Sunday, December 23, 2012

UNITECH International Life #2

After the application process in February 2011, the accommodation process began in May 2011. For someone like myself who had lived in England his whole life, it was difficult to choose which room I wanted. At the time, all the rooms I looked at seemed expensive in comparison to how much I had paid whilst at uni and on placement. There was also no 'small/medium/large' bedroom, it was all in square metres. That made no sense to me, but now I understand why the former makes no sense to most foreigners from outside the UK. The UK should adopt the system of square metres, it makes life so much easier. I also wanted to be reasonably close to Chalmers but not too close as I wanted to be able to cycle and get my daily dose of exercise. In the end, I chose Ostkupan which is 14 square metres and cost less than 3000 kr/month (less than £300/month). I still had no idea how big that was, but that soon became the least of my worries. This included all bills, with high speed wired internet access, laundry facilities, TV & pool room and a sauna!

I was getting ready and buzzing about my exchange year abroad, until my department said that I might not be able to go due to departmental regulations. I did not expect that less than a month before I was due to fly out, having booked the flights and paid the deposit for my room. They eventually sorted it out after a meeting with them, showing how keen I was and everything that was at stake. This was good news as it meant it was sorted for future students of my department as well, who could do it as a replacement to their placement year (a.k.a. doing an internship for a year) or make it count towards the third year of their degree, like I did.

As for most people, packing is always the difficult part. Especially as I was going for a whole year to a colder climate, it meant I needed lots of clothes to stay warm. I also did not want to buy new stuff that I would end up having to leave there, therefore I decided to pay for extra baggage and bring whatever I needed. Mum also decided to come with me and check out where I was going, etc. What was interesting was that after staying up till sometime after midnight and then waking up again in a few hours to take a flight, I had still not finished packing. Oops.

Dad drove us to the airport on Monday morning. We had managed to keep everything just under the weight limit. Once we boarded the plane and it took off, neither of us could sleep. Mum had made a few calls and found out there were some people from our community in Gothenburg. One of them had even been in the same school with my Mum in Mombasa, Kenya. It's a small world. Therefore, someone picked us up from the airport and took us to Ostkupan. It made life a lot easier knowing someone who knew the language, culture, etc. of the country. I really appreciated his help, as he and his family were going to be a lifeline in the months to come. 

All I wanted to do when I arrived at Ostkupan was get the keys, go to my room and go to sleep for a few hours. However, that was not going to happen any time soon. On entering my corridor and room, I could see that some cleaning needed to be done and I did not want to risk any bed bugs or any other infestations. Luckily, Ostkupan had invested in new cleaning equipment for each corridor that year, so I opened up the new vacuum cleaner and got to work. Same situation in the kitchen, but I just wanted space for my dishes, crockery and food so sorted out my allocated cupboards and fridge space. Since the bathroom needed a bit of cleaning and my neighbour who I was sharing the bathroom with was out, I went ahead and cleaned that as I was already on cleaning duty. Once done, I went to sleep for a while since my room mates were busy or not around.

Mum flew out the next day back home as she needed to go back to work. Until Saturday I was on my own, sorting out bits and bobs, meeting up with my other room mates (we conjured up so many potential situations for one of them since we never saw him leaving his room until one day...), fasting even longer days since the days were longer in Sweden (yup, it was Ramadan then) and going to mosque each evening. I guess you are wondering, what happens on Saturday? Well, this is when all the other UNITECH students arrive to Gothenburg for the Start-up Week module. This is where you make friends that will hopefully last your whole life, as you'll spend at least three weeks with all of them and a semester or longer with those joining the same university as you. The UNITECH experience has now officially begun...

Sunday, December 02, 2012

UNITECH International Life #1

What happens after you've lived the international life? You return to your homeland, and get depressed and want to leave as soon as you can to go on your next adventure. You've had a life changing experience whilst abroad, made lots of friends and got to see lands that you most probably would not have if you did not participate in some sort of exchange programme. In my case, it was UNITECH, which Loughborough University joined in 2009. In the first year (2010/2011), there was only one student, from Wolfson School of Mechanical & Manufacturing Engineering, who loved it so much, that he graduated and decided to work at Hilti in Lichtenstein. That's one person who has converted to living the international life, for how long who knows?

In my year, which was the second year (2011/2012), there were three of us who made it through the rigorous application and interview process. We had a group based exercise, a presentation to prepare on the spot for a topic they have chosen and finally an individual interview by corporate partners. I was lost for words when I was told on the same day that I had made the final cut. I would be going abroad for a whole year to study at Chalmers in Gothenburg, Sweden.

I would have never bothered to take this opportunity if my personal tutor, Dr Roger Dixon, who was promoting the programme in my department, had convinced me to apply, after calling him a couple of days before the deadline to ask some questions. Therefore, I thank him for that. Also, I have to thank Jaguar Land Rover for giving me time off in such short notice, and also for allowing me to drop out of their sponsorship programme to participate in this pan-European programme.

Everyone asks me, why did I choose Sweden? I can tell you it was not because of the typical stereotypes that most people have heard, as I never knew about them. I applied because of the modules that I could do whilst studying there, which were related to renewable energy. However, I was told only a few weeks before arriving there that those modules were full up as my application arrived late, and also that I cannot do them as they are taught to chemical engineering students as it is part of their Masters programme, i.e. I do not have the pre-requisites to study those modules. Wow, I did not expect that. So then I picked embedded electronics modules, which are studied as part of a different Masters programme. In comparison, the same modules at Loughborough only have a few people studying them - I only found that out right now when I returned to Loughborough. I definitely enjoyed the way I studied them at Chalmers whereas I'm not sure I would have had the same experience at Loughborough. I'll never know...

Hopefully this gives an insight into the beginning of my international career and development and how it all worked out with UNITECH. There are a few posts detailing my time whilst in Sweden, and hopefully you will not have to wait another six months for the next chapter of my journey. Vi hörs!