Even though I was signed up from day one to spend a year abroad, I knew little about what I should expect. Unsurprising really since final year students who study abroad don?t return to Imperial before they graduate, and so rarely do tales of their years abroad percolate through to the years below. I hope that this series of articles goes someway to filling this information gap.
I?m sitting in a café on the Rue de Menilmontant. It?s a road that rises steely out of the melee of central Paris and into one of the city?s outer arrondissements, close to where I am lucky enough to be living this year. I am taking a break from learning some vocabulary for the language course that Erasmus students are required to take before term starts properly in mid-October. They are taking great care of us here at L?Ecole des Ponts. The thirty or so other Erasmus students come from all over Europe and since there French students have arrived yet, we are becoming quite a close-knit group, discovering the city and missing the last Metro together.
The Ecole de Ponts et Chausses is one of France?s top engineering schools. To get a place here, French students have to complete two years of intensive post-high school science and maths study and then finish in roughly the top 100 nationally. In fact it is quite scary how much more work it appears that our French colleagues have had to do to get here compared with us Imperialists. The pace at the school is much more relaxed, in reward almost for the effort spent getting here. I have opted for mainly structures courses (metallic structures, reinforced concrete, seismic studies, bridges) but for a bit of variation, I am also taking a course in the history of construction at the nearby architecture school.
The school is in part funded by industry which is why no expense seems to have been spared on the building that houses it on the outskirts of Paris. It consists of three long parallel blocks unified by an enormous central atrium. With the atrium?s roof supported by an ingenious system of tension members, the building is a lesson in structural engineering in itself. In the middle is a coffee bar where staff and students congregate as often as they can for a stiff espresso. Dot matrix screens announce where lectures are taking place. Muted pings announce the arrival of the glass elevators. In fact the only things missing are the aeroplanes?