Category Archives: Exchange and Travel

Denmark Study Abroad Experience

HEY readers! I missed you all. It’s been almost three months since I’ve come back from Denmark. There’s so much to cover. One of the topics in this blog are the Mechanical and Energy Engineering courses I took at Denmark Technical University (DTU). Furthermore, I will talk about the job market in Copenhagen. Of course, there are also the people I’ve met, whether professors, students, or industry professionals.

So firstly, the courses I took at DTU included some of the standard requirements for UBC Mechanical Engineering, such as Mechanical Vibrations and Manufacturing Technologies. These courses covered the standard content and material. Perhaps the only difference is that Mechanical Vibrations course did not have a laboratory portion at DTU. Instead, we had assignments in Matlab that simulated the displacement and velocity measurements we would get from real life vibrations. Manufacturing Technologies was a distance-learning course. It also had a more interesting content, covering metallurgy (the design and manufacturing of cast components), glass-making, and how to select the best processes for a desirable product function and performance. Both of these courses were considered to be Bachelor level at DTU. However, most of the technical electives I chose were at Master level.

Wind Turbine Racer

Trying to get a grasp around how wind power operates in Denmark, I selected technical electives tailored towards my goal. The Wind Turbine Racer course was one of the most interesting courses I’ve ever taken. It was the equivalent of a design team at UBC, but with the added support from a professor and an assistant professor and the resources provided by DTU. The class was very small, containing only 7 students. However, only 2 of them were Danish; other students in the course were from Columbia, US, and Spain. Just like most of my other courses, I was the only Canadian. In this course, we were trying to optimize a wind turbine racer that generated forward propulsion when wind speeds were high. It could drive up to 113.1% of the wind speed (which is between 6m/s and 10m/s or 22km/h and 30km/h). The turbines spun on a shaft connected to bevel gears and would in turn translate the rotational energy to the rear axle of the car. There are many potential areas for optimization. We learned that we can perhaps install a feedback loop that angles the turbine perpendicularly towards the direction of the wind. That was a major implementation. Smaller ways of improving the vehicle was to play with the curvature of the turbine shield, length of turbine blades, and the efficiency of the gear train.

Energy Systems Analysis and Optimization

Another course I took was very relevant to a potential career path. In Energy Systems Analysis and Optimization, we used thermoeconomic modelling to design cogeneration plants that were more efficient than conventional power plants. Approximately 11% of electricity and heat demands in today’s European society are met using cogeneration technology. In Denmark, electricity supply system operates at 65% efficiency overall [1]. This proved to give more than environment improvements, but it also has long term economic implications that electrical power corporations are interested in, especially when implemented at a regional or national level. We used Engineering Equation Solver (EES) to simulate the power and heat outputs of real life systems of heat exchangers, steam turbines, and boilers. Heat recovery steam generators (HRSG) are used to absorb the energy from hot exhaust gases released by gas turbines. Using thermoeconomic models, we designed HRSG for a real life gas turbine cycle. Overall, this course taught me how to design components of energy systems at a micro level. At a macro level, I needed to know how electricity generated was distributed in the Danish and Scandinavian power systems.

Power Systems Balancing with Large Scale Wind Power

Starting with basic concepts of different types of wind turbines, Power Systems Balancing course built up to the dynamic simulation models for power balance control. With large scale integration of fluctuating wind power into conventional power grid, the challenge arises concerning whether operation can be reliable [2]. When wind power decreases unexpectedly, an imbalance is created in the power system that could lead to power outages and dangerous shutdowns. To prevent this, conventional electricity generating units are necessary as backup that can respond quickly. By creating a feedback loop, measurements of wind power output is used to regulate amount of power produced from conventional power plants [2]. This sums up the technical electives I took at DTU.

Job Market in Copenhagen, Denmark

Two fields of engineering jobs stood out very clearly above others, pharmaceutical and information technology. Copenhagen, and Denmark at large, is home to some of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, such as Novo Nordisk. Surprisingly, Denmark is ranked one of the lowest users of pharmaceutical products among OECD countries [3]. The result is a huge export to other countries. The amount of pharmaceutical product exported has tripled within the last decade [3]. Even though this field is not blatantly related to Mechanical Engineering, there are opportunities in quality control and process validation. One of my friends in Industrial Engineering landed an internship with Novo Nordisk using his skills for industrial layout optimization.

