Erika Witt

Name: Erika Witt (Alumni)

Hometown and Country: San Francisco, California, USA

Degrees Completed at UBC Sciences Po: 

  • Research Methodology & History with a specialization in Sociology at Sciences Po Reims
  • Major in Religion, Literature and Arts, Minor in Sociology at UBC




Why did you choose to pursue the UBC Sciences Po Dual Degree?
I came across the UBC Sciences Po Dual Degree by chance. When I was in high school and applying to university, I knew I wanted to leave California and decided to focus on Canadian schools. I initially applied to UBC and McGill. Having spent a little time in France during high school for a language exchange, I was very motivated to continue learning French (hence why I was considering Montreal), but after I submitted my application to UBC, I received an email informing me about the Dual Degree program. Without knowing anything about Sciences Po, or having considered pursuing a degree in the social sciences, I decided to apply. When I was accepted, I felt that it would be a unique experience to live two years in two very different, yet international contexts – so in fact the choice was somewhat random, but my intuition proved correct and the dual degree opened up many opportunities and pathways that I had not necessarily considered as an 18 year old!

What are some of the meaning experiences you’ve had from your time at Sciences Po, and at UBC?
This program allowed me to meet people from all over the world and from very different backgrounds than myself. The small campus of Sciences Po allows you to get to know many of your fellow students and facilitates a culture of dialogue and debate, which was a great way to grow, intellectually and personally, in my first years away from home. At UBC, one of my most memorable experiences was when I was a teaching assistant in the Department of Sociology. I gave a guest lecture to an introductory sociology class on Ethnic Relations. It was really fulfilling (and intimidating) to share my own interests and research on issues of gender and intersectionality with around 100 students.

How has being a UBC Sciences Po student helped your personal and professional aspirations?
When I first applied to UBC, I intended to study English literature. The dual degree opened doors by exposing me to the social sciences. When I arrived to UBC in the third-year, I decided to pursue an interdisciplinary major, Religion, Literature, and Arts, and a minor in Sociology. This enabled me to draw links between literature, which has remained a passion of mine, and issues of political and social justice that had acquired central importance for me during my time at Sciences Po. Additionally, engaging in community-based research in Vancouver through both the dual degree course requirements and within the Department of Sociology played a role in why I chose to pursue a Master’s degree in urban public policy.

What are the top three things every UBC Sciences Po student should do before they graduate?

  1. Pull a nuit-blanche and go to a boulangerie first thing in the morning for freshly baked croissants
  2. Go see a UBC Improv Show
  3. Watch the sunset from Wreck Beach

What has the UBC Sciences Po program meant to you?
The program challenged me, it made me grow accustomed to change, transitions, and often finding myself outside of my comfort zone. At times this is hard, of course, but it is also really fulfilling, and overall this has left me adaptable and open to whatever new experiences come my way.

What advice would you give to students who are considering this program, or just starting out in this program?
While it seems really appealing to spend time in Europe, spending two years at Sciences Po is quite a different experience than going on a “typical” exchange semester. Coming from a North American education system, the French pedagogy was unfamiliar, intellectually demanding, and the lifestyle of a medium-sized French city was a huge contrast from my peers who remained in the United States for school. For example, Sciences Po Reims was much smaller than my high school, and furthermore, I felt like I had to grow up faster – learning to cook for myself, having little guidance on opening a bank account in a new country and in a foreign language, etc.  Additionally, this is not a program to learn French – on the Reims campus, the common language between everyone is English, so you need to push yourself to socialize in French or challenge yourself by taking elective courses beyond the required language ones. In short, improving your French in this context is certainly possible but requires a lot of self-discipline.

As for UBC, the transition to such a large campus was fairly difficult. Make sure you get involved with associations on campus, it is the best way to branch out and meet people outside of the dual degree program – the UBC Farm is a great, as is the student-run café, Sprouts. Work Learn positions are also a great way to begin applying and expanding on the skills you acquired at Sciences Po. I had the chance to work with a professor from the School of Journalism, and it allowed me to explore new domains, and make some money as a student. Additionally, make an effort to explore the Vancouver neighborhoods and not get stuck in the UBC-bubble. Spending at least part of the summer in Vancouver is highly recommended as well, as that is when the city really comes alive after 8 months of rain…

What’s next for you?
I am completing my Master’s degree in urban public policy (“Governing the Large Metropolis”) at Sciences Po Paris. After I graduate in June 2020, I hope to remain in Paris for at least a few years and work in the domain of sustainable development, ideally on projects relating to mobility or urban agriculture. I am also interested by the prospect of pursuing a PhD in sociology or urban policy related fields.