What are the benefits of studying engineering abroad in Stockholm? Ryn (she/her), Lehigh University, and Nicola (she/they), Olin College of Engineering, have some qualified answers to share. They are both in the engineering program at DIS Stockholm, and exploring what life is like in the hometown of the Nobel Prize. We sat down with Ryn and Nicola to ask them about their experiences from studying engineering abroad, what new perspectives they have gained, and what they will bring with them home to the U.S.
DIS: What was important for you to know when deciding to study abroad?
Ryn: That my classes, specifically my engineering classes, would count towards my engineering major. I had to make sure with both my normal advisor and study abroad advisor that that was the case.
Nicola: I go to a small engineering school, and I didn’t want to go to a big university that would be completely different from what I was used to. I wanted to make sure all the classes I was taking would feel relevant and connected, so I chose an engineering Core Course and then picked elective courses where for each of them, I can bring in a little bit from the engineering perspective.
DIS: What is your academic background?
R: I go to Lehigh University and am currently a junior studying Bioengineering and Neuroscience, so it fit perfectly that DIS offered a Biomedical Engineering Core Course.
N: I am a mechanical engineer at Olin College of Engineering, which is a small engineering school that’s very collaborative and applied in its teaching methodology. I am especially interested in prototyping and creatively working through the design process.
DIS: Why did you choose to study engineering at DIS Stockholm?
N: I hoped that learning about sustainability while living in another country would broaden my perspective. Having only lived in the U.S., it can be hard to imagine anything different from what I have experienced. I wanted to see another example of a social system, political system, and culture. DIS seemed like a good fit; I heard it was very hands-on and that there were small classes.
R: I chose to study engineering because I didn’t want to study something totally different than what I was studying at my home university, and Biomedical Engineering incorporates both biology and engineering into one discipline.
DIS: Who are your classmates?
N: It’s actually very different from my home college. At DIS, most of my classmates are not engineers. It’s been really interesting taking classes with students of different backgrounds. Getting all those different perspectives is something I’ve really been appreciating here.
R: I have two classmates in my Biomedical Engineering Core Course, Cole and Mary, and we all go to different home universities. It has been interesting to hear what they have learned in their courses at home, and since our class is so small, everyone is very vocal about their background knowledge. We all bring something different to the table. Cole knows more about mechanics as a whole, and both Mary and I know more about bioengineering applied mechanics.
DIS: What have been some academic highlights so far?
R: My main highlight was our trip to the KTH Royal Institute of Technology where we visited Dr. Mario Romero Vega’s lab. He sat with us and talked about his development of BrailleTouch, of which he is a co-founder. BrailleTouch is a keyboard technology for blind users of smartphones. Dr. Romero demonstrated how to use it and outlined how he and his colleagues came up with the idea. It was really inspiring to hear about all the work he put into a technology to help the disabled, with no personal gain.
N: We had a suburban exploration project in my Swedish Language and Culture class where we all picked a suburb to visit, which I thought would be the project least related to my engineering studies. My faculty knew I was interested in sustainability so they suggested a place that used to be a very industrial, polluted area, but it is now a very hip, new, sustainable suburb. It was so cool. I was able to learn about it from an engineering perspective, but then also do a suburban exploration on it, and that filled out the picture in a nice way.
DIS: Who are your faculty?
R: The first half of the semester, my Biomedical Engineering class was taught by Adam Darwich, a systems modeling engineer. The second half is being taught by Matilda Larsson who does research related to ultrasound devices. Both of these professors are professors at KTH, a renowned technological institute nearby.
N: My professor for my Core Course, Engineering Sustainable Environments in Scandinavia, has a background in sustainable water resources management, with experience in the Middle East as well as Sweden.
Outside of my faculty, I’m surrounded by so many experts. We had an event and discussion about the Russian invasion of Ukraine a couple of weeks ago, and one of the speakers was a DIS faculty who specializes on security and terrorism. And even though they aren’t my professors, I got to talk to learn from them and hear their analysis.
