My international exchange experience in Epitech – Interview with Kosta Kai
“When I applied in Epitech I was hoping to increase my knowledge in programming, and I got what I asked for ten times over. I am very happy that I have chosen this school. My year in Epitech was the best academic experience of my life. Also, one of the most challenging.”
About Kosta Kai
Kosta Kai is a software development student at Algebra University College in Zagreb Croatia, where he was also born. After finishing his second year in college he did a study exchange experience in Epitech during the academic year 2020/2021.
Kosta Kai’s passion for computer science. How it all started:
When we asked Kosta Kai why he followed a path in computer science he told us that it was very unexpected. That’s because he comes from an artist family, most of his siblings being actors. Everyone was expected of him to follow a career path in the theatre/film industry. He had spent two years studying psychology which he liked a lot, but he still had that creative part that he felt he had to explore.
One day he asked a friend of his to teach him some basic programming (in Python). He then learned how to declare variables, how to print data to the python shell and how to get data from it. That was all the basic knowledge he had in programming. He then created a small text adventure game and instantly fell in love with programming. “IT it is pure creation, much more than directing or acting or even playing music.” – he thought then. That was the moment when he decided to stop studying psychology and enrol in a computer science college. He was very decisive even if a part of his family and most of his friends had warned him that what he’s doing is unrealistic and that he would fail and it would be a waste of time in his life; but Kosta Kai did not renounced; he knew he had to change the entire course of his life and listen to his intuition.
Originally, he intended to study data science since his favourite topic in psychology was psychometrics, but very soon after starting Algebra University College he felt that the programming language is more important than choosing a field of specialty. “Depending on whether you are coding in C, HTML, Python or C#, you will have a completely different paradigm of approaching your code, and the use case for this programming language will direct what field you specialise in. In my case, I fell in love with programming with C, C++ and even Assembler. “
We had contacted Kosta recently and asked him if he would like to share the story of his study exchange experience in Epitech, and he happily accepted. Below we can find his full testimony:
Why have you chosen to study abroad and more precisely, why did you decided to come to France and study at Epitech?
I wanted to live abroad ever since I was a teenager because I was very interested in discovering other cultures, and how other people live and think. The country I come from, Croatia, is not very diverse unfortunately; ~95% of the population are Croats or Serbs. Paris is a very cosmopolite city and very diverse. So, it was very exciting for me to study there.
As for my choice of going to Epitech, it was an obvious choice; Epitech’s entire Erasmus course catalog was in C and C++. No other college had that. To be honest, the country choice was not as relevant factor in my decision.
What is one part of French culture that you were excited to experience before coming here?
The multiculturality, of course. Paris is a giant city full of different cultures. Namely, I was looking forward to the food. I had all sorts of different foods to try. Lebanese food probably takes the cake. I was also surprised at how good the “boulangeries” (bakeries) are. And there were a lot of them at any corner of the street.
How was your arrival and what was your first impressions of France and Epitech?
I had a nice and fast-paced arrival with 3 free days to spare before my orientation week started. The International Relations Team gave us all the information we needed in order to have a smooth integration into our new life in Paris, but no amount of caretaking could prepare us for the C-Pool, or as we called it, programmer Valhalla.
Living in Paris took me some time to get used to. Paris is a very big and dynamic city. I was surprised how energetic is the rhythm of the city, how crowded it is with all the people running at the metro to go work in the morning, all the traffic etc. The entire city has a nervous, hard-working energy which I was not used to.
As for Epitech, I was already expecting a “European school”, where the classrooms are looking nice and such. I, however, had not expected such a radically different approach to studying.
What did you hoped to learn during your time studying abroad?
When I applied in Epitech I was hoping to increase my knowledge in programming, and I got what I asked for ten times over. I am very happy that I have chosen this school. My year in Epitech was the best academic experience of my life. Also, one of the hardest.
What are the biggest differences between education in your home country/university and education in France, at Epitech?
We have a traditional pedagogic approach in my home university. We have lectures and laboratories; we aren’t expected to work all the time on some projects but only on either one project at the end of the semester or on a final exam. I think we could spend only two months on studying during the whole academic year. Another important thing we need to do is attend class.
Compared to that, Epitech looks very different, especially during the pools. You are expected to work every day as much as you can.
What has been the most academically challenging portion of your immersion experience in Epitech?
There was a lot of them, and they were usually my favourite parts about studying here.
The pools were amazing. It was very hard; I watched people fall asleep, I watched people go from table to table to get help. With a colleague we once stayed in Epitech until late in the evening to finish what we had left over from the pool assignments. There is no discussion that the pool is the most hard-working and intensive experience I’ve ever had.
The most challenging thing we had to do (and other international students would agree) was Bistromatic. A lot of the projects were challenging, but it was a joy to work on it. Among my favourite difficult projects were my_printf with no if/switch, my_ftp, my_teams and La Plazza. La Plazza was not even hard it was just and absolute treat to program, so I’m glad to mention it.
What other facets of this experience have been challenging?
Learning to work with the Moulinette was also an adventure in testing my patience. They intentionally make it so that it does tests on your code in random intervals so you never know when you will get the feedback that your code works/doesn’t work.
What did you enjoy the most during your study exchange in Epitech? How did you find the Epitech’ learning methods?
