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My life at ESSEC Business School in Paris: Do you have pen and paper?

(Photo by Desislava Diyanova Grozeva)

Go on exchange |   27. Oct 2020

Desislava Diyanova Grozeva

The first thing I did when I heard that I had been accepted at ESSEC Business School was, of course, to book a flight to France a week before I was actually due to start university.

I was so excited; I couldn’t just sit and wait around for the start date – I had to prepare! If I had counted correctly, my first day at ESSEC was the 5th “first day of school/university” in my life but I was just as excited as I was when I was 7 and starting primary school.

I can still remember myself back then, on the first day of school in Bulgaria in primary school. I was standing with my mum and my dad in what, back then, seemed to be a huge backyard and I was trying to balance an enormous bouquet of flowers that I was supposed to give to the head teacher.

I was dressed in a very sophisticated (for a 7-year-old) skirt with a white shirt and the shoes that Santa Claus had brought me the Christmas before (I wish I still believed in Santa – those were fun times!) I was so small that I couldn’t really see what was happening in front of me on the stage because of all the parents proudly standing with their children in the first row.

Fast forward 15 years and there I was in front of, this time, the truly huge university grounds of ESSEC, balancing on my high heels with my overly stuffed bag and not seeing anything (yet again) because of the direct sunlight and the condensation from my mask fogging up my sunglasses.

Almost the same scenario as 15 years ago. Little did I know that a lot more things would be like when I was little. Here is my university life in short:

1. “Do you have paper? How about a pen?”

The first lesson that I learned the hard way is that ESSEC is not as digitalized as Copenhagen Business School.

Now don’t get me wrong – the university still has amazing facilities, video shooting rooms, digital libraries, etc…, but the whole digitalization process is not as smooth as at my home university. I never thought I would feel awkward having a laptop in a room full of people who have pens and paper.

For the first time in my life, my dear laptop was completely useless on my first day of university, and I had to go out of my comfort zone and ask people around me if they had a pen so that I could sign my name. But it didn’t stop there.

Almost every day since, I have had to fill out a document by hand, or sign papers the old-fashioned way – with a pen and use the printer more times than I have used it in the past 3 years in Denmark.

Surviving in France without paper is like surviving in Copenhagen without a bike

Surviving in France without paper is like surviving in Copenhagen without a bike – it is almost impossible and if it is possible, it only makes your life more complicated. I still take notes on my laptop, but some teachers have told us that they prefer that we take notes on paper so that we don’t distract ourselves with social media.

The sheer amount of paper that I currently have stacked on my desk is more than I have seen in my university life so far, also because 90% of the professors distribute the materials that we need to work on, either in class or at home, on paper.

That fact alone reminds me of primary school when I had a different notebook for every one of my 12 subjects, and I had pens with all of the colors that you could possibly imagine.

I agree – there is something charming about feeling paper between your fingers again and actually shutting off your laptop to get completely consumed by taking notes by hand and listening to your professor.

2. Actually getting up for 8AM lectures

I really hope that the Dean of CBS doesn’t see this, but I have to confess that I rarely get up for my 8AM classes at CBS. The only exceptions are when I am truly interested in the subject or the subject is so difficult that I risk failing it at the end of the semester if I don’t attend the lectures.

Why am I doing this you might ask? Well, because lecture attendance is not mandatory at CBS, or at least for the courses I am taking. But to my unpleasant surprise – it is in ESSEC.

To be completely honest, I don’t remember the last time I woke up 3 consecutive days in a row at 6AM so that I can get to university at around 7:30AM.

It reminded me of the times when I was in high-school and I had to wake up at 5AM (yes, that’s right – 5AM) so that I could be on time for my first class at 7AM – and every day started with a class at that time, so you can imagine the turmoil. Back then, it became a habit at one point, so I thought I would get used to it as well this time around.

However, there is a small difference. When I was 13 and in high school, I used to go to bed at 9PM. Now that I am 22, I have adopted the horrible habit of staying up until 1 or 2AM watching cat videos on YouTube. Thus, on average when I was 13 and waking up at 5AM I was still statistically getting more hours of sleep than I am today waking up at 6AM.

Looking out a double door from a apartment ind Paris
(Photo by Desislava Diyanova Grozeva)

Happily, there is light at the end of the tunnel. COVID-19 brought a lot of suffering and difficulties to people around the world, but one of the few positive things that came out of it was the dual education requirement – meaning that on 2 or 3 days of the week, my morning classes are actually online.

So, what I do is set my alarm for 5 minutes before the class starts, wake up, turn on my computer, log into zoom, mute my microphone, dim my screen, remove the sound and go back to bed. It might not be the most responsible thing that I have done when it comes to my education, but my sleep, my sanity and my mental health are definitely a priority in my life.

3. Having a different group for every single subject

I’ve never hidden the fact that I am not much of a team player. I prefer doing my projects alone because I have extremely high standards for the work I produce no matter how small the project.

At CBS, we do have group projects, of course, but they are not very common, and the outcomes of the group projects are rarely graded and if they are – the individual performance is also evaluated and weighs more than the group assignment. However, at ESSEC, some evaluations are based purely on group work.

In the beginning, it was extremely overwhelming for me to have 9 different groups with at least 5 people in each group, coming from different places with different time zones and having to do 1-2 presentations per week with each group. Needless to say, it was extremely frustrating to try and find a time to physically meet up with 5 people, especially when not all of them live on campus or even in the country and all our schedules are different!

Not only that, but also trying to understand and adapt to each other’s personalities and the fashion in which we work. Some people are very strict and organized like me and like to create actionable plans, and others read the mandatory material on the evening before the presentation.

This experience has really taught me to be more understanding of other people’s cultures and habits and accommodate myself and my expectations to meet my peers halfway.

I have learned to be more accepting, as it has taught me a lot about how I should navigate through challenging situations and the importance of attentive listening as a way to gain an international perspective.


ESSEC has given me the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone, communicate and collaborate with far more people than I am used to at CBS and reminds me of the student life that I might be missing out on at CBS by not attending lectures.

Taking notes on paper has given my eyes a short-lived, yet enjoyable mini vacation from the harmful blue light of the digital screen and last, but certainly not least, it has reminded me of when I was little. And I would never miss a chance to take a trip down memory lane…

street in Paris

(Photo by Desislava Diyanova Grozeva)


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