Billie Bell is a third-year student on the bi-diplôme.
Why did you choose to do the bi-diplôme?
I was visiting Kent on an open day and read about the bi-diplôme in the general brochure. I’d wanted to carry on with the French that I’d been doing since Year 7 but didn’t want to do a degree in French. The bi-diplôme was the best of both worlds – it has allowed me to carry on studying politics but also to continue with my French.
The first year is spent at Sciences Po Lille. What was that like?
It’s a foundation year in social sciences – a basis for the study that follows. There are a lot of contact hours and the workload is quite high. French essay writing methodology is a bit different to the UK. In the UK, you’re given an essay question whereas in France you’re given a subject and, from your knowledge of that subject, you find a pertinent question which has to be structured in a certain way. That does help your reflection later on in your studies, but it was a bit of a challenge to master.
How did your French improve over the year?
By the end of the year in Lille I was speaking more naturally. My written French improved a lot, particularly as I was having to express quite complex ideas in my essays.
What have been the highlights of your second and third years at Kent?
One of the modules I’ve taken is on east European politics. Through a partnership with the Belarusian state university in Minsk, a group of politics and international relations students were able to visit Minsk last April. Then, through Erasmus+, the students from Belarus are on a term-long exchange to Kent. Also, last year one of my pieces was published in the student politics journal. It was nice to get that recognition.
How are you supported in your studies at Kent?
Each module convener has set office hours if you want to see them, and they’re relatively quick at replying to emails. There’s also a skills hub manned by PhD students, who can help with study skills, and the School has its own careers officer. The School supports students particularly well.
What extra events does the School of Politics and International Relations run?
The School has a weekly open forum where staff members or invited guests speak on a topic then take questions. We have a guest speaker programme that attracts prominent people in the field, and academic members of staff give lectures about their books or papers. Our academic staff are very active outside of their teaching, so it’s nice to be able to engage with that.
How have you changed since you started the bi-diplôme?
If you want a First on the bi-diplôme you have to be more critical than just learning facts and applying them, so I’ve definitely improved in terms of my academic rigour. My public speaking has improved through involvement with the Model United Nations. I’m definitely more confident travelling about by myself and I’ve become more independent.
What do you want to do in the future?
I’d like to join the British Diplomatic Service through the fast stream. The chance to see the world appeals to me, and as a diplomat I’d be able to continue with my language studies. In Lille I picked up Arabic along with my French; now I’ve become more interested in eastern Europe and central Asia I’d like to learn Russian.
What advice would you give to someone about to start the bi-diplôme?
The first year at Sciences Po Lille can seem tough because of the number of classes you have. But it’s tough for a reason: to give you skills such as critical thought and essay writing.
It gives you a solid grounding for the second and third years, which are less about knowing the facts and more about exploring those facts for yourself. There are some good things to do in Lille, like sports societies and the model UN. Don’t be afraid to take some time off!