Studying Abroad in a French Engineering School: Tom’s Semester at ENSAI 

Tom Pflugbeil, a student at the Technical University of Dortmund, joined ENSAI for a semester as part of an Erasmus+ exchange. After a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in Statistics in Germany, he followed courses in the third year of the Engineering Statistician program. We asked him about his experience in Rennes, now that he is back at his home university. 

Internationalization is a priority for ENSAI. The school maintains a network of over 40 academic partners worldwide. TU Dortmund is one of them.

Tom, was France part of the equation when you made your choice for an Erasmus exchange?

From the moment I decided on applying for an Erasmus semester, I knew that I wanted to go to France. As my parents worked in Paris when I was born, France is my country of birth and even though my family moved back to Germany when I was still only a couple of months old, La France always had a special place in my heart.

And while I have spent many vacations in France, I have never been to Brittany, which is why I wanted to go to Rennes. A decision I do not regret as I really liked Rennes, for example, because of its traditional timber-framed houses, for jogging along la Vilaine, for relaxing at Parc du Thabor or for going for drinks in the famous Rue de la Soif.

What was a typical day for you at ENSAI?

Is there a typical day at ENSAI? Since the timetable changes every week and I did not do all the courses of the study program, my days could vary between being at school from 9:45 until 20:30 if you include the volleyball course I took in the evenings, to having only one lecture in a whole week.

Were the teaching methods of a French Grande Ecole different from what you have known so far in Germany?

Yes, they were a lot different from what I know from my home university. The 180-minute courses with a 20-minute break were sometimes challenging and definitely more taxing than the 90-minute course, a 30-minute break rhythm in Dortmund. It was also interesting to have exams during the lecture period and not after the semester ends, but that follows from the block course structure in comparison to having the same lectures at the same time every week.

You chose the Data Science for Economic and Health Modeling third-year specialization, why?

Since my minor subject for my Bachelor’s degree was and for my Master’s degree is economics, the Data Science for Economics and Health Modeling major seemed to fit the best. It also helped that most of the courses of that specialization were held in English because I did not trust myself enough with French lectures.

Speaking of lectures, which ones did you particularly enjoy?

I enjoyed a lot of the courses, my favorites being Analysis of Social, Spatial, and Complex Networks where I could play around a bit with social networks, Econometrics of Program Evaluation for the diverse range of presentation topics, and especially Environmental Economics and the French course. While I sadly did not improve my French language skills as much as I was hoping for before coming to France, the French course was always fun. In comparison to the language classes I knew from School and University, it was not focused on shoving too much grammar and vocabulary down my throat but rather getting used to talking with and listening to the language. As someone who never enjoyed learning languages that much, I appreciated that a lot.

Environmental Economics was also great for its content. Looking at the environment from an economic point of view was very interesting and gave me a new perspective for discussions on climate change in the future. Furthermore, volleyball practice at ENSAI was awesome.

You are now back in Dortmund. What are your plans?

I am already in the latter stage of my Master’s degree. Therefore, my next big plan is writing a master’s thesis while also enjoying the last months of student life and getting involved with the student council and other faculty committees again. The step afterwards is not decided yet, but I will probably start working.

It does sound like you had a great time at ENSAI! Do you have any tips for an international student who will join the school in the future?

Firstly, do a sport at ENSAI, preferably a team sport to get to know some people outside of your study program. Secondly, join the events of the “BDE” (ENSAI’s students’ association) and other committees to get to know even more people (they organize a fancy gala ball every year, so do not forget to take a dress/suit with you). Thirdly, go to Saint Malo. I went there four times, and it never gets boring!

“Saint-Malo never gets boring!”

Last but not least, ENSAI has a “free space” managed by Leho, the solidarity club of the school, where students can put in stuff they do not need and take out stuff they do need, fittingly named “chamber of secrets” by a friend.

Find out more about ENSAI’s international partnerships.