by Mitchell Beacom, MechE 1T7
Ready to explore a new culture and part of the world, I applied to the Centre for International Experience exchange program in my second year. I have always been fascinated with Sweden – the reputed progressive, socialist paradise with beautiful nature, advanced technological innovation, and welcoming people. After being accepted to study for a semester in my third year of mechanical engineering at Lund University, I prepared to leave Toronto full of hope that this place could match my imagination.
When I landed I was immediately greeted by a huge team of volunteers welcoming exchange students from around the world. With everyone starting new, it was easy to make friends with people from places as far as Germany and Brazil.
Lund University has a vibrant student life system called Nations. These completely student-run groups hold social events, daily meals, and parties in historic houses. Nations are entirely open to all students enrolled the University. I was quickly thrust into a full schedule of events. A typical Swedish night out involves a regimented schedule of a big communal meal, pre-parties, a succession of main parties, and after-parties. After enjoying a night out or a big meal, each of us took turns volunteering for the next event.
Looking to make new friends, I tried the Canadian tactic of talking to everyone everywhere about anything. This was met with wide-eyed looks. In Sweden, only the truly insane would talk to a stranger on a bus about the weather. Many of my Canadian customs wouldn’t do either. My holding a door open for others was perceived as a sign of misogyny, a practice reminiscent of an archaic era in a society leading the world in gender equality. It was time to adapt.
I studied Mechanical Engineering with a diverse and small group of both Swedish and international students, making group projects a lesson in different cultures and customs. I took advantage of the opportunity to study the highly specialized subjects of turbine design, advanced fracture mechanics, and heat transfer. These courses provided incredible exposure to Swedish innovation including: trips to industry leading producers of heat exchangers, guest lectures from turbine research specialists in alternative fuel combustion, and applied project work with startups at the innovation center. Benefiting from greater awareness of where my degree could lead, I am now committed to pursuing a Master’s degree.
Outside of class, I had a group of friends eager to explore Scandinavia and even to host me across Europe. I took every opportunity to travel and explore, from hiking in the fjords in Norway and dog sledding in the Arctic circle in Sweden to crashing with friends across Europe.
The exchange semester flew by and it was time to say goodbye to my international community and Swedish friends. After starting from scratch in a foreign country and studying in such an international environment, I was ready to do it again. I secured an industry placement year at Airbus, a global aeronautical company in England. I completed an additional year abroad having worked on commercial aircraft wing structures design optimization for manufacturing and assembly.
I would highly recommend anyone to apply for the CIE exchange program. It has been the defining experience in my undergraduate program, which has had an incredibly positive impact on both my personal and academic life. I flew back to Toronto ready for my final year and excited for the new opportunities exchange has made possible.