Posted on Monday, July 10, 2017
Studying in a foreign university has been a special experience for me. I enrolled for a semester-exchange programme at INSA Toulouse, France. I was eager to make the most of my time abroad by blending myself into Toulousian culture. The Institut National des Sciences Appliquées de Toulouse or INSA Toulouse is one of the 210 Grande Ecole d’Ingénieurs, an engineering school. My courses were in French. Though the first month was hard, the challenge of adapting myself to the place and learning the language inspired me. To try different things even when I didn’t wish to -- saying ‘yes’ to every outrageous experience -- was something I could never have done had I stayed in my comfort zone.
In a foreign land, I became more observant about my surroundings. A metro ride in a new town provides a lot of information about the place and people. I was pleased to see that the French promote reading. We were given print copies and it was preferred over the digital versions, which I believe makes the best reading. The signs on the metro indicating that survivors of World War II (WW2) be given seat preference, caught my eye. In Europe even the young are still deeply connected to the past history of the WW.
I had a chance to experience the French national spirit when astronaut Thomas Pesquet left for the the International Space Station. The public braved the cold to watch the take-off on the giant city centre screen. I also experienced my first rugby match in Toulouse. Toulousians say that a visit to Toulouse is incomplete if you do not watch rugby.
As regards civil engineering, I noticed a familiar problem of imparting practical knowledge to students. To overcome it, various sessions with industry were organised to keep students informed of the latest problems and development in the civil sector. The focus was more on working with industry rather than research, unlike IIT.
Most of my courses were based on climatic engineering and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning). The faculty believed that India has a huge market for HVAC systems and were excited to collaborate with Indian universities in this regard. Many of them had even attended a special conference in Hyderabad to discuss the future of HVAC in India.
The courses involved group work to develop team skills. There was a strong sense of personal commitment from each individual, making it easier to co-ordinate work. I was fortunate to visit a chemical dying industry to understand the thermal power plant and its functioning. Due to stricter environment laws, each industry is meticulous in reducing their carbon emission and strongly focused on marketing their eco-friendly methods of production.
Also there was a physical activity component in the courses itself and everyone was required to undertake it. Any sport of their choice from rugby, basketball, football, badminton. Playing any of these sports was necessary for credit requirements. As civil engineers who will be required to work in the field, it was a good idea to focus on physical fitness.
It was a great experience to meet people with different mindsets and ideologies. My exchange was made more knowledgeable by my wonderful classmates who were ready to discuss any topic with me. This made my learning experience more fun.
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