Twenty-five students, mostly sophomore engineering majors, spent the spring semester in Madrid, Spain, as part of Lafayette’s faculty-led semester-abroad program. Joshua Smith, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, captained the trip, which was based at Saint Louis University’s Madrid campus.
“It’s a special program,” says Smith. Unlike other semester-abroad programs targeted at engineers, which are usually confined to engineering majors of specific disciplines, the Madrid program is open to students in any of Lafayette’s engineering departments and programs. This is because students take the trip as second-semester sophomores, when their course requirements are still broad enough to be fulfilled with the general engineering science courses offered at Saint Louis University. They spend the semester taking classes like Differential Equations, Dynamics, Strength of Materials, Circuits, and Organic Chemistry, as well as a Values in Science/Technology course.
Of course, that doesn’t mean students miss out on taking Spanish language, literature, and culture courses, as well as classes in economics, art history, and earth science. Not to mention one very popular elective.
“A good number of our students take classes in flamenco and other Spanish styles,” says Smith, “and they actually have an end-of-semester recital where they have to perform.”
“It was hands-down the most fun final I’ve had the pleasure of taking,” says math major Morgan McGuinness ’14 (Pocono Manor, Pa.), who was in the class with seven other Lafayette students. Her favorite part of the semester was experiencing the city.
“Being able to go to a gorgeous park, visit the royal palace or the famous Prado museum, have a drink and some Spanish-style tapas with friends, spend the day in the city’s shopping district, or go out salsa dancing anytime I wanted just felt incredible,” she says.
Tyler Fruneaux ’14 (Southborough, Mass.), a chemical engineering major, agrees that the cultural aspects of the trip made it special. All of the students stayed in the homes of Madrid locals, and Fruneaux says his “host mother” treated him like family.
“At the end of the day, she’s basically like your mom,” he says. “She would give us advice about which parks in the city to visit, which museums were nice. She always asked, ‘How was your day?’ and ‘Where’d you go?’ and ‘What’d you do?’”
Staying in someone’s home and having regular conversations in Spanish led to huge strides in Fruneaux’s Spanish-speaking skills. “I can have a conversation with pretty much anyone,” he says.
In addition to experiencing Madrid, the students traveled as a group to France and Morocco. In France, they took tours of the Airbus factory (the world’s largest producer of commercial jetliners), two water treatment facilities, and a newspaper printing press. In Morocco, they spent time meeting with various nonprofit groups.
“That was one of the most amazing things on the entire trip,” says Fruneaux. “We would talk with students and with people living in homes about their lifestyle, politics, religion, pretty much everything. It was just such an eye-opening experience.”
Smith says exposure to other cultures is one of the most important parts of the semester-abroad program, especially for engineers.
“Although the engineering students may not necessarily go out and work on international projects themselves or work in a foreign country, many of them are working for companies that do have international exposure, contracts, and clients,” he says. “I think it’s important that they see that not every culture pursues technological solutions in the same manner as we do in the United States.”