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Transforming Dreams into Reality: A Journey of Professional and Personal Growth

26 May 2023
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Utcrist Onta from Nepal, a Construction Engineering and Infrastructure Management (CEIM) Program student from AIT School of Engineering and Technology (SET), talks about his adventurous experience in a student exchange program at Jonkoping University (JU) in Sweden. Here is his story:

As a young architecture student, I had always dreamed of visiting Europe to experience its rich history and beautiful architecture, including ancient castles, intricate cathedrals, and modern marvels of design. After completing my Bachelor’s degree, I wanted to explore the world and learn more about the practical side of architecture, particularly Building Information Modeling (BIM) and its potential to revolutionize the construction industry.

When the pandemic hit, like so many others, I found myself stuck at home, unable to travel or pursue my dreams. However, I refused to let it hold me back and instead used the time to research and plan my next steps. I discovered the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) in Thailand, where I got accepted into the master’s program in Construction Engineering and Infrastructure Management (CEIM). Despite being an introvert, I took the leap to grow professionally and personally, and my experience at AIT motivated me to pursue an exchange program.

I applied for the student exchange program at Jonkoping University (JU) in Sweden to explore Europe and learn more about Building Information Modeling (BIM). I was grateful to be awarded the Dr. Rafiul and Mrs. Frances Kasala Ahad Exchange Scholarship, which partially covered the cost of my exchange program.

My arrival at JU was incredibly welcoming and efficient. The student center had everything ready for me, and the process was organized and systematic, which made it easy for me to settle in quickly and comfortably. I stayed in a modern and well-maintained dormitory dedicated exclusively to student accommodation, with a central area for students equipped with various amenities such as a cafe, gym, billiards, TV lounge, Xbox, and board games.

JU has modern and well-equipped facilities, including computer labs, lecture halls, research facilities, and a library with access to academic resources. The university also has various on-campus dining options. In addition, I appreciated the use of mobile apps to streamline academic tasks such as viewing schedules, booking study rooms, and checking grades, which added flexibility to my academic routine.

During my time at JU, I took courses related to BIM that were challenging but allowed me to deepen my understanding of the subject. The professors were accessible and open to feedback, which created a collaborative and inclusive learning environment. In addition, the emphasis on practical applications of theory and the use of real-world projects in the coursework helped me develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. I also attended some fascinating guest lectures by industry experts that gave me a broader perspective on the subject matter.

I participated in several group projects that allowed me to work collaboratively with classmates from different backgrounds and cultures. This valuable experience helped me develop my communication and teamwork skills while learning about different perspectives on architecture and BIM. Overall, my journey to Europe and beyond was a dream come true that allowed me to gain international exposure, enhance my professional skills, and develop personally. It was delightful to discover that the university offered several opportunities for professional development outside of the classroom. Among these opportunities, the weekly seminars were the highlight for me. They allowed me to stay current with the latest industry trends, expand my network, and enjoy gifts and lunches. These events were something I eagerly anticipated each week.

Apart from my studies, I explored the charming city of Jonkoping and its surroundings with my friends. The city’s rich culture and beautiful architecture blended perfectly with its natural surroundings. Although the locals were reserved, they were always willing to lend a helping hand. I explored the city, tried traditional Swedish cuisine, and indulged in fika, a popular Swedish coffee break tradition. Some of my most cherished memories are going on different hiking trips with my friends, collecting wild edible mushrooms and berries, and enjoying the breathtaking landscapes that range from the sea to forest to hills. These experiences brought me closer to my new friends.

One of the most memorable parts of my exchange was the weekly class dinners. Different students would cook a dish from their home country and invite classmates to share a meal. I tasted delicious foods from Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, including countries such as Slovenia, Germany, Serbia, Ethiopia, India, and the Philippines. With the help of some friends, I also had the opportunity to prepare popular Nepalese food, Mo:Mo. These dinners were a great way to experience new and delicious foods from different cultures and bond with my classmates. Eating out was expensive, and I had never cooked before, so these dinners were a great break from my usual bread, pasta, and rice diet. Moreover, they provided an excellent opportunity to bond with my classmates, as we enjoyed the meals together and played different board games. 

On September 23rd 2022, I got to visit the construction site of Science Park in Jonkoping. It was fascinating to see the new and innovative techniques being implemented on the site and how they contributed to the construction industry. In addition, the visit helped me gain a practical understanding of BIM’s potential and how it could be used to improve the efficiency of the construction process.

During my module break, I traveled to Prague, Vienna, and Budapest. I reconnected with my cousin Suraj Shrestha and his family in Prague, whom I hadn’t seen in years. Together, we explored the beautiful cities and tried local food. Additionally, I met up with my friend Dora Schlogl in Budapest, who had previously been an exchange student at AIT.

As classes resumed, I found myself loving Python programming language. The course was challenging, but I enjoyed learning and was eager to improve my skills. In addition, as the weather started to get colder, I was excited to experience the winter season in Sweden. I even shared the first proper snowfall of the season and made a snowman. It was such a contrast to the hot weather I experienced during the previous semester at AIT. 

Attending the Dalux Summit in Copenhagen from November 7 to 9 was undoubtedly one of the highlights of my exchange program. The event was a fantastic opportunity to learn seminars and presentations by renowned experts in the field, which helped me deepen my knowledge of BIM and related fields. It was also a great networking opportunity to meet other attendees and exchange ideas with them. In addition to the summit, I explored the beautiful city of Copenhagen, which had so much to offer.

As the end of the semester drew near, the holiday season was just around the corner. We all had fika and took a group picture to capture our last moments together. We also held a farewell gathering where we exchanged gifts and said our goodbyes. Following that, my friend Steve Sabaa and I traveled to Vaxjo to spend Christmas with his family, where we were warmly welcomed and enjoyed the festive traditions and holiday spirit. While there, I even had the exhilarating experience of walking across a frozen lake. After Vaxjo, I visited Stockholm and stayed with Eli Elia’s family. Their hospitality and kindness made my trip memorable, and I had an amazing time exploring the city.

Before leaving Europe, I fulfilled my dream of traveling to some of the most iconic cities in the world. In Rome, I saw the Colosseum and other famous landmarks, and in Vatican City, I admired the beauty of St. Peter’s Basilica. In Paris, I explored the famous Louvre Museum and see some of the world’s most famous artworks up close. In Barcelona, I was impressed by the unique architecture of Antoni Gaudi, and in Athens, I visited the Acropolis and learned about the city’s rich history. As a lifelong Arsenal FC fan, I couldn’t miss the chance to visit London and Emirates Stadium, a dream come true. Overall, it was an incredible way to end my journey and an experience I will always cherish.

Reflecting on my journey, I feel grateful for the experiences that have shaped me. The challenges that came with studying abroad tested my resilience, but I persevered, and it paid off in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Not only did I gain invaluable knowledge and skills, but I also made lifelong friends and memories that I will always cherish. Through this journey, I learned that taking risks can lead to incredible rewards, and I encourage others to take that leap of faith and explore the world around them. I express my heartfelt gratitude to Dr. Rafiul Ahad, Mrs. Frances Kasala Ahad, and everyone who made my exchange program possible, including Dr. Djoen San Santoso from Construction Engineering and Infrastructure Management Program, Ms. Alistina Shrestha, from SET Dean Office;  Ms. Lucena Talaid, the Office of Advancement & Alumni Affairs (OAAA) and fellow student Dipesh Poudel.