Date: Tue, 17 Oct 2000 23:25:45 +0200 (CEST)
From: Arto TERAS <>
To: (a group of recipients)
Subject: Greetings from INSA

Finnish summary:

Tervehdys Lyonista!

Aloitin syyskuun loppupuolella vaihto-opiskeluvuoteni Lyonissa, Ranskassa, oppilaitoksessa nimeltä Institut National de Sciences Appliquées (INSA), joka vastaa lähinnä teknillisiä korkeakouluja Suomessa. Yritän aina välillä kirjoitella kuulumisia ja laittaa kuvia esille www-sivuilleni osoitteeseen

Viestit ja matkakertomukset tulen kirjoittamaan englanniksi, jotta myös kansainväliset ystäväni ymmärtävät, mutta minulle voi tietysti vastata myös suomeksi - ranska ja ruotsikin kelpaavat. :)

Jos et halua lisää viestejä jatkossa, ilmoita.


It has been a while since I last contacted you - at least most of you. After a lively summer at CERN, Geneva, I started my studies as an exchange student at INSA, Lyon, France. I won't promise any specific schedule but I'll try to write now and then some news of what I've been doing here and put photos available on my web site at .

I don't normally send mass emails, but thought that most of you would be interested. If you don't want to receive more messages like this, drop me a note and I'll remove your name immediately.

The acronym INSA comes from the words Institut National des Sciences Appliquées (de Lyon). Despite its name "institute" it is one of the "Grandes Ecoles d'Ingénieurs", giving higher education for various engineering degrees.

In Finland the equivalents are the Universities of Technology, which emphasise practical aspects (projects etc.) more than "traditional" universities, while still including a fair amount of theory as well. In France, however, using the word "university" is a mistake when talking about "écoles" (school is the direct translation), so one has to be careful.

When I stepped out of my dorm room first Friday evening after arrival I heard more Spanish and Portuguese than French. INSA is well populated by exchange students, especially Spanish and Brasilian people, a fair amount of Italians, Englishmen and Germans, reinforced by smaller groups from other countries around the world, including seven Finns.

I had seen some figures beforehand but the international atmosphere was still a nice surprise. In addition to about 150 exchange students (if I remember correctly) there are separate international study programs called Eurinsa, Amerinsa and Asinsa, aimed for European, South American and Asian students starting their university level studies. North African nationalities like Morocco are also well represented, as is common in France. Altogether the foreigners make over 10% of the roughly 4000 students at INSA, and over 50% of the French students here leave abroad to study or work at least once during their studies.

The education here is divided into two parts, the two first years being common to all and the three following years specific to each department. It is also possible to change university after the first two. Like in Finland, the older students organise some special events for newcomers. And as the choice of the department is made only after the second year, each department organises a "Weekend d'intégration" for the third year students and exchange students.

I wrote a separate story with pictures of the weekend of the Computer Science departement, available at

The majority of students here live on the campus, two people in each room. There are also some individual rooms and studios complete with kitchen and a bathroom. The prices vary from 950 francs a month (double room) to slightly over 2000 francs (a studio). Apart from the price, the type of the room one will get depends on the luck, some buildings are new or just renovated, others older.

I live in a double room of about 16 m^2 in residence D, which has the simplest rooms and facilities but lots of lively people. :) My roommate is a fifth year student from Morocco, more quiet than most of the French but polite and has lots of friends from Morocco or other nearby countries. One good thing is that he doesn't speak English too well so I will be practising my French.

A really nice surprise was to find an ethernet connection in the room, not very common in France. Naturally I hooked in my laptop as soon as possible. The connection abroad isn't as fast as in Finland, but beats dialup lines easily, so computer geeks live happily here. :)

Otherwise the furniture is simple: two beds, two cupboards with shelves, coat-racks near the door, two tables with table lights, three chairs and a phone. There's also a sink in the room, but the toilets and showers are in the hallway. The looks of the interiors aren't especially attractive, but will do fine for a year.

The biggest drawback is that there are no kitchens in the building, as the students normally pay a monthly fee for food in the campus restaurant. However, we managed to fix that by just 310 francs: 250 for a second hand fridge and 60 for a cooker plate. Not bad.

As I already mentioned, most students pay a montly fee to have breakfast, lunch and dinner in the campus restaurants. There are two options, five or seven days a week, buying individual meals is not possible. I chose the option 5/7, which means that during the weekends I will be cooking with friends or trying out restaurants in the city - if I'm not somewhere else, which will be the case about half the weekends, I guess. :)

The food looks fancy on the menu. Loyal to French style each meal (breakfast excluded) includes a starter, main course, cheese and a dessert. Sometimes it also tastes good, but several times I've been thinking that with a little bit more effort and some spices one could do a lot better with the same ingredients. As to prove the case, during lunch time there are two other restaurants available that serve considerably better food than the main one. But to get in you have to queue about half an hour, sometimes more...

In any case, eating two full meals every day and not using bike all the time like in Finland (everything is too near now) I won't be losing weight.

The studying is more school-like than in Finland. All the French students in the department take the same courses in a predefined schedule for the first two years, only the last year is devoted to specialization. The exchange students are free to choose courses how they want, "étudier à la carte" as the locals say.

About half of the time is lectures and half of the time excercise sessions or preparing projects, often finished as homework. In the two latter ones presence is obligatory. The control isn't probably very tight at least for the exchange students, but the sessions are certainly useful to pass the courses so I would probably be in the classroom anyway.

As far as the lectures are concerned I had previously heard rumors that the professors in France usually speak fast and the students manually copy as much of the speech as they can. At least in the Computer Science department at INSA that is fortunately not the case. The lecture notes are given beforehand and are at least as good as in Finland, so I will not be buying lots of books here. My French is also good enough to understand the profs most of the time. Normal spoken language cluttered with slang words is more difficult, but I'm learning more all the time.

On the activities side INSA is packed with various clubs offering sports related and cultural activities. The exchange students also spend a lot of time together, I guess it's common everywhere in the world. Last weekend I saw some nice scenery and experienced a lot of rain on a trip organised by the mountaineering club. But more on that and other activities later.


P.S. My contact info has changed. E-mail works as previously (for example, but if you want to reach me by phone, please use my new French number +33 6 1542 0840. The postal address can be found on my web page in case you need it.

Arto Teräs --- See for contact info

Arto Teräs <> - last update 10.12.2000.