The second most frequently posted jobs relate to information technology. This includes software development, data management, and network architecture. Companies like Cisco, Microsoft, and even non-software dominant companies like Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy has many job postings within this field. How does that relate to mechanical engineering? Computer simulations like computational fluid dynamics, finite element analysis, and dynamic modelling are some key technical electives that the department provides. Outside of the courses, I’m learning Python and other software languages on my own, and will take exams to attain certificates. Evidently, the job market in Denmark isn’t tailored towards mechanical engineering. This challenge simply means we need to be flexible to changes in the society.

Life in Copenhagen

Copenhagen is a curious city. It has all the charms of Scandinavian architecture, with its green spiraling church tops and rustic brick exteriors. The infrastructure was an old legacy, but everything else was new. From trendy restaurants and cafes to the brand name clothing lines, the gleaming store fronts belie how crammed it is inside. Every nook and cranny of space was precious, as seen by the tiny washrooms that seem to be carved into the walls. As always with older infrastructures, retrofitting was not the only challenge. Reliability of electricity supply was also a question. Sometimes an intersection in the middle of the city would not light.

Despite its modernity, available products were not as abundant as in Vancouver. It took me a while to discover that underneath the veil was an undeniable better quality of life. The Danes might not show it in the fancy products they use, wear, and consume, but they show it in how much they enjoy what little they have. I discovered you can pick up anything in a store and it would be of great quality. For instance, a variety of the cheapest store brand food like oatmeal, vegetables, fruits were organic. Organic wasn’t just a healthier alternative, it was pretty much integrated in everyday life. Consuming these affordable organic food products actually made a difference in how my body feels. This led me to think that maybe it is exactly this brand-driven, commercialized mentality that’s hindering us to get money’s worth of quality in Vancouver.

Aside from commodities, the quality of life in Copenhagen was much better because of the social securities that Danish government provides. All of my Danish classmates received free university education. In addition, they were subsidized with monthly living allowances that they did not have to pay back. This enables such them to be financially stable and stress-free during their university years. Being a Canadian student, I could not enjoy the Danish financial benefits. However, I found a job and was able to take advantage of the high wages in Copenhagen. I also appreciate seeing this social system in action and the massive impact it has on the way of life.

I really enjoyed writing about my study abroad experience and hope you enjoyed reading it. If you have any questions, please comment down below. I look forward to chatting with you.

Kirsten

Exchange Planning

Hoi,

I’ve spent just over two months in Europe by now and thought I’d reflect on the initial phases of this Coordinated International Experience. Here are the topics for today:

1) Degree scheduling and Preparation

2) Picking a Destination

1) Degree Scheduling and Preparation (see also: Kirsten Meng’s excellent CIE post)
CIE offers a unique set of services for Applied Science students, ensuring a smooth exchange. The APSC faculty have done an incredible amount of legwork to vet schools and their respective courses for equivalency. This means you’ll get to pick from a list of pre-approved courses and not worry about manually applying for transfer credits later. These courses typical apply to your technical elective requirements, opening up those respective semesters when you get home.

Fun fact: this kind of commitment to the undergraduate experience is what brought me to UBC MECH in the first place. I was fortunate enough to connect with Dr. Peter Cripton for an informational interview before choosing Applied Science for my second degree.

CIE can be done in a few slots within your degree schedule, but for me the most streamlined option was to schedule my exchange directly after MECH3.5. As a co-op student, that meant sacrificing a work term and replacing the income with a giant money pit. Fortunately, this pit spits out unique learning experiences and chocolate (the chocolate here, oh man). I wanted to graduate in 2019 and the Co-op office was gracious enough to waive the last work term requirement for CIE students. Other perks include reducing MECH4 by 9 credits and gaining access to course topics not offered at UBC or even in Canada. ETH Zurich in particular emphasizes entrepreneurial spirit and interdisciplinary projects; I’d highly recommend taking project courses if possible. Fundamental courses will likely be similar across the world, but each region will have unique perspectives on innovation, design, and other more-subjective areas of engineering. Take a look at the MAVT department at ETH for an example of the ongoing research and student projects happening here.

