very happy I have said yes to as many opportunities as I have. I am honestly quite surprised that I have had time to not only visit our wonderful president Felice in Dublin, but also go to Amsterdam with 3 good friends, spend a night in Brussels, visit Paris, and somehow also be a part of the executive team of the debate union and going to a debate tournament at Oxford. I am a little surprised that I have survived this semester (knock on wood that I will survive finals as well), while somewhat preserving my mental sanity. But I like the fast pace here and although I have never been busier and more exhausted in my life, I feel very fulfilled.
Despite how much I might seem to avoid it, 75% of my December in Reims has been spent at the library or walking to and from the campus’ coffee machine where coffee is only 50 cents. While the libraries were only half-full 80% of this semester, the occupancy has increased exponentially as finals week approaches rapidly, and they have been packed to the brim the last weeks. This means that many of us have had to seek alternatives in the cafés of Reims. However, with three other universities in Reims, and a student population of 35.000, we seem to outnumber the capacity of the otherwise cosy cafés here. But a filled library has not been the only barrier to staying at campus. If the champagne, croissants, or gala has not convinced you that I am truly getting the French experience, then picture this: It is 8 in the morning, and I have my last history seminar of the year. I slept through my alarm, so my roomie woke me up 20 min before class, but I managed to be a campus 7 min before my class was supposed to start. At the entrance to Sciences Po I am greeted by a barricade of garbage bins, books, a Christmas tree (!?), and a large group of students standing in front of the big red doors, which is the only way to get into campus. The (mostly French) students had been protesting at campus against Mathias Vicherat, the director of Sciences Po, for hours. This was the 4th protest I have witnessed in my 4 months here but the first time that entrance has been blocked. I was first disappointed that I would miss my last class with prof Gritti, but even more confused about the whole thing because I had woken up 15 min prior to this experience. As me and some of the other students from my seminar stood there in the dark and cold contemplating life, and how/why they put a Christmas tree in the barricade. I am grateful that I am a student at a university where everyone not only cares, but also acts. Discussions are always lively and protests apparently festive, and this was truly a quintessential ´wauw, I am really in France` experience.
While I look forward to not stressing about exams, seeing my mom’s new dog in two weeks, and reading something that is not on the syllabus without feeling guilty, I still think that coming here is a choice that is 100 percent right for me. The past four months in Reims have been beyond demanding but also stimulating and fun. And while December seems a little less cheery as my 4 remaining finals dims the Christmas spirit, I am coping better with the rain and lack of vitamin D, than many of my southern European friends who are not used to only having 5 hours of sunlight. So thanks to Denmark for making me resilient.
Happy 2nd Advent and joyeux Noël from Reims.
By Selma Lyhne,
Vice President of NSAC