According to the Institute of International Education, over 300,000 American college students study abroad every year. Of those 300,000, only a small percentage are engineering majors. Of those few engineers lucky enough to study abroad, most will not graduate in four years due to scheduling complications. However, at Grove City College, engineers can (and are encouraged to) study abroad—and still graduate on time!
For engineering students with an appetite for adventure, the value of an immersive experience in a new culture or language is clear. What often seems somewhat fuzzy at the start of the process, however, is the actual day-to-day life of a student abroad. What are classes like? How’s the food? Who will be hosting? How frequent are the opportunities to travel? A couple years ago I was asking these same questions. But now, as a mechanical engineering student who got to call Nantes, France, “home” for a semester back in the fall of my junior year, I can offer some insight into Grove City’s truly unique engineering study abroad program.
1. Where can I study abroad?
The engineering study abroad program is located at Grove City’s European Study Center (ESC) in Nantes, France. Nantes is a beautiful city about two hours from Paris by train. It has everything you could want in a French city—sidewalk cafés, creperies, cathedrals and its very own castle. This European gem is located in the Loire Valley, which is known for its historic castles and picturesque landscapes.
2. What classes will I take?
All of the students are required to take French 101 and a field trip/cultural class called Engineering Management—more on those classes later. Mechanical engineers study abroad during the fall semester of their junior year. They take Fluid Dynamics, Mechanics of Materials and an Instrumentation Laboratory. Electrical engineers study abroad during the fall semester of their senior year. They take Control Theory and conduct the first part of their senior project.
All of the engineering classes are video-cast from Grove City, which means you’ll take the same classes as your classmates back home with professors who simultaneously teach students in Pennsylvania and Nantes (but no 8 AMs for you, thanks to the time difference… another perk of life abroad). This allows you to stay on track with required courses so that upon returning to Grove City for the spring semester, you won’t fall behind and will be able to jump into the next round of classes with your peers.
3. Do I have to know French?
No! This was something I was really worried about heading into the program. I took Spanish during high school and literally couldn’t even tell you what baguette meant. But no need to fear—you’ll take French 101 while you’re there and learn the basics. Between the ‘survival French’ and the friendly native speakers who wanted to practice their English, I was fine! If you do happen to know French before you go, you can test out of French 101 and take a higher level course to pursue greater fluency.
4. How much does it cost?
This is the best part of the whole program! It costs the normal tuition plus $300 (which is less than what I’ve paid for books some semesters). This price includes airfare, housing, food, classes, some field trip programs and more for the entire four months you’re there. At that price, why not go?
You will need some money for souvenirs and your own independent travel. If you decide to take advantage of the many opportunities to tour Europe on weekends and breaks, expect to spend somewhere between $1,000-2,000 for extra expenses.
5. Where and when can I travel?
Nantes’s location in Europe couldn’t be better, as you can easily navigate to most of Europe’s major cities. For the first six weeks, you’ll take the field trip portion of Engineering Management, which involves a variety of excursions to cities around Nantes that are all completely covered in the total cost. You would only be responsible for souvenirs and that occasional Nutella crêpe. We got to travel to Paris, Normandy, La Baule (a famous French beach), Fougères and other French towns around the Loire Valley. While in Paris with the help of student passes, we got to visit the Arc de Triomphe as well as the Louvre, where our Civilization & Arts humanity course came to life. In general, these excursions were a great way to learn more about French history and culture.
During your Fall Break and Thanksgiving Break, you’ll get five days and 10 days, respectively, to travel around Europe, and you can take long weekend trips too. For example, I was able to go to Dublin and London during Fall Break and travel around Italy (Rome, Pompeii, Florence, Cinque Terre, Venice) during Thanksgiving. It’s really cheap and easy to travel around Europe, and after getting the hang of it, you’ll become a pro at planning trips and booking those plane tickets!
6. Where will I live?
Grove City rents three townhouses just outside the center of Nantes where you’ll live, eat and take most of your classes. Guys live in one house and girls live in the other. The wonderful program directors, Mark and Deb Reuber, live in townhouse number three.
7. What about food?
Part of the program’s cost goes toward food, so you certainly won’t go hungry. You’ll be responsible for making your own breakfast and lunch, but there’s always plenty of food in the house. For dinner, student meal teams take turns cooking dinner for all of the students. It’s a lot of fun trying to recreate some of your favorite recipes using French food, and an added challenge trying to cook for upwards of 25 people!
8. Who will be in charge?
Mark and Deb Reuber are the program directors. They have been involved in this program for over a decade, from the very start. Mark facilitates the labs and Engineering Management course, while Deb teaches French. They know all about Europe and are great resources for students staying. They also help address any issues that may arise throughout the semester. For example, I dropped my laptop while I was there, splitting it wide open. But Mark came to the rescue and helped me ship it back to Grove City and got me a loaner computer. If I was in Europe on my own, I honestly don’t know what I would have done.
9. How much will I interact with French people?
The second part of the Engineering Course is a class with students from a local French university, with whom you’ll learn about French culture and international business. After classes you’ll get to dine and unwind with the local students, which always makes for a fun and memorable time. They’ll get to practice their English, and you’ll get to practice your French (if you’re feeling brave, that is).
Every Sunday, you’ll attend a French church where you’ll get to meet some truly lovely French people. Back when I went, some of the students studying abroad made some unique connections by getting involved in the worship team. Opportunities abound to make meaningful connections if you keep an open mind. Who knows what French friends and adventures await?
Hopefully this answered some questions you may have had and gave you some insight into a typical student’s day-to-day life at the ESC. For more information on the engineering study abroad program, click here. For another engineer’s perspective on studying abroad, check out this post.