Friday, October 31, 2008

The Exposé

The exposé is my least favourite thing about Sciences Po. It is an extreme mixture between the French, Cartesian methodology and Sciences Po’s own private way of doing things. Basically, the concept is simple: talk, in front of the class, for 10-15 minutes about a topic that is assigned to you. The reality is much more complex.

To start with, the exposé is worth about a third of your grade. The other third is usually a fiche technique, fiche de lecture, or presentation du texte, all things I will probably write about at a later date. The last third is class participation. At this point, Hampshire students are thinking, ‘Wait a minute, what is she complaining about? I had to write 50 pages in total for my last class. This French stuff sounds easy.’ These Hampshire students are largely misinterpreting the fine points of the exposé.

The exposé is divided into two parts. To understand the difference between Sciences Po and Cartesian methodology, make every time I say two into three. These two parts are divided into two sub-parts. There also happens to be an introduction and a conclusion. Depending on the severity of your professor, the 10-15 minute exposé could be a 25 minute experience, such as in my ‘Questions of Ethics? Questions of Literature’ course, which is excellent by the way. So far, so good, right? But then comes the hard part. Every exposé has a subject, assigned by the professor. It is your duty to take apart the subject, play with the wording, and understand the main themes enough to create a question, or problématique, from the subject. When I was in my welcome program methodology course, we did a lot of just trying to find the proper problématique. An example was the subject: The Polish plumber and the Indian engineer. To be able to find the question from this subject, you have to understand that the “Polish plumber” was a stereotype used several years ago when the EU was expanding to include Eastern Europe. People in Western Europe were genuinely worried that the Eastern Europeans would make a mass exodus to Western Europe where they would take all the working class jobs because they would work for less. You also have to understand that the “Indian engineer” is another stereotype used to describe the idea of ‘guest workers,’ especially in Germany, who are white collar workers that are welcomed in Western Europe because of a lack of engineers, doctors, and so on who are well qualified. They tend to come to Europe, work for less than 10 years, working for less than the white collar workers in Western Europe, and then move back home, mostly. You also have to take into account that the class we were pretending to be in was “l’Espace Mondial.” So our problématique had something to do with migratory fluxes and the benefits of opening borders to certain migrants, or something.

One also has to take into account when doing an exposé, that 10 minutes is not a long time. The introduction and conclusion should take 2-3 minutes combined, which leaves approximately 4 minutes per part, 2 minutes per sub-part. The professor will stop you if you go over time. And he or she will wait before speaking, staring at you, if you stop under time. This is all in French. One could take English classes at Sciences Po, and I take two of them, but why go to Paris to study in English, right? The French students’ exposés that I’ve heard have been unintelligible for me, personally, and for some other foreign students because they talk really fast. Somehow, they are able to cram the entire history of the Middle East (for example) into 10 minutes. What?! Don’t ask me how it’s possible because I have no idea.

After your fun 10 minute presentation, you get to be criticized (or complimented) by the class and the professor for another 15 or so minutes. It’s great fun.

Why am I writing about this today? Well, my dear readers, it’s because I just did my first exposé in French in my class on the Modern Arab World on Tuesday. This was the subject: Islamisme et Nationalisme- le cas Palestinien. You may have noticed some trigger words in this subject- Islamism, Nationalism, and Palestinian, to start with. These are already very delicate subjects when split up, but all together they are really difficult to talk about, in 10 minutes, in French, in front of the whole class, when I’m not an expert on Palestine. So I kept putting it off, saying, “Oh that’s scary; I’ll tackle it tomorrow.” This is not a tactic I recommend. Then it was Monday. I got my books out of the library (someday, I may write about the fun, little, underground book trains at the library here…) and headed home to work. My problématique became: How did the process of Islamism affect Arab nationalism especially in the nation of Palestine? Not too intellectual sounding, I know, but it’s in French, so cut me a little slack. I wrote out my entire presentation, word by word, because I was terrified of messing up, and drank 5 cups of espresso. I made a PowerPoint presentation, which was fun because I got to use a quote from Ernest Gellner’s Nations and Nationalism (which is a GREAT book that everyone who’s interested in the themes should read.) And, at 9am, I headed to class.

Apparently, according to Michelle, my Hungarian-American friend who also takes French with me here, my presentation was actually pretty good. But, you know, she’s a friend and a foreigner, too, so she’s going to be easy on me. I got really annoyed with myself because immediately after the presentation part, the professor asked me to expand upon the tensions between Hamas and Fatah after the Oslo accords, and I totally choked and said I didn’t know because I had concentrated more on the general history of the Middle East. My response was ridiculous because as soon as she got up to start teaching class and mentioned the Oslo accords, a complete, coherent, and detailed answer to her question formed in my mind, but then again, I was nervous, had stayed up all night, and had 5 espressos in my system.

The hardest thing about the exposé, for me, is the idea that it’s worth a third of my grade. It’s 10 minutes, and if you choke, that’s the end. It’s scary, especially the first one. Luckily, the rest of the exposés I have to do are in groups until the fifth of January when I have to talk for 25 minutes about a text that questions the ethics of terrorism. And now, I know that waiting to start working the day before is completely counter-productive. I envision great things for my exposés to come. And if any of you ever have to write one, feel free to write to me for help.



claudia said...

hi my name is Claudia, and I'm from Sciences Po and I am now at Hampshire :)
this article is so interesting for me to see how international people see the "exposé" :)
I'm continuing the reading of your blog!

Bianca A said...

It was good to read your entries, especially as I am preparing to embark on a year abroad. I am a second year at Oxford and at the moment I am toiling over an application for Sciences Po. The expose sounds terrifying but still I ready want to get to do it. Would you mind letting me know how you applied and whether you found it difficult to get in?
All the best,

acrookston said...

Claudia- Thanks for commenting! I hope that you're enjoying Hampshire as much as I love living in Paris... maybe someday we can meet and talk about what our experiences were in each others schools... Bonne continuation!

Bianca- I'm sure that the hardest part of Scs po will be doing assignments in French and your first expose... afterwards, things get a lot easier. It does help that I, like you will be, am a third year student in second year level classes. So don't worry about it too much!
From what I understand, getting into Scs po on an exchange depends on how many people are applying from your university and how many people your uni accepts from scs po. If there are a lot of people applying, it'll be harder to get in. I applied through my college's exchange program and there were few applicants as it was/is a new exchange program. I imagine that it will become harder as more people start applying from my college. I personnally didn't find it that hard to get in. Scs po has to accept as many students as there are in it's third year of study because nearly all of those students go on exchange (the others do individual projects or internships abroad) so a great number of international students are accepted in the premiere cycle. As a masters student, however, the application process is completely different and is thought of as much harder. Let me know how else I can help...
Good luck!