Hey there, I’m Fran and I will share with you my experience on the Aerospace Summer Program (2023) organised by the ISAE group, which includes the leading French universities in the Aerospace field.

We were told about it in a talk that was given on study abroad opportunities but since I’m already an international student here at UoS, I was a bit skeptical that I would find any that would suit me. And well, how was I wrong… The moment they mentioned this summer program I was immediately invested and ended up applying for it. Little did I know that this would be the best summer of my university years and such a life-changing experience. It’s hard to acknowledge just how much I gained from this opportunity, from obviously getting to know every corner of France, to the invaluable lectures on different aerospace topics and finally the people I’ve spent these weeks with, which now I’m happy to call friends for life.

Over the course of 5 weeks, our group stayed in four different cities: Poitiers, Paris, Salon de Provence and Toulouse. I figured since there were so many things I wanted to show and talk about, it would be best to go through a couple of the thousands (I’m not even kidding) of photos I took and talk through some of the highlights of each city.


The first city of the program was Poitiers, a medium-sized city in the centre-west of France, where we would study Radiative and Thermal Control of Satellites in ENSMA (École Nationale Supérieure de Mécanique et d’Aérotechnique). I decided to go by train because I never took the Eurostar and I also think is a much nicer way to get to know the landscape of a country I’ve never been to. After a very long train journey with my friend, we arrived at the central station, where our team lead met us and walked us to our hotel, which was nearby. Later that night we got to know all of our fellow summer program students, who were from all over the world. There were people from Michigan, Washington and even Adelaide, Australia, as well as a couple of fellow students from Southampton.

Our routine this week was very interesting, as we had lectures the following day and had to wake up early to take the bus to Campus. The university was very big but also quite far away from the hotel we were at, and I felt like the regional bus we took every morning was surprised to have 19 brand new passengers on it for the following days.

We had one set of lectures that morning, with our French teacher, which was American and had moved to France a long time ago. She introduced us to some basic survival French and we had a very nice chat about the cultural aspects of French people. This was our French lesson slot for the week and the following days we would start on the aerospace subjects, with two lectures (they were called lectures but each one was 3 hours long) per day, one before and another after lunch.

After lunch that day we got a city tour, covering the main historical sites of the city centre, such as the enormous Notre-Dame La Grand Church, seen below.

After getting to know the city’s history, the following days we got to explore the city by ourselves after class and discover lots of places to eat.

Above you can see the town hall in the start of the evening, just as the sun sets. Definitely one thing which helped everyone enjoy this trip to its maximum was the fact that the sun sets very late during the summer. We got to be on the streets so late because of that.

La Rochelle

On the weekend, some of us decided to go to a nearby beach, La Rochelle, by train. We spent the whole day there and were able to sunbathe and even get in the water to refresh ourselves (it was 38ºC).

Back in Poitiers, the following week was full of very interesting lectures focused on the thermal control of satellites. We got to use software to simulate the temperature of each face of a cubesat on a sun-synchronous orbit around the Earth. Our task that day was to carefully select the surface materials for each face of the cubsat to ensure its components would remain within the allowed temperature range.

At the end of this week, we had our first exam, which was way harder than everyone was expecting (even though it was an MCQ). The bright side was that we all got to go to Futurescope right afterwards. It is a very well-known amusement park in France and it was the perfect ending for this exciting first week. The highlight of this day was the attraction called “Dancing with the Robots”, which was quite literally just exactly that.


The next day we caught a train to our hotel which was located in the Metropolitan Region of Paris. I say that because it wasn’t what we are used to calling Paris: our hotel and the university were located at an approximately 30-minute train ride from the actual city centre. The university we would be attending over the course of the next two weeks was the Ecole Supérieure des Techniques Aéronautiques et de Construction Automobile (ESTACA), where we would be covering Rocket Launcher Control and Propulsion. The most interesting part of the lectures of these two weeks was that the lecturers were current or former employees of the Ariane group, which meant that they were speaking about the Ariane 5 and Ariane 6 rockets as engineers who helped develop them. This undoubtedly elevated the level of accuracy of the information and was very rich from a technical point of view.

I also enjoyed the French lesson this week as, even though I knew nothing of French before attending this program, the lecturer started introducing more complex concepts such as simple past and future tenses. I really felt like he was teaching us very relevant stuff so that we could use the language with more depth than the simple vocabulary lesson we had on the first week.

When it comes to “touristing” in Paris, there were so many places visited that even if I wanted, I wouldn’t be able to show it all. So here is a selection of moments I consider the highlights of this part of the trip.

