A Year in Paris: Part Two

Paris 1132


If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll realise that it hasn’t quite been 4 years (from 2007). I did go back to Paris in 2011. So why am I telling you about 2009?

Because 2009 is important. 2009 is the year everything changed. But what does 2009 have to do with Paris?


Let me fill you in a bit. So, in 2007, I moved to the UK to study, which I think I’ve mentioned before. This move actually came a few days after Paris. There was a lot of flying, and a lot of packing in those weeks. As you can imagine.

Why I moved to the UK isn’t all that relevant to this story, so I’m going to leave that out. For now. Suffice to know that in 2007 I began my 2-year A-levels education. Which meant that, in the academic year 2008-2009, I was choosing which university to go to.

I had applied to 5 courses at 5 universities via UCAS, as one does. And my crazy A-levels grades (as in crazy good) meant I was holding conditional offers from all of them. Now, a time comes when you must choose 2 out of 5. The first to be your – well – first choice, and the second as insurance.

In other words, if – at your final A-levels exams – you obtain the grades required from your first-choice university, you’d automatically be guaranteed a place there. And if not, then hopefully your grades are good enough for your insurance option, and you’d go there instead.

So it makes sense to rank the 5 universities in descending order of how demanding they are in terms of the grades required to turn their conditional offers into unconditional ones (i.e. guaranteed place come next academic year), then pick the top 2 as first and insurance choices.

Now. In 2009, I was in a bit of a dilemma.

To this day, people still ask me about it. About why I did what I did. Oh but how could you? Do you ever regret it? 

I’m sure you’ve heard of Oxford. But maybe you haven’t heard of PPE. In short, PPE is one of, if not the most, well-known and competitive course at Oxford for students of social sciences. It stands for Philosophy, Politics and Economics. It’s the course most successful politicians will have attended, if you look at their résumé.

You see. I’d applied to PPE. And I’d got an offer. Which meant not only could I be going to Oxford (a.k.a. one of the world’s most prestigious and oldest universities), but also I would be doing one of its most – if not its most – prestigious course. Wonderful networking opportunities. Boasting rights for life.

So what was the problem, you ask?

Well, there was one tiny hiccup: I didn’t actually want to do PPE.

My A-levels college was based in the town of Oxford, and it was rather traditional for good students to try for Oxford. Me being a Thai Scholar (more on that later) also meant I was following a long line of brilliant Thai students who had applied to Oxford. Classic peer pressure situation.

Also I wanted to know, if I was good enough. I mean, if you think you have a shot at Oxford, it doesn’t make sense not to apply. You’ve got nothing to lose. But perhaps some self-confidence and a lot of face, should you fail.

So I did. Now, first issue: I didn’t really have a course in mind. I liked Economics (from what I was studying at A-levels). I liked Philosophy (from what I was getting myself into in literature). I had no idea about Politics. But PPE seemed the obvious option – the course I deemed most likely to be able to come to like over the months/years that would follow.

I didn’t end up coming to like it. I didn’t go to Oxford. But I think you’ve figured that out.

Now. This is where Paris comes in.

I’d long been studying French – first as a second foreign language in my high school in Thailand, then as one of my five A-levels subjects (easy grades, obvious choice). And when you study French, you’re bound to learn a thing or two about France as you go along. (If you’re that kind of student, as I was.)

So, some years before I even knew I would, or could, be studying abroad, I had heard of Sciences Po. Now, Sciences Po to me is a bit like PPE. It’s something most successful politicians will have done. Sciences Po graduates adorn the French political landscape. In fact, I think François Hollande went there. Not that that’s a good or a bad thing.

And I wanted to go to Sciences Po. I really did. So much so I started looking at courses there. Years before I would be in a position to actually go. Years before I knew it was an option.

And, in 2007, when I’d got my scholarship, I started looking at universities in the UK. To see if there was any course I wanted to do, the same way I wanted to go to Sciences Po.

And I stumbled onto this. And I read this. And basically said yes to all three questions.

And I knew I wanted to go here. The dual degree didn’t exist back then. But there was the year abroad (see corresponding tab).

I could continue to study French. I could be fluent by the end of 4 years. I could study at Sciences Po. I could live in Paris. For a whole year. It was perfect.

Back to 2009 and my dilemma.

So, I had applied to both ESPS at UCL and PPE at Oxford. I held offers for both. And I had to pick my first and insurance options. And Oxford’s offer was the more demanding one.

So: either I pick PPE as my first and ESPS as my insurance, or I pick ESPS as my first and one of the other 3 courses as my insurance, and refuse the Oxford PPE offer.

The problem is, I was pretty sure I would get the grades Oxford asked for. (And in the end I did.) So if I picked Oxford as my first, I was certain not to be going to UCL, to do ESPS, which is really what I wanted to do.

Therelin lies my dilemma.

After some weeks of wavering, I chose ESPS. Because I wanted to.

To this day, that choice I made in 2009 remains the best decision I’ve ever made in my young life. For many reasons.

One of which is that I was to spend my Erasmus exchange year 2010-2011 in Paris, studying at one of the most prestigious schools in continental Europe.

I didn’t know it yet. But it was also to be the best year of my life.


3 responses to “A Year in Paris: Part Two”

  1. Thats a heck of a choice. I would be slapping myself silly. But it makes total sense. I would have done the same. Ultimately, the experience paid off? Guess i’ll have to wait for the next post!

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