Hey! I love the north of France! And I've met very nice people there.
I studied abroad in Nantes (with IES - a program I highly recommend, by the way) which is JUST south of Brittany, but I've spent a fair amount of time in Normandy as well. I adore Normandy. I've only ever been to Caen as a tourist, but I've been a few times.
And you said you're studying history, so:
I'm a medievalist, so I love that Caen has William the Conquerer's castle - heavily bombed in WWII, but the walls are still standing. You can also visit the abbeys that William and his wife Mathilda dedicated (the Abbaye aux Hommes and the Abbaye aux Dames), which is also where they're buried.
If you aren't so overly excited by medieval history, Caen is also the site of the WWII museum/memorial, and it's close to the Normandy beaches and the American cemetery.
I think Normandy is spectacular - it's incredibly picturesque (Monet painted there quite a lot) and it has a LOT of history, both medieval and WWII. And everything in between!! (more medieval things in Normandy, in case you have any interest: Rouen is a gorgeous town, has a beautiful cathedral AND is where Joan of Arc was tried and burned at the stake. the Bayeux Tapestry, which is the famous tapestry depicting the Battle of Hastings, is ALSO in Normandy. in Bayeux, obviously. Mont St. Michel is a GORGEOUS early medieval monastery built on a tidal island. you have to climb a lot of steps, but it's well worth it.)
So I think my feelings about Normandy are pretty clear!
Again, I have no real living experience in Caen, but I do commend you for wanting to be outside of Paris. You'll definitely speak more French if you're in a smaller city where there aren't as many English speakers.
and if you're interested in Nantes, let me know! it's a fully immersive program, everybody lives with a host family and you can take classes at the Universite de Nantes or at the IES center.