Paris Air Show

One of the most exciting days during this part of the trip was definitely the Paris Air Show, where we got to watch countless flight demonstrations of a complete range of aircraft (from supersonic jets to bulky cargo planes). We also got to see the amazing Patrouille Acrobatique de France, which performed a special routine to celebrate its 70th birthday. It took place at a partially closed airfield, which was massive, and had several rows of the latest aircraft being sold in the market, as well as the leading manufacturers. They even had a space section with a full-scale replica of the Ariane 5 rocket.

Château de Versailles

This was another impressive visit, from both an artistic and historical perspective. I believe the images speak for themselves, but the amount of wealth that was displayed in Versailles is surreal.

Musée d’Orsay

Parisian Landscape

After the first week, we switched hotels to one which was even further away from the centre. This made going to the city centre a bit more convoluted, as we had to walk on the side of a highway for 15 minutes then catch a 25-minute train to Paris. Due to a lot of strike action, the line which took us directly was often having issues with its trains and we had to take some lengthy detours to get home at the end of the day. Nonetheless, we were still able to explore the city after our lectures every day. The week ended with the exams and we got to say goodbye to this very well-equipped university.

Salon de Provence

After all the big city noise of Paris, staying in a small town such as Salon de Provence was very much welcomed by everyone in the group. In this week we had our lectures in a Military French Airforce Academy, École de l’Air et de l’Espace, on Remote Sensing and Space Telecomunications. I feel like everyone was apprehensive at first, after all for many people this is not an experience they have had – to study in a military facility. Nonetheless, over the course of the week, we were very well welcomed by the people there and our lecturer made sure we got used to where we would be spending the week.

Even though the hotel was very nice, in fact, one of the nicest so far, it was very poorly located. We had a 25-minute walk every morning to class in that very unwelcoming weather. It was later explained to us that the hotel where students normally stay was occupied due to another military event that was taking place while we were there. But we quickly got used to our daily commute.

On the other hand, this city was where I felt like the group really started getting close and we all started going out together after class. I guess at this point people started getting to know each other a lot better and so we all really became one big friend group. I felt like this made us really enjoy the city even though it was one of the smallest so far.

This week’s French lesson presented a challenge, as the lecturer didn’t speak English and so gave the whole lecture in French. From one perspective, this was very immersive and helped me learn, as she made sure to speak very simple French that we could all hopefully understand. As part of the cultural part of the week, we visited a vineyard and saw the whole process of wine production, which was very interesting.

My favourite day of this week was when we got to attend the Airshow inside the military base, which featured the Patrouille Acrobatique de France. This airbase is where they train during the year and we got to check out one of their aircraft up close, as well as watch the pilot prepare for the extremely dangerous routines they perform. Later on the week we attended the airshow they put on and needless to say it was spectacular. Unfortunately the videos I took got corrupted in my SD card.


Our last city was for sure one of my favourites. I think is both due to the fact that the whole group was much closer then, but also because the city is amazing. If I were to live in France, Toulouse would absolutely be the place I would choose. The university we attended this week was SUPAERO, where we learned about Aerospace Project Management, New Space Politics and Sustainable Aviation, and was also the one I liked the most. It was there that we had our lectures, and we got lunch in their cafeteria. We also got to spend time in their library in our free time between lectures.

The city is very known for its very developed aerospace sector, hosting the French space agency CNES, as well as companies such as Airbus. In fact, we even got a tour guide to an Airbus facility where they were building state-of-the-art satellites, which we got to see the production line for. We also got a presentation by one of their employees, who was very eager to explain a lot of the company’s history and field of actuation.

Over the course of the week, we got to explore the city by ourselves and get prepared for the cultural rally that we got to participate in. We were separated into teams and set on a mission across the main cultural sites in the city centre, having to compete with other teams to see who completed the circuit first. It was very intense, but definitely a lot of fun, and it really helped us get to know a lot more about the city. Other very cool stuff we did was

One of my favourite days was when we went to the Halle de la Machine, a museum filled with giant full-sized moving sculptures. And we even got to ride one! The staff was really well trained to pilot the museum and we even got to see special effects such as steam blowing out of this giant bull’s nose.

At the end of the week, we got our last exam and got to enjoy the rest of the days with our now friends for life, before having to say our goodbyes to this life-changing experience. And I can say that it wasn’t easy.

I really hope you enjoyed reading about this journey and I hope I managed to give a fair overview of the entire program, but I know that it is impossible to fully convey all of the great experiences I’ve had (there were so many I had to leave some out of this post) and everything I learned. In the end, I’m sure each one of us will never forget this summer and I must say that if you have the opportunity to travel abroad in a summer program like this, please do not hesitate to do so. It will change your life.

Aerospace Summer Program in France (2023)

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