Sabbatical in Europe

Hello Everyone,

My wife and I are considering taking a few months off of our life here in the states and spending some time in Europe. We’re just starting to formulate what exactly that means, but we’re thinking it would be a mix of exploring new places and cultures and some professional development. This could be taking courses, an “internship” of sorts, attending design fairs, self directed projects, or just meeting other product designers. Our first thoughts of countries are France and Italy (spending some time by the Mediterranean would be nice), but we’re open. I’m hoping to stay in a spot for long enough to get past the super touristy phase and really get to know a new place.

A little about me: I’m 32 and currently work at a small design & engineering firm in Cleveland (a great city!) where I’ve gradually shifted to doing more engineering-esque work than traditional industrial design. I have a BFA in ID from RIT where I also minored in Engineering Technology. I would like to steer my ship a little back towards the design side of things and ideally would like to find/create a role where I felt I was having a clearer positive impact, either socially or environmentally. My wife, if you’re curious, works in community development and does a lot with making public data useful. She would likely be able work remotely at least part time while we’re there. We have a good life here in Cleveland with good jobs, but are looking for a little adventure and to take a break, explore the world, and recharge for our life back home. No kids at the moment.

This would be a couple years off (need to plan and save money), but I’d be interested to hear any ideas you may have for what I could do, especially on the product design front (but any other ideas for places or how to spend our time are welcome as well).


It’s always exciting to hear others who are traveling to Europe as it reminds me of when I studied abroad and backpacked Europe a few years back.

I graduated from Virginia Tech with a BS in Industrial Design from the College of Architecture & Urban Studies. My studies abroad were heavily Architecture and Interior Design related but it is so easy to translate across the design disciplines. I would highly recommend exploring the European Architecture and translating that to product design.

We studied along the coast of Portugal and Spain where Santiago Calatrava has some amazing work which is highlighted by the aquarium in Valencia, Spain (Oceanografic) and the Sagrada Familia in Barclelona, Spain. We were also able to get tours of design firms in some of these cities, which you may or may not be able to do. We checked out SMART Design’s studio in Barcelona and it totally charged my energy for Industrial Design.

I could go on and on, but other major Europe highlights were:

Calanques in Marseille, France
Biking from Bruges, Belgium → Holland
Parasailing in Interlaken, Switzerland

PS: I’m a Cleveland Cavaliers fan and my father is a HUGE Browns fan. :slight_smile:

Best of luck!

Thanks for your reply, Pb. That’s a really good idea about the architecture. I was certainly planning to see the big sites, but I’m sure it would be worth it to try to do as much of an architectural tour of Europe as I can. There’s a lot I’m eager to see.

It will probably be harder to get tours of design firms as an individual vs. part of a class, but that makes me wonder if it would be possible to coordinate with some existing study abroad program. I’ll certainly look into it.

Also, the Calanques look gorgeous, as does Interlaken. Sounds like that must’ve been quite a bike ride as well. How long did that take you? Did you make a lot of stops along the way?

The Calanques have to be the best kept secret because I had never heard of them and was just lucky enough to read about them when I got to Marseille. Interlaken is the perfect town to get a great idea of Switzerland culture (I thought it was MUCH better than Geneva). We hiked/trained one of the alps and it was super cool.

Bruges is kind of close to the coast already so it was just a day ride…maybe 40-50 miles? Kind of guessing that distance haha but a gorgeous look at the Holland landscape. Rains just about every day tho so we got caught in a downpour. So worth it.

I figured an individual would have more troubles and unfortunately SMART is no longer in Barca. However, it never hurts to try!

While the Mediterranean is wonderful for the tourist trade, I don’t know how well you will do for design. At least in Italy. For Italy, stick to the north, Milano, Torino, Vincenza, Venezia, etc. for industry and design. Although the architecture in the south is outstanding.

Also, you should look for small ad firms. There are lots of them and they should be able to give you leads to industrial design. My cousin’s husband is the creative director for such a firm in Germany. 20-30 employees. While I didn’t have the time during my last visit, he wanted to introduce me to 3-4 places that could have used my services.

I agree with Iab here, Mediterranean countries aren’t doing so well. However, it might be possible to find something in Barcelona or its surroundings, nature it’s amazing over there, life style quite nice and it’s cheap. In my opinion, if you are open to do some engineering work, it should be much easier to find something than if you just focus on pure ID. Most of my friends who studied ME or ID have ended up in engineering jobs in Barcelona or Sevilla (Southern Spain) working in aeronautics or automotive industries. Same for some friends in Italy, they got jobs near Milan or Torino.

If you move a bit away from the Mediterranean, Austria and Switzerland very far away and there’s the plus of the Alps which are outstanding. The language would be less of a barrier there (Unlike Spain, Italy, France or Germany). The Mediterranean or Adriatic would be within 3/4 hours drive, which isn’t too far.

In case you don’t mind moving even a bit farther North, Germany, the Netherlands and the Nordics could be also an option. I’d say it’d be easier to find an ID job, there are many small firms and much more industry. If you just speak English, the language should be a problem there, except for maybe Germany.



I’d suggest maybe coming to the UK for a brief visit. London has the Design Museum which is a really good trip. They have a permanent exhibition their containing all the classics from Marcel Bruer to Eames. Whilst also combining Starck, James Dyson and some our very own Jony Ive’s early Apple work (coloured back MAC screens etc.) Obviously it depends on what time you attend as to what their current display is.

Last time I visited (February 2014) they had an exhibition honouring the work of fashion designer Paul Smith (the colourful stripes inside suits, for those that don’t know!) and it was an amazing exhibition, containing loads of his original sketchbooks that you could flick through, and some of his own personalised commissions, a Paul Smith stripe Mini, Evian Bottle, Egg Chair… Really worth a visit!!