How long are you abroad for and where?
I’m part of a year-long exchange with Ecole Centrale Paris, a ‘Grande Ecole’ technology institute in Paris. My year here will be treated as the equivalent of my third year I would have completed at Cambridge. Thus, my total time at university will still be that of a regular MEng (Master of Engineering) student.
What are you studying abroad? Why?
I’m more or less studying Mechanical Engineering. However, the way the degree is run here is slightly different as there is a large focus on, well, not focusing; that is to say, the university is trying to produce well rounded all-capable generalists. Apart from classic Mechanical Engineering subjects, we also study Economics, Project Management, Communications and Cultural Awareness, and take a part in team-based innovative projects (all in French).
For me, studying abroad was a unique opportunity to experience life in a different country, immersed in a new culture, and to pursue my wishes to speak a foreign language fluently. I’ve had an insight into a completely different education system, and have met a whole host of people hailing from all over the world. It’s very much an academic exchange, but the year is as much about living the Parisian dream as it is about studying in one of the best engineering institutions in France.
Are there any sites/institutions you can recommend to other students who are planning on studying abroad, and who aren't studying Modern Languages at uni?
The best thing to do is to get in touch with the International Offices, at your home university and abroad. They should fill you in on details, and can put you in touch with the tutor in charge of your exchange, or with the students who have participated in the exchange, or who are currently taking part.
How do you think your time abroad will contribute to your studies?
Different university systems seem to focus on different aspects of the subject, which should hopefully lead to me being a better rounded engineer! For example, here, practical experience and physical knowledge are less important than rigorous mathematical derivation of the situation. Added to this, the foreign language skills and expanded network of French and international friends will contribute a great deal to potential further study and work.
Would you recommend it to other students?
Emphatically. Unless you get traumatically homesick.
Are there any other sites you found useful and anything to look out for?
To help students manage with accommodation fees in France, there is a scheme called CAF (Caisse d'Allocations Familiales) which contributes a proportion of costs direct to your bank account each month. But watch out for the bureaucracy! Worryingly, they seemed to think that England wasn’t in the European Union when I was there, and repeatedly asked for my visa as proof that I was allowed in the country...
In the 3 weeks before I started the course in Paris, I attended an intensive language school in Vichy. Usually they hold prohibitively high fees, but with the help of a ‘Bourse Entente Cordiale’, organised by the culture wing of the French Embassy, the course can become very reasonably priced.