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Only Lyon sign at the Confluence Museum

Student Reports: Michelle Lames in Lyon, 2017

Lyon: the gastronomic capital of France, the ancient capital of the Gauls, the birthplace of cinematography, the geographic convergence of the Rhône and Saone rivers, and the site of my study abroad. In this interesting city that I came to love, I spent five weeks of my summer with thirty other students from around the world taking an engineering course on Energy and Sustainability and an advanced French course that focused mostly on speaking and culture through the IPL Summer School program. For the engineering course, I would go to a school called ECAM that was right next to Lyon’s famous basilica on the hill, Notre Dame de Fourvière, and enjoy the amazing views of the city on my regular trek to class.

Bridge in Lyon
An image of Lyon taken from the banks of the Saone with the basilica on the hill visible in the background
Group Shot Overlooking Lyon
My fellow ECAM classmates and I (second from the right) with the view of the city, which we passed every day on our way to class

At ECAM, I got to learn about a large variety of topics including heating districts, French environmental policy, renewable energy, control systems, thermodynamics, electrical circuits, and engines both through traditional lectures and hands-on learning that helped to solidify the information. In addition to this, I also went on several engineering-related excursions such as guided visits to a boiler plant, a sporting goods company, and, my favorite, CERN, one of the most well-known international research centers. The visit to CERN was such an exciting opportunity because it is the location of the most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, and it was amazing getting to learn more about the groundbreaking research and tour one of the particle detector sites.

Group Shot of Students at the Compact Muon Solenoid
The group at one of CERN’s particle detector sites called the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS)

Alongside the engineering class and outings, I was also taking an advanced French class at another school called ISARA, and while I had taken seven years’ worth of French classes up to this point, it was quite different and so much more beneficial to be able to learn something in the classroom and immediately practice it afterwards, not to mention the fact that I had no other choice than to speak French anytime I went out. In the five weeks I spent in France making friends with locals and being surrounded by the language, I greatly improved my speaking skills and went from a shy foreigner hesitant to order at a restaurant to an enthusiastic speaker eager to discuss complex topics in French.

I also learned so much about the culture of France in general and Lyon in particular through scheduled outings that were mostly related to food—because it is France after all! These cultural excursions included having dinner with a French family where I had escargot (and it was delicious), buying fresh food at the outdoor market for an organized class picnic, going to a French chocolate factory and learning how to taste the quality of chocolate, visiting a vineyard and winery and learning how to taste and pair wines, and touring a family-owned dairy farm where I had one of the best meals of my life mainly consisting of fresh cheeses and bread. These outings enriched my overall experience because I got to learn about French culture and engineering processes while simultaneously being able to explore other beautiful cities and towns such as Annecy, Aix-les-Bains, Geneva, and the medieval town of Pérouges. Barcelona and Marseilles were also among these incredible cities that I got to visit but they were personal trips separate from the program that nonetheless helped to add to my unforgettable summer.

Group of Students Enjoying Meal at a Dairy Farm
The group waiting for the delicious feast at a dairy farm in the Alps
Michelle Lames Visits Aix Les Bains
Dipping into the warm water of the crystal-clear lake in Aix-les-Bains

Though I have gotten to travel to all these other places, Lyon still sticks out to me as my favorite, perhaps because that was where I got to spend the most time. What first struck me about the city is its historical significance throughout the centuries, which is something that can be seen with the coexistence of a still-functional 2000-year-old Roman amphitheater, the stunning basilica and other churches throughout the city, the houses and old workshops of the silk weavers called canuts left from when Lyon was the hub of the European silk industry, and the secret passageways throughout the city known as traboules that were used by silk workers during revolts and helped Resistance fighters hide from the Germans during World War II. The history and long list of important Lyonnais figures are also showcased through the enormous, elaborate murals that are painted around the city. Even with all of this, the reason for which Lyon is most well-known is its cuisine; the city is teeming with amazing Michelin-starred restaurants, authentic buchons, cafes, and bakeries. Lyon has numerous specialties that can only be found there, the most popular of which—and my favorite—is a pink, sugar-coated almond called praline that is eaten as a candy or can be baked in tarts, breads, or other tasty desserts. From culture and history to food, Lyon really captivated me and helped make my study abroad experience unique.

Finally, perhaps the most defining aspect of my study abroad were all the people I met and with whom I formed strong bonds of friendship. Everyone that was in the program with me was so incredible and open, and without them, the program would not have been the same. From the compilation of experiences, people, and culture, my study abroad experience is one that will stay with me for the rest of my life.