It’s difficult teaching such a wide variety of students with different home universities and backgrounds, but the teachers accommodate for that greatly by really listening to the students in their classroom.
DIS: How do you experience studying at DIS compared to your home university?
R: The professors here tailor their teaching to what we want to learn and have not learned in the past. It’s difficult teaching such a wide variety of students with different home universities and backgrounds, but the teachers accommodate for that greatly by really listening to the students in their classroom. Each class has a representative that works as a voice for the class as a whole.
DIS: Are you taking other classes at DIS that you are passionate about?
R: I’m taking Swedish Language and Culture, How Narrative Works, Neurodegenerative Diseases, and Energy Cloud. I’ve really enjoyed filling up my non-engineering requirements. My professors for my other classes are all extremely knowledgeable in their field and I have really enjoyed learning from them.
N: I love my Smart and Sustainable Cities class! Last week, our faculty took us on a walking tour of a neighborhood that had a lot of smart solutions. One example they are piloting is a system called ‘open district heating,’ where they capture the waste heat from a data center because data centers produce a lot of heat and usually have to pay for cooling. They convinced a data center to instead invest in a heat pump, and now they can take the waste heat and put it into the district heating.
DIS: How does study abroad fit into your future plans?
N: Studying abroad has broadened my perspective. In a context outside of the U.S., I both feel like I understand Sweden more and also the European context around me. Instead of assuming that what we do in the U.S. is the default, I can have that larger perspective. I’m strongly considering returning to Sweden for grad school or to work, because I think that as an engineer, especially a female engineer, there are a lot of opportunities in Sweden, especially for doing the kinds of sustainable engineering work that I want to do.
R: I plan on going to med school back in the States. Study abroad specifically fits into this because I plan on spending more time volunteering abroad before med school and now have an understanding of what it’s like to live abroad for long periods of time. This experience has already begun to shape me. I came to Sweden alone with the hopes of growing while creating lasting relationships. So far, I have done both of those things.
I’m strongly considering returning to Sweden for grad school or to work, because I think that as an engineer, especially a female engineer, there are a lot of opportunities in Sweden.
DIS: What would you tell students with a similar background who are looking into studying engineering abroad?
N: I was worried that I was going to be under-stimulated because so few of my classes are engineering focused. I worried I was going to feel like I was losing my identity as an engineer, or I wasn’t going to be interested enough in my coursework, because it wasn’t as focused on engineering. But in my experience, it’s been the opposite. I’ve learned that you bring whatever background and perspective you have to whatever you’re working on. I see little engineering things going on everywhere around me.
R: DIS engineering has been a great experience for me. The classes are well taught by brilliant professors, and the Field Studies have shown me just how applicable engineering is to everyday life. I’m not sure what engineering courses look like at other abroad programs, but I would highly recommend DIS if you are looking to learn about how you can apply what you have learned in your college career thus far.
DIS: If you could go back in time, is there any advice you would give to yourself?
N: I would have encouraged my past self by saying that you will learn so much. It’s like you don’t even know what you’re not learning until you learn it. You’re filling gaps that you didn’t know were there. Seeing a different paradigm structure of a different culture changes the way that you kind of think about things. And it opens up so much more creativity, even from an engineering perspective, to think about what is possible.
DIS: What experiences from Sweden will you bring to your life and studies in the U.S.?
N: A bit more hope. That’s one of my big takeaways, that we need to have optimism. If we think we can’t do it, we’re not going to come up with any solutions. I think that with sustainability solutions, we need hope that we can design a better future.
R: Since I am an avid coffee drinker, I’ll bring fika of course. Beyond that, I think I’ll bring a more balanced work-play lifestyle when going forward in my academic career. I tend to forfeit some of the social aspects of my life at home so I can do more homework, but being here has made me realize how much happier and less stressed out I am. It even opens me up to learning more because I’m not so stressed out about it.
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