Sorbonne: Where Science, Tech, and Art Come Together to Create a Civilization

The famous Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. (Photo by Dewa Made Kertha)

Paris is the city of love most of us have dreamt about during our adolescence years. But what happen if your dream city is combined with a top-notch school that constantly brings you hardship throughout your study? Our contributor, Dewa, shares his story about surviving Sorbonne (with a double Master’s Degree!) while keeping his love alive for the city of love.

When choosing a university, students often think about which city they are going to live in for the next few years. They may be most concerned about the country, the rental price or the quality of public transportation. They may want to go to sunny Los Angeles or experience London’s night life.

However, living in Paris as a student, a young man and a foreigner has taught me that there is another important factor to consider: love and light.

Don’t get me wrong, only a few weeks of studying in Paris will rapidly show you why it is known as the City of Love. Getting lost in the narrow streets of the Latin Quarter or wandering in the big Haussmannien avenues on a Sunday evening will make you fall in love with the city’s architecture. A beer in Canal Saint-Martin or a coffee at Saint-Germain-des-Prés, will develop a passion for the Parisian lifestyle and this bohemian city.

University Background

The famous facade of Sorbonne. (Photo by author)
The famous facade of Sorbonne. (Photo by author)

Sorbonne itself was created at the very beginning of the 13th century, and has inherited its name from the College created by the theologian Robert de Sorbon in 1252. Alongside Oxford and Bologna, the Sorbonne is the fourth oldest universities in the world. With around eight hundred years of excellence to build on, the University Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne, a descendant of the Faculty of Law and Economics of the Sorbonne, is one of the most famous and largest universities in France.  Thanks to Victor Hugo, who romanticised its revolutionary students in Les Misérables, and the real-life undergraduates whose violent protests in 1968 captured the world’s attention, millions of people have dwelt upon the lives of the “Sorbonnards”, elevating them as icons of heroic idealism and Parisian glamour over the years.

Campus life

The quality of lesson is very good and there is a huge difference between someone that studied at the Sorbonne and someone from another university in France. The professors are excellent — some of them are mean and arrogant, they are not going to be your friend or just take care of you, but they are really good at what they do.

I am proud and I think my classmates all are also proud of studying at La Sorbonne. We know it is hard, but we also know the value of our study there. Believe me or not, but I am proud to wear a Sorbonne’s hoodie or writing that I studied there, while it is harder for friend of mine to say they are proud to study at the university of Caen or university of Angers.

I know and friends from Angers and Caen know it as well, that a 15 grad at La Sorbonne is not the same as the 15 from their university. (note: in French education system, grade is scaled between 1-20, and you will pass if you have more than 10)

No matter how hard you studied and how long you wrote on exam or how sure you were in answering your exam, you will get surprised that finally you just get maybe 11-12 out of 20. It is a sad fact that every student has to face, especially if you are not French. You will feel stupid all the time, all the semesters, until even you will have no idea how you can graduate. To be honest, once you decided to study here, you already jeopardized a half of your education phase in your life.

You may share your story with your seniors there, all they do just smile and say “I’ve been through what you’re feeling now, enjoy your sorrow brother”. So yup, but life is just, you can still go strolling around the city even campus life is killing. It can definitely decrease your stressfulness.

One piece of advices that might be useful in answering the exam is “learn how the French logic works”. Do notice how they think, observe, search the solution and explain something. From that way, you will know what and how to write on your paper.

I myself finished my first master or what they call it here as Master 1 in Economics at the Pantheon-Sorbonne Master in Economics (PSME). I gained my MSc in 2016. Finally! And still have no idea why I can graduate as I told earlier.

Two years, Two Master's Degrees. I survived Sorbonne. (Photo by author)
Two years, Two Master’s Degrees. I survived Sorbonne. (Photo by author)

Then I did another master called Master 2 from the Joint Program between Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and  École Nationale Supérieure de Techniques Avancées. My program’s name is Conseil en Organisation, Stratégie et Systèmes D’information (Business Strategy and Information System). I received my MBA in 2017 after doing a project at PT. Astra International’s Corporate Strategy. The second master was almost impossible to complete without a strong network I built with my colleagues, professors and consultants who involved in my project during the semester.

La Vie Parisienne and the Parisians

First, let me tell you this, “there is nothing classier than hosting a wine and cheese party with friends (and baguettes) or more romantic than a walk along the Seine at night with your loved ones.” To quote Ernest Hemingway on living in Paris, “The memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other”. So, it depends then, but to live there you get to learn French in the most cosmopolitan, chic, and romantic city in the world. It is a must.

I will not tell you much about the living cost or any information that you can gain from Google, yet let’s focus on things that you need to experience by yourself. After a quite long explanation about how romantic and loveable city of Paris is, let’s talk about the people.

Parisian are not the same as the French in general, I must say. Don’t get stuck on myths and generalizations as “The French are so chic! And well-dressed! They’re so unhappy and depressed! They never get fat and their kids never misbehave! They are the most romantic people in the world!  The waiters are so mean!” — please do make some sweeping comparisons and observation by your own.

Let’s jump a bit into the language. French is a Latin-based language, but more complicated than Spanish, Italian, etc., and from what I hear substantially more difficult to learn than English. The main sources of difficulty for Anglophones are the genders, the formal vs informal, the French pronouns and French pronunciation. In Paris, you will be greeted by blank stares if you don’t pronounce something perfectly. But despite the difficulty in mastering the gender of each word, I still find it funny and chuckle each time a French person refers to a car or the sea as a female “Ah, elle est belle!”.

When you enter and leave a small store, for instance, you must announce your arrival with a “Bonjour/Bonsoir Madame/Monsieur” and leave with an “Au revoir” in order to not be considered rude. You greet friends and acquaintances with (air) kisses on the cheeks, but it still feels formal. The only interaction you will have with your neighbors is a passing “Bonjour”. Normally all of these are done without much enthusiasm, unlike our “Have a Nice Day! You too!” ritual.

I hope this article doesn’t scare you, and makes you even more excited to study in Paris, especially in La Sorbonne, instead.

I wish you the best of luck and love. It’s going to be a great ride, I promise you.

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I Dewa Made Agung Kertha Nugraha (Dewa) is a strategic planner at PT Serasi Autoraya, a transportation and logistics solution subsidiary of the Astra Group. He previously worked as a Research Coordinator at a Social Enterprise named RUMA, which has won the award of the “pitch for change” in the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference with its mission is to increase access, dignity and income for low income communities through technology. Prior to joining the RUMA, He was involved in World Bank Project called The National Program for Community Empowerment (PNPM Mandiri) in charge of the rural and urban areas of DI Yogyakarta and East Nusa Tenggara. He finished his undergraduate from the Indonesia Banking School with the Cum Laude and the Most Outstanding Graduate Student status by the scholarship from The Indonesian Banking Development Foundation (LPPI) Scholarship. He also gained his M.Sc in Economics from the Université Paris 1 Panthéon - Sorbonne and MBA from the École Nationale Supérieure de Techniques Avancées Paris with honors.


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