In the end, I had a wonderful Thanksgiving with fellow Peace Corps volunteers. And when I returned, I found my first graduate school acceptance in my inbox!
After first deciding to return to grad school after my two years in Africa, I tweaked my decisions a bit and ended up applying to the following programs:
London School of Economics (Dual MPA in International Development w/ Science Po)
Sciences Po Paris (Masters in Economics and Public Policy)
University College London (MSc International Public Policy)
Columbia SIPA (Masters in International Affairs)
Johns Hopkins SAIS (Masters in International Relations)
Yale (MA in International Relations)
With nothing but prestigious institutions, this was going to be literally a “go big, or go home” experiment. And after yet another mediocre performance in standardized testing, the fear of actually having to “go home” to St. Louis, Missouri was becoming a likely possibility. Tho the fact those three European schools did not require GRE scores did calm the nerves a bit.
In any case, I returned from Thanksgiving weekend and had received an email from the department chair of International Public Policy program at University College London personally informing me that he was recommending my admission to the University. This one-year program isn’t my top choice since it’s the least econ-focused program. Nonetheless, UCL is a great school, supposedly ranked 4th in the world in the 2009 ranking by the Times Higher Education.
Having one acceptance really takes a load off my shoulder, but also got me really thinking about where I would ideally like to be next year. Before, I was adopting the I’ll go anywhere that accepts me attitude. But now that someone wants me, I begin to think of options.
After a few weeks of thinking/stalking blogs about these schools and programs, I think Sciences Po Paris is the place I really want to be. The Masters in Economics and Public Policy program is the most econ heavy since it is first and foremost a masters degree in economics with a policy angle, whereas most of the other programs are policy/IR degrees with some econ thrown in it.
My first encounter with both London and Paris was back in 2005 when I did a summer program in France, and a funny story led me to London. At that time, I didn’t speak any French and was your typical American in France – partied a lot, saw a lot of castles and churches, visited all the touristy spots, and drank a lot of wine. But other than that, I didn’t have any particular attachment to Paris or France. Though I did see the best firework of my life on Bastille Day at the Eiffel Tower.
London, on the other hand, I felt in love with. After weeks in France, it was refreshing to understand people again, albeit in a funny accent. I loved London and all its gloomy glory. And in 2006-2007, I got myself back to that fabulous city – first as an intern at the US Embassy and later as a wanderer in the financial district of City of London. Great memories were formed and adventures had, but in the end, I was ready to move on. London, to me, is now a bit of a “been there, done that” city.
My time in Cameroon surprisingly led me to a whole bunch of French folks with whom I’ve formed great friendships. My summer layover in Paris gave me a completely different perspective on the city. One, because I speak French now, and two, because I was with a local who actually lived there. In a way, I feel after spending all these time with French people, I need to actually go live in France and find out for myself what it’s all about. Also, being in Paris is the only way I can continue working on my French. The minute I returned to the US or London, I know my French skills will be gone faster than I can say, j’aime bien parler français.
I’ve read various blogs on Americans who had spent time at Sciences Po Paris and reading them left me feeling excited but also somewhat terrified at the prospect of living in Paris. While I do speak French, I am not sure real Parisians will be as forgiving at my not-at-all-perfect French as Cameroonians. Yet, I do think it will be a good challenge.
Many Americans had written about the French inefficiency, some girls had written about the forwardness of French men, and other general attitude/mentality of the French/Parisians. All of those things made me laugh because compare to what I deal with here in Cameroon, the French are efficient and not at all forward! In some ways, life in France may just be the perfect way to integrate back to the “real world” after Cameroon.
We shall see. I am way ahead of myself. I probably should have waited until I got accepted to Sciences Po to make this comparison. I’ve really resisted myself to compare schools/cities until now. But now, I can’t help it…
In the end, things always work out they way they should, so, on verra!
Oh and if you couldn’t tell, my desire to return to the US is very little. Also further deterred by the high price tag of US education. One year at Yale/Columbia/JHU averages $40k in tuition as opposed to $16k at Sciences Po or $26k at UCL… you do the math.