Life on Exchange – Seth Whitmore

UBC Law student Seth Whitmore reflects on his experiences on exchange
in Paris at the Institut d’études politiques de Paris (Sciences Po) 

Life on Exchange

If you are currently sitting in Vancouver and wondering “Should I go on exchange?”, the only right answer is “Yes, of course you should!”. Exchange provides UBC Law students with the amazing opportunity to spend a semester or two abroad at another school and experience a different way of life and teaching. Given the career demands of most lawyers, it will be years (if ever!) before many of us have a similar opportunity.

If you are anything like me, that’s all the convincing you needed. If so, stop reading and go explore your exchange options at:

If, however, you require a little more convincing, read on as I briefly explain various aspects of life on exchange and why it is great!


Academics at Sciences Po are treated very differently than back at UBC. Some of the differences are strange and confusing, while others are great. In the strange column is the fact that there is no add/drop period (you can add courses and switch if there are conflicts, but swapping one course for another is frowned upon) and the rule that if you miss more than two classes in any course you fail that course.

But these French eccentricities are more than made up for by the things that make academics at Sciences Po great. For example, I am writing this post after having had lunch with a professor at a brasserie where we discussed my term paper. I’ve never done that in Canada! Sciences Po is a very internationally focused school and has a large number of non-French professors. This semester I have Italian, American, German, and French professors. As a student this is great as I am exposed to different teaching styles, ideas about the law, and evaluation methods. Finally, the course selection at Sciences Po is great. It offers a mix of lecture and seminar courses, a large number of comparative law classes, and a diverse subject mix.

Daily Life

The view from my walk or bike ride to school

The view from my walk or bike ride to school

When not in school, doing homework, or travelling, there is a lot to do in Paris. Like schools in Canada, Sciences Po offers a huge number of extra-curricular and athletic activities including pottery, art history, moots (exchange students are welcome to try out for moot teams here), ultimate-frisbee, basketball, and polo (ridiculous, I know). I will warn you, however, there is no hockey option.

Every week, the school hosts a variety of talks, seminars, and symposiums on topics ranging from politics in the EU to experiences of arranged marriages in other parts of the world. A list of events happening at the school is emailed to students weekly to make it easy to stay on top of what is happening. Finally, for international students hoping to improve their French Sciences Po also offers free French classes for all ability levels.

Aside from all of the organized school-related events, it has been easy to keep busy. I’ve been able to explore some of the city’s many museums and galleries, enjoy the city’s café culture, indulge in French cuisine in the brasseries, go to concerts (two of my favourite Canadian bands have already come through Paris this fall), see the Eiffel Tower and the city’s many other tourist attractions (traps), have picnics and explore parks such as the Jardin du Luxembourg, Jardin des Tuileries, and Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, go running along the Coulée Verte (Paris’ answer to the High Line), take a riverboat tour of the Seine, get around Paris on the Vélib bike sharing system, go on a walking tour of Montmatre, eat all the croissants, baguettes, and pain au chocolat I can get my hands on, shop at the city’s many markets, and make great new friends from Paris and all around the world.


Kotor, Montenegro

Kotor, Montenegro

One of the great perks of being on exchange in Europe (and only having class Monday through Wednesday!) is how easy it is to travel. Living in a transportation hub as well-connected as Paris is also a plus as I have been able to get direct and affordable trains and planes to every city I’ve wanted to visit. As much fun as it is exploring and getting to know Paris, it also exciting to see what the rest of Europe has to offer.  So far I have been able to visit Mike (another UBC Law student) in Bern, Switzerland, spend a long weekend in Berlin, and enjoy fall reading week from the comforts of Croatia and Montenegro. Over the next two months I will also be heading to London, Fes, Marrakech, and Oslo.

Convinced? Good. Now go pick the part of the world you want to explore and get your applications ready!

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