2) Picking a Destination

I first heard of ETH Zurich during my first co-op term at Verathon Medical. One particular project led me to work done by a UBC alum working at the Disney Labs in Zurich. As one does, I fell down the YouTube rabbit hole, and couldn’t believe some of the projects produced through ETH. It turns out there was a time when Switzerland was behind the rest of the world technologically, and the country’s catch-up mentality has propelled them to fund world-class technical institutes. When I discovered the ETH FSAE team, AMZ Racing, and their world-record setting FormulaE vehicle, I was hooked.

If you’re unsure, look at the course lists offered at each institution and get a sense for their specialties. Look at the country and culture too. Where do you want to invest your valuable time and energy? What kind of leisure activities resonate with you? What new things do you want to try? Personally, I made sure to list every free weekend I’d have during my semester abroad and created a list of activities with as many or more entries. I wanted to sacrifice sleep to absorb as much as possible from my exchange. Switzerland is an incredible melting pot of cultures and coming from a mixed upbringing, I never quite fit in a singular community; the same sort of uprooted diversity in Zurich resonated strongly with me. A short bus ride to cheap flights around Europe didn’t hurt either. I’ll write about some of the interesting people I’ve met during these travels in another post.

Sidenote: Despite situating in the center of Europe, Zurich is an expensive hub for flights around the continent (check travel websites for quotes out of Zurich versus Milan or Stuttgart; mein Gott!).

The next few posts will talk about packing and moving, first steps in Switzerland (there are many), budgeting (!), and chasing opportunity during your time abroad.

I might post a supplemental note on the ridiculous lengths I took to bring my bike to Europe. It was a great exercise in MECH3.5 design work and may help those looking to keep costs down. I probably saved about $1000 CDN all told.

Tschuss for now!
Jason

EXCHANGE IN DENMARK PART II

Ever feel stressed about moving to a place you have never been? A place without a single familiar face, a single familiar hangout, not even those chain stores you see everywhere. You want to be independent, capable of taking care of yourself in this environment of uncertainties. You don’t want your fears to diminish how incredible this experience of going somewhere new will be, but you cannot shake off worrying about how you will adjust.

Imagine if you could put away those fears of the unknown, and be prepared to take on any hurdle coming in your way. On top of that, imagine maximizing your exchange and achieving all the goals you’ve set. Thanks to my friend Norton who went to DTU before, and came up with this abridged “Guide to Exchange with CIE”. The topics covered:

  • Know what you want to get out of the exchange
  • Pre-Departure
    1. Accommodations
    2. International Administration
    3. Academics and On Campus Activities
    4. Booking Flight and Packing
    5. Finances

Know what you want to get out of the exchange

Even though CIE requires you to register in 4 courses at your destination university, the workload might feel different than at UBC.  This is because grades from your exchange courses will not appear on your official UBC transcript – your courses only show up as transfer credits (although if you are planning on applying to grad school, they will want to see the transcript from your exchange university). Therefore, you can choose to focus on travelling instead of just academics. I don’t doubt that some of you would like to focus on academics, since international institutions usually provide rare courses that you can’t take at UBC. Because we are limited in energy and time, if we try to achieve perfect grades and travel to numerous countries, we will burn out. So know what you want. Don’t feel pressured to visit all the countries in Europe; you can stay-in, study, and absorb local culture if that’s what is more meaningful for you.

As someone with a lower energy level, I was so happy to discover that Denmark has a “hygge” culture that values coziness; for instance, cuddling up to the fireplace with a nice cup of coffee in a dimly lit café. So, I think I will focus more on local activities and events, such as joining DTU Bachata dance class and the BEST club (Board of European Students for Technology).

Above all, knowing what you want allows you to focus on the bigger picture. When I picture my ultimate goal of creating a community of likeminded people who are passionate about renewable energy, I stop feeling anxious about the little things, like forgetting to pack a charger cord. When you care intensely about the bigger picture, you won’t let unnecessary worries weigh you down.

