Carla is one of three American graduate students on Paris campus pursuing a Biomedical Engineering Master 1 BME. AFAM community manager Albina met Carla online to talk about her motivation to join the program in Paris as well as her life in Paris.


AFAM: Hello Carla and thank you for taking the time to meet me today. You’re a Biomedical Engineering master’s degree student at Arts et Métiers. You are American and did your bachelor’s at UCLA. How come you decided to pursuit your biomedical engineering master’s program in France? How did you find this option and decided to leave California for Paris?


Carla: I got very lucky in the sense of I knew I wanted to do biomedical engineering. And so I had been researching different master's programs available both inside and outside of the States because I knew I was not committed necessarily to staying in the US. I happened to google "biomedical engineering Paris" and essentially the name of the program is "Paris biomedical engineering" and so it came up. I did a bit of the research and I found out that this program was exactly the type of the program I'd love to do as my masters. The program is in English which for me was... I would not say not negotiable...but I would be very hesitant to do it in a different language because I've grown up doing my studies in English. It being in English was definitely a big plus for me.

Besides, I really, really like the program. That what motivated me to pursuit it because in the last year of my bachelors I had done a couple classes that had me explore biomedical field. I realized that it was the field that I wanted to enter. But it is a very big field, so I felt like in this master's program you had the opportunity to try every aspect of it while also being able to specialized in a specific area which is what I really appreciated.


AFAM: were you looking for a program precisely in France, or even Paris in particular?

Carla: yes, my parents are French and I thought France would be a good country to go to. I have some connections there. And then I looked at Paris because from what I know of engineering programs, the ones I was familiar with were in Paris.


AFAM: do you think some of your UCLA classmates willing to go abroad for a master's program, would chose to go to France?

Carla: it is a very interesting question. Going into the program I had not realized how inexpensive it was. I probably would have talked about this program with my other classmates. When you are in Los Angeles, life is very expensive on top of tuition. The fees can definitely motivate more American students to come. Being in Paris for me is a blessing. In masters there is not a lot of financial support you would have with your bachelors. A lot of American undergraduate students would go to industry and then do their masters in industry with their companies because they know they can be paid. Besides, I feel like in the United States undergraduate students will only be looking into masters' programs in the US whereas in Europe students tend to go international.

I was thinking about Canada at first. But being in Europe is completely different. Telling students about the masters early on in their undergrad program would definitely give them an idea to think about it. From what I've heard from other American students in Paris, French visa is not difficult to get. I think integrating in the city is a bit harder regarding housing and banking, for instance. And it might be difficult if you have no one to help you with. But overall, going to France for a master's degree might be a very good idea.


AFAM: did the school help you with student "onboarding"?

Carla: the school does not provide much of that, at least not that I know of. My mom happened to be in France visiting family when I found out that I was accepted to Paris biomedical master's program. And she took a couple extra days in Paris to set me up with a bank account and look for housing. The hardest part for the housing is that we do not have an income in France. And the situation with dorms is complicated. Half of my class got into the dorms. I applied for ENSAM dorm and I did not get in. I think it depends if you get lucky.


AFAM: do you think more undergrads would be interested in getting into Paris Biomedical master's program (for instance at UCLA) if the program is known?

Carla: yes definitely, my recommendation would be to contact Outreach or International department to advertise the program and pass on information to students. The other avenue you would potentially take is to go through students' organizations (for instance ASME for mechanical engineering at UCLA). Besides, most campuses have networking clubs.


AFAM: Carla, you were growing up speaking French. Do you think American undergrads not speaking French at all might be at ease pursuing the program?

Carla: I have 2 more Americans in the program with me. They do not have difficulties pursuing the program as it is in English. But I think it might be challenging in every-day life in Paris if you do not speak the language. One of the international students I know learned the language a few months before and clearly has a gift for learning languages. Others might have more difficulties with the language. If you came to France not just to study, but also to travel and explore, make friends - you might need to put more effort into learning the language.

There is very wide range of levels coming in and the program for learning French for the M1 does not correspond to everyone. So, I would definitely recommend outside sources or a different way for learning the language.


AFAM: any other difficulties integrating the French system you'd like to mention?

Carla: The French system is different in terms of grading. In the US, at least in high school, the way you test and evaluate the performance is different. The way that teacher teach is very different too. One of my French teacher asks a lot to go to the board and solve the problem. If you've never had a teacher ask to do this before, it can be overwhelming.


AFAM: do you think it would be good to offer a cultural class to students before the programs starts?

Carla: oh yes, I think it would be helpful. As to me, I already spent some time in France and I already knew what to expect, what to look for, how to live in a big city (I lived in LA before). But yes, speaking about the Parisian life, I think one of the biggest questions for me was where to buy things.  In the US you have CVS or Walgreens for certain products. In France some places would be an equivalent but some places would be completely different. For me it took some time for those little things to figure out. Buying groceries is very different: boucheries, les marchés. For those who do most of their grocery shopping at Safeway or Trader's Joe, it would be interesting to learn where to find stuff. It might be a bit of a culture chock if you never experienced it before.


AFAM: What did you enjoy (are you enjoying) in your current Parisian life? How do you spend your weekends? And what do you miss back in the US?

Carla: the sun (laugh). We are hitting 5 degrees today. Layering (laugh)... As to my weekends, I live near rue Mouffetard in the 5th. It is a very nice area. Jardin des Plantes has its Festival of Lights this time of the year. And there are giant insects there. I walked in the other day not knowing what they had and there was a giant spider in my face. Oh Gosh (laugh).

I joined a boxing gym for fun. I like to stay active. I think it was really the hardest part for me is to find place to go running or playing soccer. I used to live in California where it is always good weather to go play soccer or work out outside, just find some grass.

I also go visit. I've been to Bordeaux, to Lyon. I was supposed to go to Vosges this weekend but there are transportation strikes. It was a little bit tricky because all the news is in French and it were my grandparents who found out about strikes, not me.


AFAM: thank you Carla for your time and for sharing your experience with us. Happy holidays!




Albina, AFAM community manager, interviewing Carla via Zoom


Carla (on the left) with other master's students in Paris