This summer, I spent the month of June in Normandy, France, to attend an engineering workshop about sustainable building at ESITC Caen University. According to my friends, who had been on the programme before, I was going to have the best time in France: sightseeing beautiful sceneries, meeting students from all over the world, visiting interesting, exciting places. Nobody hid that the work load required by the programme was demanding; yet everyone still considered the experience unforgettable.
The overall idea sounded quite intriguing to me. Normandy, a picturesque scenery with the iconic Mont Saint-Michel and Le Havre in the nearby, and furthermore, French food and wine. There was something I was dubious about, though. Did I really want to spend the only free summer month I had, doing university work abroad? Was I so sure that engaging myself in a month-long project, with all the work load it implied, was a wise choice, before spending another year stressing out about exams and dissertation? Although I still find these questions legitimate, I now do not regret my choice.
For a start, the hospitality of the local Frenchs students was absolutely one of the friendliest I have ever experienced. From showing us around the town’s most iconic spots and Normandy’s gems, to organising weekly events and make us live the French experience to the fullest, the hosts never missed a chance to make us feel like at home. Another incredibly enriching aspect was the wide variety of nationalities among us workshop participants. Although the majority of the students was European, some had come all the way from Japan and Canada to join the programme. It really was impressive to see such a variety of backgrounds in the somewhat small context of Caen, an important yet not massive city in Northern France. This multicultural feature also gave a very interesting twist to the educational side of the programme, as it allowed me to observe closely the approach to education and engineering that other countries have.
In terms of work load, it was indeed demanding, yet very interesting. The main subject being BIM (Building Information Modelling), I had no previous knowledge from my university syllabus. Undeniably, I firstly felt somewhat unable to contribute to the group project at all, because of this. However, I soon realised that in first place, this was a great chance to learn more about BIM; and secondly, that even if I would not have contributed decisively, I had other skills that may be complementary to those of the rest of the group.
More importantly, I was aware that although the project was academically important, I wanted to discover more about Normandy and the French culture. And thus I did: seizing every chance I had to go and explore the most famous spots of the region, as well as the little beauties of Caen, I can say that not only I enriched my engineering knowledge about sustainable building, but also that I experienced Normandy as much as I could. And really, doing this without the help of the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund would not have been possible.
A geeky bridge picture of a rather picturesque structure, somewhere in Normandy
The beautiful Mont Saint-Michel, a true gem of the area