Pre-Departure Preparation

Before I go too far into this section, download a checklist template like the one found here (https://www.vertex42.com/ExcelTemplates/task-list-template.html). This helps you keep track of the deadlines, list detailed tasks, and schedule a time to do them while you’re busy in school. The earlier you set up this task list, the more time you have to pace the tasks out and do them slowly. We can get sucked into school work pretty easily; this checklist can save you from a last minute scramble.

Accommodations

What’s worse than moving to a foreign country and having no place to stay? It’s important to apply for accommodations early. If your institution provides accommodations, they will most likely send you an email with application form. I cannot stress this enough, KNOW YOUR LEASE DATES and APPLY EARLY. A pro tip is to set your accommodation start date to one week before class starts. That way you have ample time to adjust to the new environment, get over your jet lag, and have time to purchase necessities so you’re not overwhelmed when class start.

If your institution doesn’t provide residence, or if you simply want to rent with friends, look on local renting sites. Don’t be tricked into signing overpriced rooms; always check what the average rent is.

International Administrations

The first thing you want to do is make sure your passport is updated! Ensure you have at least a year from the day you leave until expiry. Updating your passport can take a while (it took me about three weeks), so apply for update early.

Using your passport, as well as other identification documents, you should now apply for a residency permit. Your institution should send this application to you along with your acceptance letter. Every country’s process is different, but for the Danish embassy, you are required to go to a third party organization (VFS Global) to get your biometrics (pupil and finger prints) taken. Documents you are required to send to Danish embassy may include:

  • Passport
  • Acceptance letter from your institution
  • Application form
  • Proof of funds (bank account balance or documentation of a scholarship)

You want to pay attention to proof of funds. It basically proves to the foreign government that you can financially sustain yourself while staying in their country. As of 2017, Denmark requires students to have $1,218 per month of study (total of $7,308 for my 6 months of stay).

After sending in the necessary documents and application, you will receive a residence permit in the mail. This is an important document that you want to print out and carry with you when you depart.

Academics and On-Campus Activities

In my previous blog, I talked about searching through courses when choosing the right institution for you. Now I’ll talk about how to maximize your international learning experience. First, mark the course registration date and withdrawal date on the checklist you’ve created (or calendar app of your choice). Among the courses you’re interested in (assuming you have more than you need), choose four courses you are most curious about. For instance, I registered in a Wind Turbine Racer course and an Energy Systems course. Even though both are interesting and relevant to my career path, I weighed each by their completion time (Wind Turbine course takes three more weeks to finish), content, and the potential to enter into Green Challenge (where I could meet potential employers). After registering in your courses, remember to get them approved by emailing your department advisor.

Some universities have an introduction week – like Jump Start at UBC – where international students meet each other. I would strongly suggest you sign up for it, so your university can help you adjust to the campus life and meet people before the rush of classes.

Some of my best memories at UBC come from being involved in activities outside of class. It’s helped me learn new things with a community of like-minded people. So, for the next semester, I’ve registered in some dance classes. Furthermore, I’m going to look for a drones design team.

Booking Flight and Packing

I used Google Flights to keep track of the ticket price to Copenhagen. The app will send you notifications when the price is dropping. Another good idea is to fly out of Seattle. I found that the ticket price is almost half of the flights from Vancouver. Remember to always check additional baggage fees, as some airlines will charge you for even the first checked luggage.

As for what to bring, make sure you have the essentials! I spent A LOT of time making sure that I have a functional cell phone and laptop so I’m not forced to buy one in Denmark. Glasses and contacts are also daily essentials that I splurged on. However, I feel so much more comfortable knowing that I have back-ups for all the above. It’s important to dress for the weather, so check the local weather reports. For Denmark, the average winter temperature is around -1°C. It may not seem too cold, however, there will be strong freezing winds that quickly make it feel like -25°C. So, a heavy, goose-down jacket is definitely recommended. I brought my ski jacket, but I wish I had bought a down jacket to brace against this weather.

