The French Connection

The College of Forestry International Programs Office enables students from every academic background to find and enjoy a lively and interesting international experience. Additionally, the College welcomes international students and scholars to Corvallis for collaboration with OSU colleagues. 

During the 2014-2015 school year, two OSU students majoring in renewable materials, Christina Lawrence and Dylan Dripps, spent six months at l’École Supérieure du Bois (ESB), a school focused on wood science and technology in Nantes, France, and two French students from ESB, Thibault Grandvuinet and Antoine Martin, spent six months in the Wood Science & Engineering Department at OSU. In the spring of 2015, when all four students were in Corvallis simultaneously, they met to share their impressions and experiences on studying wood science abroad.

My understanding is that this is the first time this exchange has been offered, right?

Christina: Yes, ESB approached our department, WSE, and asked if anyone was interested in doing an exchange, so Dylan and I stepped up and offered ourselves as guinea pigs for it [Dylan and Christina both laugh]

Had you ever been to Europe before?

Christina: I went in 2010 and visited a few places, including Paris, but ESB and Nantes were a whole new experience from that. It was really nice to get more of the culture, more of the low-key aspects of France that I missed out on before.

Antoine: ESB is north of Paris, on the West Coast.

Did it feel like a college town?

Dylan: Absolutely. I think about 30% of the residents in Nantes are students or are under the age of 30. It feels like a really young city.

Thibault: But our university is only 300 or 400 people. It’s like if it were only the College of Forestry.

Dylan: ESB is very similar to the CoF, and so is the content in the courses, but they add an aspect of civil engineering as well.

Dylan and Christina, what were your first impressions upon arriving in Nantes, and at ESB?

Dylan: Well, I have no French knowledge [everyone laughs]. I also got lost when I took a train the wrong direction at 2:00 in the morning and had to hitchhike back home. It was a little rough at first, but all of our classes were taught in English, so that was good.

What was ESB like?

Christina: We had classes pretty much 9-to-5 Monday through Friday. Every once in a while we’d have a Tuesday or Thursday off.

Dylan: One big difference from OSU was that students aren’t taught by professors. At ESB, they bring in professionals from the industry, and they’re the ones who teach classes. When we had a class on business, they brought in a guy who starts small businesses as an entrepreneur. He’s written hundreds of business plans, and he came in right away and showed us exactly how we should do it. It was exciting, and an interesting way to learn.

Do you feel you have a good perspective on post college life from learning from people who are actively working in the industry?

Christina: Definitely. I feel like the big projects and papers we had to write could all pertain to our careers in the future.

Thibault and Antoine, what kinds of classes are you taking here at OSU?

Thibault: We only have classes in wood science. Physical and mechanical properties of renewable materials, including wood.

Antoine: At first, we also took English courses.

Have your English skills changed since you’ve been here?

Thibault: Yes, they were low when we arrived, but they’re much better now.

What, if any, differences do you notice in the curriculum here as compared to ESB?

Antoine: I think it’s similar to ESB, but in English, so, just a different vocabulary. It’s really interesting how similar the material is, actually.

Dylan: How about our units [of measurement]?

Thibault: [laughs] It’s . . . it’s horrible. Metric makes much more sense.

Christina: It’s true.

What would you tell students who might be interested in an exchange program, but are on the fence about actually doing it?

Christina: You can figure things out, even the cost. Take out loans if you have to.

Dylan: Just do ithonestly, you don’t know who you are until you put yourself in uncomfortable situations. I went there with no French language skills at all and survived. That was uncomfortable for me, but it can build character and teach you things.

Antoine: It’s an opportunity that you won’t have later, so now is the best time to do it.

Thibault: You have to go. When you travel, it gives you the desire to travel more.

Christina: Just get there.