Bachelor of Arts/Engineering
Bachelor of Arts/Engineering

I studied on exchange for one year at Ecole Centrale Paris, a highly renowned French engineering school, during the 5th year of my BE (Chemical)/ BA (French/Spanish) degree. Centrale is considered one of the best engineering “Grandes Ecoles” in France. Despite the name, Centrale Paris, is not situated in the city centre, but a 30 min train ride out. This has been both good and painful. The student residence provides rooms automatically, for a good price, and living on campus offers the opportunity to meet lots of people and be involved in the thriving associative life at Centrale. However, it isn’t the same experience as living in a little Parisian apartment.

The French academic system is remarkably different to the Australian system. To be accepted to a “Grande Ecole”, students normally study mathematics and science preparatory classes for two years, before sitting extremely difficult and competitive entrance exams. For the first two undergraduate years, students study general engineering, with many compulsory first year mathematically based courses. This means that they are very competent mathematicians, to say the least. Exchange students normally join the second year, when courses become a lot more varied than those offered as part of an engineering degree in Australia. These include topics such as business, finance, economics, entrepreneurship, strategy, leadership workshops and risk management. I decided to make the most of my remaining electives and to enjoy this wide variety of courses, and would strongly recommend that to other students too. While some courses can be extremely challenging, others exceptionally interesting, there are also many courses considered “pippo” or easy and a little boring, so ask around about your courses when you arrive.

Something that I realised very quickly after arriving here is that it means something very different to be an engineer in Europe, especially in France. With such as varied study background, Centraliens are prepared to enter the workforce not just as engineers, but also as managers, bankers and strategy consultants. Centrale also has excellent industry connections, with many opportunities for students to meet and participate in workshops with companies. Through Centrale’s industry ties, I have the unique opportunity to complete a six month internship in Paris, before returning to UQ to finish my degree.

As far as friends go, there is an amazing group of intelligent, motivated young people from all over the world. I have been lucky enough to make close friends from various parts of Europe and used my summer holiday to visit them all and meet their friends and families, which in my opinion is the best way to experience a place or a culture.

Top tips:

  • Language skills: Although it’s true that everyone speaks English at least a little bit, and that some courses are offered in English, I strongly recommend that you come here with a little French and a strong resolve to learn the language. I studied French before coming and also took a two week intensive language course before starting, which helped me enormously at the beginning to meet people. The best way for foreigners to integrate is through learning the language.
  • Courses: Save some electives so that you aren’t locked into matching course equivalents. There are a wide variety of subjects on offer, so it would be a shame not to make the most of them. Also, be very cautious when choosing maths courses, as they are extremely difficult and many international students, especially Australians, struggle to pass them.
  • Accommodation: I strongly recommend living on campus. It is the best way to meet new people, you can get involved with the sports and associations, and you can practice French.
  • Travel: Use your holidays to travel. Go visit your European friends’ cities.
  • Patience: Applications, French administration and bureaucracy are all time consuming, but in the end it really is worth it, so be patient.

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