Since you will be without cell phone service at least for a day or two when you arrive, download offline information like a Google Map of Copenhagen and Google Translate.

Packing EU and UK plug adapters is a must, even if you want to travel for just a bit. But if you’re finding you don’t have enough room in your luggage, you can also buy them at local stores. Anything else I might have missed can be found on this helpful website: http://thestudyabroadblog.com/study-abroad-packing-list-2-2/.

Finances

This is a huge worry of mine. We all know how expensive tuition is, plus rent and travelling fees. This exchange is definitely going to cost a pretty penny. So how will you pay for everything? I recently had 16 months of Co-op and took this work learn position with Mech Student Services to save up for this exchange.

Loans and Grants

CIE grants $1000 grant to every accepted student, however, you are expected to write an experiential report in return. If you have student loans like I do, then it would be beneficial for you to decide on your courses before applying. Once you are certain about the academic start and end dates for the exchange can you email your ESP. They can then update your enrollment information for student loans.

ATM Withdrawal and Credit Card

Assuming that you already have your own bank account (if not, open one), you should go to your bank and figure out whether they charge for withdrawal from an ATM in a foreign country. The bank I am with allows me to withdraw with refund for any ATM transaction fee, so it’s essentially free to withdraw Danish Kroners. That being said, you might want to watch the currency exchange rate. Banks usually give you a higher exchange rate than market, meaning I pay more CAD to buy the same amount of Kroners. This is because they do not charge a fee for buying foreign currency, while other currency exchange shops usually do.

As for credit cards, choose one with no foreign transaction fees. Here is a list of some of best ones (https://www.moneywehave.com/canadian-credit-cards-without-foreign-transaction-fees/). A week before your departure, notify all your credit and debit card companies that you’ll be out of the country, so using your card in a foreign country won’t alert them and cause your cards to be disabled. Lastly, it’s important to have some cash on you before you leave, so get some from your bank.

Conclusion

As of right now, I’m finishing this blog in Copenhagen. With all of these preparations, I hope you will have a smooth transition into your exchange. What’s more important, however, isn’t just feeling ready; it’s taking the leap.  You may never feel 100% ready to leave home, but stepping on the plane and looking forward will get you there.

Cheers,

Kirsten

Resources:

https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Attractions-g775899-Activities-Kongens_Lyngby_Lyngby_Taarbak_Municipality_Copenhagen_Region_Zealand.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renewable_energy_in_Denmark

https://ec.europa.eu/energy/en/topics/renewable-energy/national-action-plans

http://santamarta-florez.blogspot.ca/2013/09/denmarks-largest-offshore-wind-farm-is.html

http://georgesteinmetz.com/collections/rising-seas-collection/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anholt_Offshore_Wind_Farm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siemens_Wind_Power

EXCHANGE IN DENMARK PART I

HEY all, I’m finally back. It’s so unbelievably nice to write again after the mid-term slump!

As of now, it is about T-minus one and a half months until I launch off to Denmark! I’m extremely excited, but at the same time, terribly nervous. What is your impression of going on exchange? Do you find staying in a foreign country by yourself scary or exhilarating?

So this post, I want to talk about university exchange experiences. In part one of this two-part blog, I will walk you through:

  • What is the Co-ordinated International Experience (CIE) program
  • Why you should apply
  • How to choose the right institute for you
  • How to apply and ways to boost your application

Links will be provided so you can check out more related information.

Windmills in Denmark (Photo credit: @CGPGrey, under creative commons)

What is the CIE?

First, let me explain what the Co-ordinated International Experience (CIE) program is. To give you a little context, after your second year in UBC Engineering, you can choose to be part of the UBC Engineering Co-op program. Co-op coordinators work with engineering industry to provide students with job opportunities. Let’s say you get hired for a co-op term, then you work until your contract ends and return to school afterwards. After your 3rd year of school (January-May semester), Co-op opens CIE applications to attend a partner institution in Europe or Asia. The application process will take place from May to October, depending on the institution you chose. You return to school as normal for the fall semester (Sept-Dec) at UBC, and if your application to CIE is successful, you will find out what institution you are paired with in the fall. For the spring semester (Jan-April/May/June), you will be on exchange with CIE program!

