Complaining Culture

By Emma Pascal.

I would never have thought I would be writing an article promoting my French education of mind-numbing hard work and blind respect for authority figures against Anglo-American individualism anytime soon, but honestly, this campus needs a little more of it.

My only disappointment in Sciences Po’s student community has been the rampant complaining culture that has permeated my entire first year. I am tired of people criticizing an institution they expect full service from, while complaining about having to complete basic academic work.

When I first arrived in Menton last September, I was mesmerized. I was moving to a tiny seaside town full of winding stairs and vegetation, with an awe-inspiring view of the Mediterranean Sea, to study at a beautiful yellow and ochre campus filled with intelligent, like-minded people whom I couldn’t wait to make friends with.

Being French, hearing I was now a sciencespiste during Stephanie Balme’s first speech was incredibly exciting. I felt honored to be part of this institution, and proud of my achievement. I sat through every single session in integration week listening intently and carefully taking notes. Yes, even during the briefing on how to use the library website.

That is why I was surprised to hear that someone had spent an entire session that I had found interesting playing Tetris in the back. When I see it happening today, I feel it is completely normalized to waste one’s privilege to a prestigious education texting or booking flights online.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not an ideal student either. I have fallen asleep in the front row of exciting lectures, and I am guilty of browsing hipster tourist things to do in Israel when my attention has run out. This article is equally meant to discipline me as everyone else.

I simply realize that looking back on my initial awe and excitement at Sciences Po, it is a healthy mindset to bring back, as time dulls our motivation and we forget how lucky we are to be here.

I believe the right attitude is found in striking a balance between what I conceive of as a French- and an English-speaking mindset.

English-speaking individualism is very refreshing to me as someone French-educated, because it embraces emancipation from authorities, thinking for yourself and youth being legitimate. However, I do feel the complaining culture on campus stems from the Anglo-American student mindset of having everything catered to you by a university administration. Critical thinking and defending our interests has turned into bratty entitlement, and my French side doesn’t like that.

I am usually very opposed to the French style of education and parenting that I was regularly in contact with growing up. Even today, I catch myself nodding along as boomers criticize me and smiling nicely as authority figures fuck me over, because I’ve been taught that you should respect your parents, your teachers and your elders. That you are always wrong in the face of authority, and that you should accept their decisions quietly.

I don’t find that mindset healthy, and I do prefer the English-speaking vision. However, maybe we can learn from French people to embrace that administration simply doesn’t work well sometimes, and that teachers will be human. Once we are a little stoic in the face of chaos, our stress levels will be lower, and we will be happier. It is about striking a balance between crawling for authorities, and losing our shit every time we are given an assignment – acting as if we didn’t sign up for it. In sum, I would like us to stay critical to a reasonable extent, but to choose to be grateful, humble and hard-working.

I have noticed that complaining has seeped into the habits of the first years. We watched and learned, and concluded that complaining was part of this campus’ culture. I don’t want that for us – let’s have a fresh start next semester.

We are bound by much more than a common dislike of Sciences Po as an institution. We are brilliant and driven people. We have roughly the same ideals, the same plans for the future, the same will to shape the world and help others. We have formed strong bonds over the course of this year, and I am excited to keep on building from here. I love this community, and I want to enjoy it. I want to learn about you all – I don’t have time to complain.

Again, everyone complains sometimes, and me too.

I just think the amount of complaining here has become toxic, and I want to bring us all down to earth. Look around, we have everything to be grateful for. It is a privilege to even attend university, let alone the most prestigious place in France, that is also – still, no matter how much we meme it – one of the best in the world. We live in a gorgeous town by the Mediterranean. We have bright futures and a bright present, that we need to appreciate. We are young, healthy and alive.

Being at university means learning, not for grades, not for a degree, but for your own growth. Do your readings because they enrich you. Write essays you’ll feel proud of. Work for yourself, and when you lose motivation – ask yourself why you’re here. Why did you choose Sciences Po? Why do you want this knowledge? For me, it really helps.

So, who cares if you need to Wikipedia all the terms Cimino never mentioned but had in his powerpoint before the exam?

It’s irritating, it’s unfair. But what about we joke about it a little and move on, instead of developing an all-consuming hatred of our own university? Life is too short to focus on those things. I believe constant complaining robs us of our gratefulness and motivation – and eliminating it truly brings those things back.

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