I chose Europe for my graduate studies because it is the epicentre of global policymaking. Apart from being a melting pot of cultures and traditions, Europe is an international hub for artistic and scientific significance.
I started my application preparation six months ahead of the submission date. Starting from shortlisting of schools based on university rankings and future career goals, enlisting the documentation requirements including the mandatory proficiency tests, drafting the statement of purpose to finally submitting my online application. I applied to three schools in Europe – LSE in the UK, Sciences Po in France, and Hertie School of Governance in Germany.
A considerable amount of my time was spent on the motivation letters which I got reviewed by senior colleagues and students from these international schools. A lot of the documents required for applications – like transcripts both from college and university, provisional degree, etc. – are dependent on administrative bodies and can take time, so I planned these tasks with buffer timelines.
As graduate applications also require academic and professional letters of recommendation, I made sure to approach my professors and supervisors in person and shared my profile and career aspirations. Few professors have reservations about the number of students they shall recommend each year hence it is best if you confirm your letters in advance and also mention to them the number of schools you are planning to apply.
The next step was to appear for the TOEFL (Test of English as Foreign Language) exam as it was required for a few of my university’s application. I started my preparation ten days before the exam and used materials available online and on platforms like Magoosh and YouTube to familiarize myself with the format of the four-hour-long exam.
Fortunately, I could secure a seat in all the three schools with partial scholarships. Studying in the EU has now been made possible as many scholarships are available funded by the EU, the Governments and even by the graduate schools. The European Commission provides an extensive resource list of how you can fund your studies based on the country you’d like to study in. The Erasmus Mundus Scholarship is one of the most important scholarships that covers over 130 courses. Apart from this, there are several opportunities offered by the Indian government that students can avail. Another great resource I came across was Scholars4Dev which provides information about government-run opportunities across Europe.
The information and process to apply is generally available on the school’s website or on specific portals. However, the scholarship deadlines are generally earlier, around the same time as the first round of applications for universities since schools nominate names and send them to the government bodies. Hence I ensured to apply early to be eligible for the same. I also made sure that my motivation letter conveyed my financial situation and posited a request for financial assistance. Additionally, every year the Government of France provides dedicated scholarships to Indian students which can be applied directly through the Campus France website.
While making my school decision, I spent time on background research and that includes asking the right questions to the right people. I reached out to the alumni and current students at these schools through LinkedIn and other social media platforms where I talked to them about foreign language requirements, companies where international students can intern or work in the future, visa extension policies, etc. to understand the returns to my education, and these really helped in identifying the right school and the right program. Apart from this, I also joined forums and Facebook groups such as Campus France, Erasmus+, Sciences Po India, etc. which provided verified information on scholarships and visa application processes.
Based on my research and interactions, I accepted my offer to study at Sciences Po in April. My classes were starting at the end of August, so I had roughly 3.5 months to plan everything. This included booking tickets, arranging accommodation, applying for travel insurance, completing VISA formalities, etc.
I created an elaborate Excel sheet with tasks listed, of both things to be completed before reaching Paris such as apostilling and translating my birth certificate, writing to hostels for accommodation to tasks that need to be undertaken once I land in Paris like getting a phone sim, applying for a subsidized travel card, etc.
I think the most difficult part of shifting for me was finding cheap accommodation in Paris. I spent months going through lodgment offers on Facebook, contacting landlords, avoiding scamsters before finalizing my studio. Meanwhile. I joined groups like Indians in Paris, Indians in France, to interact with Indian students and learn about their living experience in Paris. This also helped me with tips on finding part-time jobs.
As English is not the primary language in France, I also enrolled myself at a beginner level French course. For the transit, I downloaded the offline version of the french language in Google Translate and the offline version of the city on Google Maps.
I reached Paris two weeks before my classes started to have enough time to settle down. One piece of advice I had received and followed was to apply early for administrative work such as housing subsidy, bank account registration, health insurance, etc. French institutions process applications on a first-come-first-serve basis hence if you are late then your application becomes a part of the pool and is processed slowly. I received my health insurance card within six months while many didn’t receive it even after completing their graduation.
Another key learning was mailing. People here respond better to targeted emails, so if you are applying for an internship or want to enquire about a process, it is best to write an email.
While solid research, creating a network and interacting with the right people can be extremely helpful, there are of course some things that you must experience yourself. Shifting to a new country means a lot of responsibilities and I don’t think anyone is fully prepared or can anticipate what is yet to come. I remember getting locked out of the house on my first day in Paris and frantically reaching out to my guardian who only speaks French. In another mix-up, my residence permit mentioned my country of residence as Jordan instead of India. It is very important to accept that it is not going to be easy but eventually everything works out.
No one saw it coming and having to survive COVID19 alone in a foreign country was a nightmare for me. Thankfully, my university and the French Government were extremely supportive. Sciences Po introduced a hybrid model of education, wherein a few of the classes could be attended offline with all the safety concerns, in addition to being available online. The French government actively shared information regarding COVID testing centres and the provision of free masks. Just like everyone, the lockdown derailed my summer internship plans as well but I was also fortunate to work as a researcher with the European Studies Center.
The innumerable group projects at Sciences Po has provided me with unparalleled peer learning. The diverse faculty that includes academicians and practitioners encourages me to constantly ask questions. The experience to learn amidst iconic architecture and aesthetically pleasing surroundings of Paris has made me appreciate small things in life and has collectively aided in my holistic development. No individual has the same journey; however, I hope this helps its readers with their transition to Europe.