Travels and adventures aside, I did come to Lyon with the explicit purpose of studying abroad. Today, I figured I’d take some time to describe my academic experience here.
The process of studying abroad is quite complicated, and the challenges unfortunately don’t get stopped at border control. When I arrived at INSA Lyon, I immediately experienced issues with my schedule. I had accidentally chosen courses designated for different concentrations and years of my major. This was never explained to me prior to my arrival, so I’ve instead begun the last-minute scramble to get new courses approved. Second, because Biomedical Engineering is still an up-and-coming major, I am actually registered as a Mechanical Engineering major at INSA. Although most of my courses are relevant and familiar, they are quite different from Drexel’s versions.
At INSA, all 300 mechanical engineering students are sorted into groups. These groups will typically complete all of their lectures, labs, and recitations together. I am in group Y12-2. The times, locations, and professors of your group are all pre-designated—you don’t have the flexibility to avoid professors you dislike, and you most certainly cannot skip class. Seriously. I walked in late a couple of times, and I stuck out like a sore thumb. In some classes, the professors may fail you if you have too many unexcused absences.
As you can see in the schedule above, I am taking Fluid Mechanics, Dynamics, and Informatique (a MATLAB programming course). I also take a math and a French course, but they’re not displayed on this schedule. Unlike the other non-exchange students, I take much fewer credits because some of their classes aren’t required for my Drexel degree. Typically, students have class from 8am-12pm and 2pm-6pm most days.
One major challenge is that the basis of knowledge is very different for some courses. At Drexel, for instance, all engineering majors follow a basic core sequence of math, science, and design courses. By pre-junior year, you can expect all Drexel engineers to have an understanding of linear algebra, physics, and so on (though how much we remember is another question entirely). Here, the courses are much more theoretical. I was expected to readily apply prior knowledge of partial derivatives, tensors, and pivot representations. Some of these concepts were completely foreign to me, and so I need to spend more time reviewing material on my own. Fortunately, my schedule is more spacious than most others’, so it’s not too difficult to accommodate extra studying.
Although I make the experience sound severe, it’s actually quite efficient. When you take all of your classes together, it’s easy to bond with your classmates and collaborate. The students I’ve met are exceptionally kind, and they’re very responsive to the myriad questions I ask. Additionally, I find my classes very interesting. The professors are super competent, and do a wonderful job at not only explaining the material, but also its significant in the context of mechanical engineering. Sure, the lectures aren’t always easy to understand (especially when it’s all taught in French!). But what’s not to love about a good challenge?