CIE is integrated seamlessly into your academic degree, and the courses pre-approved by UBC Co-op office will count towards your academic credit. Basically, it’s like you’re taking the same courses but in a different country. To find out more about CIE, check out this link (http://www.coop.apsc.ubc.ca/coordinated-international-experience/).

Why should you apply?

Now, you may ask, “why should I apply?” And in all honesty, you are giving up a co-op work term or two to go on exchange. When I was faced with this choice, I decided that an international experience was more valuable for my future than getting paid. Yes, there are also international job opportunities, if you want to work in Germany and Japan (where most international jobs are based). For me, I wanted to be in Denmark, and it is quite hard to find an engineering co-op job there. What attracted me to Denmark was the amount of renewable initiatives and the political will to be sustainable. Danish society, in general, is far more invested in the health of their environment than other countries in the world. They bike, they build wind farms, take on solar panelled-road initiatives, and use localized, combined heat and power stations to reduce the country’s entire energy consumption by 11%! One of the major manufacturer of wind turbines, Siemens Wind Power, was founded in Denmark, and still is still headquarter there. The numerous advancements in renewable energy closely relates to my career goals and is the essential reason I chose to go on exchange in Denmark.

Aside from specific educational and career benefits, you should consider applying to go on exchange for the international experience. You will get to meet tons of exchange students from across the world. This is a great chance to build an international network of future engineers. Since engineering is about finding innovative solutions, the more diverse perspectives you get to know, the better! Studying and sharing intellectual conversations with an international community will broaden your scope of education. And of course, travelling around Europe has always been my dream. So how else to better immerse yourself in Europe’s fine culture, cuisine, history and sites than a 5 month stay? As you can see, this exchange opportunity is truly priceless.

How to choose the right institution for you

So you’ve decided exchange is right for you, but at there are so many AMAZING institutes to choose from! Here’s the kind of research you should be doing. To select the right institution, you should look at the courses and teaching structure they provide. CIE provides useful course mappings here. Each course mapping provides a side-by-side list of UBC and the international institution courses that match. A simple google search of the partner institution is always a sure way to access and explore their course database. If you want a more personal touch, attend the information sessions hosted by CIE and the partner institution. This year, the National University of Singapore and Denmark Technical University (DTU) hosted. At the DTU info session, I was able to get to know their International Affairs Officer. Their advice also encouraged me to register in courses outside CIE’s referred ones.

Furthermore, I found out that DTU has a non-hierarchical style of teaching that highly encourages lecturer-student and student-student collaboration. Most of their courses are hands-on and project-based. Once your project is finished, there’s a chance to compete in the International Gron Dyst Competition! This is what sealed the deal for me.

How to boost your application

In terms of application boosters, you should try to build your application like a cover letter. You want to emphasize your fit. Since DTU has a heavy emphasis on sustainability and interdisciplinary learning, I wrote about creating a sustainability venture with Engineers without Borders, and the interdisciplinary communication skills I have gained through working as a project manager assistant at Vancouver International Airport. Another key aspect about cover letters is showing your interest/ passion for what your employer does. Talk about how the institute you chose stood out from the rest. A little flattery always goes a long way!

I hope I have given you a good overview of what exchange program is like at UBC Engineering. In the next part of my blogs, I will talk about

  • Guide to going on exchange
  • How to maximize your experience
  • How to be prepared for the worst case scenarios

If you have any questions or just want to chat, please comment below!

Cheers,

Kirsten

Read more about Denmark and Wind Energy below:

https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Attractions-g775899-Activities-Kongens_Lyngby_Lyngby_Taarbak_Municipality_Copenhagen_Region_Zealand.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renewable_energy_in_Denmark

https://ec.europa.eu/energy/en/topics/renewable-energy/national-action-plans

http://santamarta-florez.blogspot.ca/2013/09/denmarks-largest-offshore-wind-farm-is.html

http://georgesteinmetz.com/collections/rising-seas-collection/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anholt_Offshore_Wind_Farm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siemens_Wind_Power