My name is Samantha Ndiwalana, I’m currently (2018) based in Paris, France studying my Masters in Public Policy and Development at the Paris School of Economics. Previously, I graduated from the University of Cape Town with a Bachelor of Business Science specialising in Economics and Statistics.

I was looking for a change and therefore chose to pursue my studies in France.  I wanted to take the opportunity to live outside of South Africa, to stretch myself and learn about a new culture. I was drawn to France in particular because I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn French while experiencing a culture very different to my own. 

I’ve been abroad before and have visited a few African countries. In my last job, we drove in a minibus from South Africa to Rwanda conducting economic research on youth entrepreneurs.  While this was a great experience outside of South Africa, I still expected it to be very different to France. For me, the biggest differences would be the weather (Paris is quite grey and rainy) and the public transport systems (which are very convenient and makes exploring the city easy).

Paris School of Economics is the 1st postgraduate economics institution in Europe and the 6th highest ranked economic research institution internationally. I had heard about the Paris School of Economics while at the University of Cape Town and decided to find out more about institution and their work. Paris has a reputation and is associated with so many different ideas. I thought studying here would be an opportunity to experience the city for myself. 

I have had many good experiences in France. But the experience that has made the trip worthwhile is experiencing the good and the bad side of life here. In many ways the French culture is very different to the South African culture, but in many ways, some of the problems are the same. Trains are late and break down, workers go on strike shutting the city down, there are a number of homeless people and Paris is an unequal city. There are also numerous incidents of prejudice, particularly against black people, Muslims and refugees. Similar to South Africa, while you can’t assume that everyone is prejudiced, it is a true life experience for those on the receiving end.  While these experiences and problems aren’t exciting or fun, they were a good experience all the same. In South Africa, we are often told that things are better elsewhere, that everything is perfect in Europe.  These experiences opened my eyes to the reality of a “single story” that we had been receiving about Europe. Europe is a multifaceted place with good and bad aspects like South Africa, like anywhere else. So overall, it made me love and appreciate South Africa more, and it makes me feel as though as a people we are very hard on ourselves.

I would advice other South African students whishing to study in France to be prepared and patient. The administrative process is long and tedious. Look for the closest Access International Mobility Centre. These are centres set up throughout France (normally based at a university or academic venue) where there are people there who will help you with the various aspects of your administration. You will find people there who speak English and a number of other languages.  Secondly, learn as much French possible before coming to France. There are a number of places you can take classes, but some are expensive or only offer evening classes. The more proficient you are before you come, the better.

I would like this experience to give me more career opportunities, particularly in opening the possibility of working in or with French speaking Africa. I think it is important to increase the connectedness of Africans on the continent, and having this experience in France will take me one step closer to that.