Interview by Avery Keatley
Stephen Manik is a graduate student at Sciences Po, finishing up his Master in International Security. As an undergraduate at Pitt, Stephen studied Political Science, History, and French, and participated in the Sciences Po exchange through the ESC. He told me about his experience studying abroad as an undergrad, and a grad student, and what he recommends to students interested in graduate programs abroad.
It was the first semester of my junior year, and I was debating whether or not to study abroad my spring semester. I decided to go to the study abroad office to see what options were available. It just so happened that the day I went to the office was the deadline to apply for the Sciences Po exchange. It matched my study abroad criteria perfectly since Sciences Po specializes in social sciences and it would help with my French studies. It also did not hurt that the school is in the heart of Paris.
What about the exchange did you find challenging? What did you find rewarding?
The most challenging aspect of the exchange was finding housing. There were not any student housing options like there would be at Pitt. So finding a place to live before arrival can be stressful. It is not unusual to land in Paris without having your lodging finalized, which was my case.
Regarding academic challenges, while the courses were admittedly challenging at times, I felt prepared for them. Sometimes international schools have some minor stylistic differences in how classes are graded, or how you are supposed to write papers, but it is easy to get the hang of it.
The sessions and interactions with other students were the most rewarding aspect of the program. Sciences Po is an international school, and at times I was the only American in the class. I was surrounded by people whose ideas and perspectives I had not considered before. Because of my studies at Sciences Po, I have a worldwide network of friends.
What surprised you the most?
Even while studying abroad, it is still easy to find ways to feel at home. You can communicate with friends and family back home so easily nowadays. Also, you create a little community amongst your classmates. My friends and I held Thanksgiving dinners where everyone brought a dish from their home country. I introduced the Super Bowl to friends who never watched American football before. Even though I am so far from home, a lot of other people are too, so you create your own celebrations and traditions.
What would you tell undergrad students interested in pursuing graduate studies abroad?
I would tell them first to make sure that the program matches their professional and academic aspirations. The allure of studying in a foreign place can potentially make you overlook other aspects of graduate studies that you should weigh more. For me, the graduate program at Sciences Po Paris School of International Affairs fit my criteria for graduate education. It is more professionally focused than academic—most of the professors are former practitioners rather than academics. That was very important for me.
I would suggest that students should approach international schools the same way they would schools in the United States. But I would wholeheartedly recommend applying to some schools abroad. It is a worthwhile adventure, and international schools tend to be cheaper than American schools.
What did you end up doing with your degrees? Tell us where you are now.
After graduating from Pitt, I returned home to Baltimore and started working with a consulting firm for about a year. After considering some different options, I decided that I wanted to continue my studies at the graduate level. I enjoyed my study abroad experience at Sciences Po, and their graduate program checked all my boxes, so I applied for their Paris School of International Affairs.
During the third semester, students have to choose between completing an internship, writing a master's thesis, or studying abroad. I went the internship path and interned at the U.S. Embassy in Algiers, Algeria.
I am currently in my last semester and will graduate in summer 2017 with a Master in International Security. I am now applying for jobs, but I am confident that program has given me the tools to transition smoothly into professional life.