Our first stop in France was the lovely and welcoming city of Nancy, located West of Paris, about two hours from the German border. We were welcomed into the University of Lorraine with a small party of French appetizers and a chance to mingle with French engineering students currently attending the university. The students and faculty of U. Lorraine welcomed us with open arms and made our very first experiences in France extremely positive, and all of Nancy was the same way!
The center of town is a beautiful square called Place Stanislas, which includes a collection of ornate and historic buildings. In the center of the square is a statue of a Polish man, Stanislas, who commissioned the building of the square to honor Louis XV. Surrounding this statue are the buildings mentioned above, which include the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) as well as cafés, restaurants and small shops. On any given day, the square was crowded with locals and tourists alike, admiring the architecture, soaking up the sun, or enjoying a bite to eat.
Just outside the square, is the stunning Basilica of St. Epvre, and beyond this is the Parc de la Pépinière, a large park full of vibrantly colored flowers, benches perfect for a short rest among the gardens, and people walking, jogging, and playing. Within the park is also a free zoo! That was a strange concept for us, but we had fun wandering around the exhibits to see the donkeys, peacocks, birds, ducks, and monkeys.
Other experiences in Nancy included a guided tour of the city led by students from the University of Lorraine and a meet and greet with the Mayor of Nancy! Cincinnati and Nancy are sister cities, so the Mayor was excited to have us visiting and a gracious host.
Time spent with the French engineering students gave us UC students an opportunity to learn about the education system of France, which was somewhat different from our own. We learned that the students in France graduate from high school then enter into two years of preparatory education to prepare them to be engineers. This is two years of math and physics, and all the students said these two years were extremely difficult and nothing but work. After this, the students go into an engineering specialization and complete three more years of schooling. At the end, they will have the equivalent of a bachelors and masters degree in their engineering specialty. Further, meeting the French students gave us a unique opportunity to speak openly with them about cultural similarities and differences as well as to just connect as humans and students and realize how much we all had in common.
Truly, Nancy was not only a gorgeous city, but also the people were all welcoming and generous, and these experiences started our entire trip off on a high note! Experiencing the city on foot and learning some of its history from the locals gave us an appreciation for the culture and a love of the people.
By Kristina Ulm