Most projects I had to do were very fun. I already mentioned my_printf, my_ftp, my_teams and La Plazza, but a lot of them were fun. Innovation Hubs were great since I learned React Native through them. Any time there was a team project after the pool I was working with the same colleagues, and we balanced our workload very well in team projects. My home university does not have team projects and it was very fun and rewarding to learn how to work in a team.
In the overall, it is challenging, but it is very enjoyable.
What do you like the most/the least about France?
I really liked being independent and living relatively alone for the first time in my life. I become very good friend with another international student and together we found a lot of friends in Paris meeting many people from many different countries. I liked that in retrospect the most. If it weren’t for that I would’ve spent my entire year abroad coding and going to Epitech and back home, and that would be great too. During the first Covid lockdown I was completely alone in the apartment for a month, and during this time I created a Instagram story franchise of me cooking. Outside lockdown, I liked to walk around the city a lot, so I saw a lot of it.
To mention a more life-changing one, in France I finally got feedback from instructors that I am doing a good job. In Croatia, excellent students are not getting a lot of positive feedback. In France I became aware I was good in a lot of things that I never got praise for in Croatia, and it boosted my confidence a lot.
As for the things I didn’t like, the obvious thing to mention is Covid, which destroyed everyone’s life for the last 3 years. I was in Paris 6 years prior, so I knew what Paris looked like when all the bars and streets were full. It was sad to see how Covid changed everything
Has your experience here helped you gain an ability to communicate effectively within and among diverse cultural groups & helped you learn to respect cultural differences? If so, can you cite specific examples?
As you can already observed from my previous answers, Croats and people from the Balkans in general are very prone to profiling and stereotypes. I was actually making a conscious effort to find confirmation for the stereotypes people talked about in my country about France. The thing is that I didn’t find them. The French are all polite and nice. They are also not elitist at all and would always apologise when they weren’t fluent in English.
I cannot say that I have learned to respect cultural differences because I didn’t really notice any that were so big that I needed to change my behaviour. People in France are friendly and that is what I want to say, in short.
Do you have a funny story to share with us regarding the cultural differences between French and Croatian people, that you have experienced in France?
I sometimes had to preface the conversation with a person I just met because I would realise they weren’t used to how Croats talk. Direct and angry sounding are the feedback I got about me in France. Sometimes, I could notice by the facial expressions that a person was uncomfortable and that I did something unexpected. But most of the time, my colleagues would get asked by these persons if: “Is Kosta angry at me? What did I do?” or “What happened to Kosta?”. Every time, my colleagues would say the same thing: “No, no, he is just Croatian”.
If you could you give some advice to our future international students, what would that be?
I have a lot of advice. First, the Epitech stuff:
- Learn what the Moulinette is as soon as you start the pool.
- During the pool, do not try to do every assignment, instead focus on making every assignment fool-proof. The Moulinette stops grading the moment it stumbles upon an error. Make sure all the assignments you’ve made so far pass the moulinette.
- Read the C code style guide carefully and follow it meticulously. You lose a point every time you make a minor code style mistake, and you have a total of 20 points for every pool day.
- The Moulinette is very specific about what it wants your program to do; if the formatting wrong by a single character (even non-printable ones), it will be considered a fail.
- The APEs and ASTEKs will try to help the more they can. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, so they support you if needed.
- You can ask other students for help, in order to fix your programming. Copying code is cheating; another person writing the code for you, however, is a different story.
- The best programmers in the international student’s group will need to help the other ones, because a lot of projects will be done in teams, and it is beneficial for the entire team.
- To follow up on the previous point, work as a team atry to collaborate with your colleagues as much as you can. I know working individually may seem faster in the short-term, but it is not, considering all the lost time caused by miscommunication and faulty work during team projects.
- Do not study from home after the pool; meet up with your colleagues to work together so you encourage each other to work more. Also, the work becomes even more fun.
- Meetings, reviews, follow-ups, etc. pile up and you may forget them at some point. I suggest you put them all in your phone calendar with an alarm so you don’t forget about them. The penalties can be pretty bad if you miss them. Also, follow-ups are not mandatory, but can give you a few extra points.
- After the pool, you will get a few bigger projects every few weeks or so. It will not be as work intensive as the pool is, so you will have time for extracurricular activities. When I was studying in Epitech, I remember I had some free days in a row sometimes so I had the chance to relax and to the things I like.
- I recommend you go to school after the pool if able. Help is readily available and you work more on average; it is a nice default meeting spot for you and your colleagues, it is generally a very nice place to work increasing productivity and it giving you a reason to get out of the house.
- During the normal, non-pool semester, I would come to Epitech at around 11-12 and go home around 6. 6 hours of work every day is enough to pass a semester in my opinion.
- Prepare for the most work-intensive semester of your life.
And some general personal life tips:
- Try to hang out with people as much as you can; these hangouts will create memories that you will cherish the most when your semester abroad is finished. I often didn’t feel like going out because I was tired and now I regret not using every opportunity I had to socialise.
- On the contrary of the previous point, do not worry about “missing out” too much. You are still there to study, at least primarily. I’m saying this to point out that setting your priorities straight and remembering what they are can save you a lot of time. It is not a loss if you just study for the whole semester and do nothing else. It is a big win that you made it. Funny story: people still call me sometimes “The Parisian” back home.
- To elaborate on not having to carry a wallet with you, pickpocketing and sometimes even mugging is very common in Paris. Most of times this happens in the metro, so some good advice would be to be extra careful whenever you are in the metro.
- Try the ice cream. It’s really good.
- You can skip the kebabs. I personally didn’t like them at all.