They want to discover other cultures, experience personal and academic challenges, and meet new people. That’s what makes hundreds of Técnico students decide to pack up and leave for another city, another country, or another continent every semester. By applying for programmes such as Erasmus+, TIME or KIC-Innoenergy, or by taking advantage of agreements with other universities, future engineers occupy places in schools all over the world.
“My first impression was of strangeness, and it is this strangeness of a completely different world that is so exciting.” These words are from 24-year-old Joana Neto who decided to head to Shanghai for six months of study. When she searched for information about exchange programs available for students of Mechanical Engineering, she only knew that she didn’t want to stay in Europe. Then she realized that she had Hong Kong, Shanghai, Harbin and other “exotic destinations” as options. “I didn’t think twice and applied immediately.”
Eventually she made the trip to China, where she faced this astounding strangeness. There, on the other side of the world, “differences prevail over similarities” compared to the life that she knew in her home country. The air quality, the cost of living, the dimensions – “the campus where I am studying is so big that any movement without a bike is extremely time-consuming” – or the food are totally different from anything Joana experienced throughout her life. The biggest difference, however, was the possibility “of being in contact with people from all over the world”, that she would hardly find in Lisbon.
Frederico Nunes, 22, student of Civil Engineering, decided to take the same steps as Joana: “I tried to contact Chinese universities, but the truth is that the responses weren’t arriving…”. Not doing an exchange programme, he says, “was not an option” and he also wanted to escape from Europe. He decided to change course and turned to the Federal University of Santa Catarina in Brazil, where he will stay until December. “The university met my requirements: it was a non-traditional country with a high-quality education and fascinating natural beauty, and was also safe and had friendly people,” he explains. The fact that his own language was spoken in the country could be a plus but, Frederico says, “it is not as easy as it may seem… we are not understood if we speak the traditional Portuguese of Portugal”.
Elsewhere, much closer to home, Portuguese also doesn’t have much use. Guilherme Freches, future biomedical engineer, considered his options and wanted to run away from a country of “Latin languages” that were not enough of a challenge. With the help of the TIME program, he made his way to Russia, where he will remain for two years to get a Master’s Double Degree. “I think six months or one year are not enough time to truly embrace a new country, a new language and a new culture”, says the 22-year-old student. Even before moving to Moscow State Technical University, he began taking Russian classes – he had obtained a scholarship provided by the Russian state to study for a month at the Institute of Languages in the city – but he assures us that what he learned was “clearly insufficient to keep up with the classes”. Still, he expects the situation to improve: “One of my goals is to be able to read ‘War and Peace’ in its original language”, he says.
There are also students who choose more traditional destinations – and with different goals. Pedro Sousa, Francisco Capucha and João Almeida are examples of such a choice: the first one is studying in Barcelona, Spain and the other two in the city of Delft in the Netherlands; all three talk about the exchange programs as a “life experience” which they didn’t want to miss.
For Francisco Capucha, the decision to move to the Netherlands was easy: “When I was on vacation, I spent a week in Amsterdam and it was love at first sight,” he says, referring also to the ease of speaking English and the lower cost of living compared to, for example, the Nordic countries. João Almeida consulted teachers before making a decision. “In the end, the international prestige of the Delft University of Technology, the moderate climate and the city’s culture were the key points.” Upon arriving, he was impressed by the visible difference between the budget available at Delft University of Technology’s and Técnico: “It is noticeable in the simplest things such as green spaces or flyers that are distributed, but also in the impressive infrastructures”. Then he noticed other significant differences. “The importance given to extracurricular activities – it is possible to do a Master’s degree minor with one of the dream teams (such as Formula Student) – allows students to acquire other skills that will be very useful in the future”.
Pedro Sousa, for his part, notes with great satisfaction the professional opportunities that the stay at the Technical University of Catalonia may open up to him in the future. “I wanted to change my environment and experience, for the first time, living abroad”, he explains, during his last days in Barcelona, where he spent one year finishing his Master’s degree and writing his thesis. “I chose this school because of its reputation in the field in which I intend to pursue a professional career [Air Traffic Management]; it would be a supplement to the technical training I have received in Técnico.” In recent months, as Pedro was taking classes, staying in touch with the world of research, and enjoying the opportunity of meeting people from all over the world, he was treated with considerable helpfulness and hospitality. Before returning to Lisbon to defend his final Master’s dissertation, he is holding fast to his conviction: “In the future, I will stay wherever I can get a job, but wouldn’t like to return to Portugal.”