ENSTA Bretagne - programme de bourse Nicolas Baudin
© Joey Csunyo

3 laureates from Nicolas Baudin franco-australian scolarship share their impressions

Caitlin, Jayden and Joshua from Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia, are recipients of the Nicolas Baudin mobility grant awarded by the French Embassy in Australia. They are currently completing their internships in France as part of a tripartite agreement between the University of Flinders, ENSTA Bretagne and French companies Thales and Naval Group. They were happy to share their experience with us:

1/ Why did you apply for a Nicolas Baudin Travel Grant?

Joshua: I applied for the Nicolas Baudin Scholarship because it presented a great opportunity to undertake my placement internationally in collaboration with a prestigious company and engineering school. I had always been planning on doing my placement internationally and when I saw the opportunity to apply for the Nicolas Baudin Scholarship, I could not refuse. 

CaitlinIt was an amazing opportunity that was suggested to me by one of my teachers and mentors when I had expressed my desire to travel. Making an application for an opportunity to gain experience in France which can be used towards my studies while satisfying the travel bug seemed like an obvious decision.

Jayden: I applied for the Nicolas Baudin Travel Grant due to the industry involvement. My degree was supposed to finish last year but I extended it for this program. Around the time for applying for the grant I was looking at employment opportunities around where I lived. Thales, the company I am currently interning with, has recently won the contract for the Australian submarines. I believe that if I am successful in my work here a recommendation would give me an advantage in applying back home.

2/ When you first arrived in France at the beginning of the year, how did your first few days go?

Joshua: When I first arrived in France, it was initially difficult to get on my feet in terms of administrative details but I had alot of support from Naval Group and ENSTA Bretagne which made the process easier. Living in a country which I know very little about and not being able to speak the language was, and has been, a challenge, but that's why I came! 

Caitlin: It had its highs and lows. Catching a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, seeing the countryside on the way to Brest, and being immersed in the culture/language really struck me on how amazing this opportunity is.

It was surreal being in France, coming from Australia, this country always seemed so far away and beyond me.

But, I came with very little understanding of French and that has made transitioning into the culture difficult. Jayden and Josh, also students from Flinders, were already here and helped me learn the ropes: getting my keys, locating my room, finding the dining room, and using my new student card. Before my arrival, Johanna Ogon, International Coordinator from ENSTA Bretagne contacted me and assured me that in the case of the boys being unable to pick me up from the station, she would collect me personally. On the next business day Johanna showed me around campus and answered any questions I raised. I am again so grateful for that support. And since then I have always felt my questions will be answered and help is not far away. 

Jayden: When I first arrived in France it was very difficult to adjust to the culture shock, not only is the daily life different, but university life is vastly different from in Australia.
In my experience university life in France is a lot more close knit than what I was expecting.

3/ Would you like to explain the topic of your internship?

Joshua: The main focus of my internship has been UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) optimal control for target recognition. I have also worked on a variety of other projects including autonomous surface vessels and ROV's (Remotely Operated underwater Vehicles). These projects have tested my knowledge of robotics, programming, electronics and time management quite extensively. 

Caitlin: I am working on a project based at Thales within the Mepla team on an autonomous surface marine vessel. Additionally, with the support of my supervisors Jean-Philippe Brunet from Thales and Karl Sammut from Flinders, I have begun work on my final year Thesis for my Honours in Robotics Engineering on developing and embedding artificial intelligence using behaviour trees.  

Jayden: The topic of my internship is to design and build an autonomous surface vessel. This vessel required lots of work to create as all of the communication protocols were designed for this project. During development an emphasis was placed on making the design modular and with an existing standard.

4/ How do you feel about the experience that you have had here from a professional and personal point of view?

Joshua : From a professional standpoint, the experience I have gained in France has been invaluable. I have had the opportunity to work alongside, and learn from some very intelligent individuals. The knowledge I have acquired, the experience I have obtained and the connections I have made are highly sought after and will serve to benefit myself and the companies I work for in the future. 

The experience I have gained in France has been invaluable.

From a personal point of view, I think it's unfortunate that this opportunity is not available for everyone. I have had a lot of fun and wish everyone could participate in an international internship. Hopefully, as the connections between France and Australia continue to grow, there will be more opportunities for students to participate in the Nicolas Baudin program in the future. 

CaitlinProfessionally I am learning so much about problem solving and applying my knowledge while gaining numerous contacts and mentors who I am sure will be invaluable to my future. Personally, the experience has been very enlightening. Living in a new country on my own is teaching me a lot about myself and helped me find the source of character traits I wish to mature and others I wish to overcome. Without the easy routine and familiar faces of home it has been a lot easier to develop new habits and cultivate myself to become a better version of me. It has been hard to be separated from friends and family, but in this day and age it isn't too difficult to reconnect (once the time zones are figured out). 

Jayden : Professionally I believe that this experience has been excellent for exercising all aspects of what I must do when employed. I have had many opportunities to apply old knowledge that I learned in Australia, I have also been required to learn and apply many things that were completely new to me. I have gotten many opportunities to collaborate with others. I feel as though this opportunity has allowed me to further embrace what being an engineer in the industry is.

Personally this experience has taught me much about life. This is the first time I have lived away from my parents and it has really opened my eyes as to what being an independent adult really is.

In addition to this, there are many cultural aspects of being in France that I really love and would never have known about unless I was here. France has lots of Gothic architecture, which simply does not exist in Australia, as I discovered in my first week, I love Gothic architecture. This is really strange since I never thought buildings would interest me.

5/ What advice would you give to future students who might consider participating in this program?

Joshua : My advice for future students considering this program would be to prepare yourself for operating outside of your comfort zone. There will be a whole array of problems waiting for you to solve when you get here. Whether they are technical, administrative or personal, it's a great opportunity for personal improvement and to learn more about what you are capable of. Don't worry if you feel overwhelmed, everyone here is happy to help you learn and enjoy your time here. The aim is to learn and improve yourself so it's expected that you will feel uncomfortable at first.

If you aren't operating outside of your comfort zone, there would be no opportunity for you to grow and learn new things!

CaitlinIf you are interested, just give it a go! I remember thinking, back when I was considering applying, that I had very little chance of making it. That either I wasn't good enough or there were other students who deserved it more. If you try and don't make it then you are no worse off, but there is a chance that you will be selected and you will be able to contribute in a way no one else can. You will learn so much about yourself. You will come to better understand the French culture. And you will have a chance to see parts of the world you may not have expected to see for years to come. I would recommend to accumulate some basic understanding of French before you arrive. It is not a prerequisite but it would make the first few days a little less stressful. Try to step out of your comfort zone, it is worth it. 

Jayden: I came to France thinking that my month of Duolingo practice would be enough, it was not. If I could go back I definitely would have started learning French while I was applying for the program. 

Be prepared and do things early.