As you have probably heard me complain about if we have ever talked for more than say 45 minutes, the life of an undergraduate engineering student is crazy. During my three years at Purdue I have met a ton of other engineering students – struggling through building and programing a Lego robot, writing countless lab reports, planning events with PESCers, and trying to stay awake in lecture after a near all nighters (proudly I have not done one yet!). Through all of this it has always seemed like we have something in common and now that I’m really starting to get to know my fellow engineers here in Ireland, I can sense a bit of that thing in them too.
Now of course identifying that thread that ties us all together isn’t easy (plus I’m not great with personality analysis/elegant writing) ….so I’m not going to try. But I do have a few random musings that highlight this concept pretty well.
The Exponent, Purdue’s student run newspaper, publishes a few cartoon strips every week. During the three years I’ve read the Exponent between classes, while drinking my morning coffee, and instead of listening to my physics and stats professors (sorry it was just too boring) my favorite comic was always “Enginerds” and I definitely think that this cartoon series (usually) captured engineers to a tee. Prime examples:
Trust me they are much more amusing when you are an engineer, are on 4 hours of sleep, and constantly feel that there is never enough time in the day. Plus #Enginerds makes a great hash tag on Twitter — James and I use it frequently!
The first few weeks here were chill (in terms of academics), almost too chill for me to be honest (on the bright side it gave me time to get the rest of my life in order…). I had no homework in classes, my FEM lab didn’t start until the second week of school (and even so the first assignment was elementary), and I found out there are no required textbooks and no tests until Finals. Senior design at Purdue was still picking up and we were still figuring out the logistics of that situation.
But now, four weeks into our semester, well definitely not chill, things are picking up. We have FEM labs due every week and the instructor doesn’t hold our hands much anymore, we have tutorials (recitations in the US) where we need to solve example problems with small groups for a grade during class periods, and senior design is in full swing. Work is similar to that at Purdue – back to not having enough hours in the day! But I’m enjoying myself, especially since all this work means that I have even more of an opportunity to meet my new classmates.
Read the piece The Irish Times did on NUI Galway’s Engineering program! Dr. Laoise McNamara is our Irish Senior Design advisor and is featured on page 3.
Odd as it might be, the more time I spend doing homework in the computer labs on campus or in the library (and less time in the gym or socializing at pubs), the more I feel like I’m integrating into my new environment. After meeting a few engineers through a number of humorous situations and then at a “class” party (all the engineers were meeting up at the College Bar….yes there is a university-run bar on campus), I finally made my first Irish Facebook friends! I now have a good number of engineering students that I recognize both inside and outside the engineering building (a rare occurrence in Ireland as well!), fellow 4th year engineers to ask for help when I get stuck on FEM labs or can’t remember which Greek symbol stands for stress and which one stands for strain, and Irish natives that can educate me on my lack of Irish cultural knowledge (such as they speak Irish not Celtic , you don’t pronounce half of the letters in traditional Irish names – so don’t even try, and Wellington’s are extremely unfashionable even in the pouring down rain).
A humorous – totally Ellen – story from my first week of classes…. All students in the same major at NUI Galway take the same courses. They are handed a timetable (schedule) on the first day of class and are required to go to all the classes on that paper, with very limited flexibility (some majors allow a language option). Since all students are in the same classes for their entire college career, the course email lists are by graduating class, not by the actual course roster (those who registered online for that course). This means that the international students in a class are never on the email list…well needless to say this can lead to some problems. In my first two weeks of class, one professor cancelled his class 4 times and being that I wasn’t on the email list, I showed up to all those classes, sat there for 20 minutes and then was on my merry way.
Don’t worry that wasn’t the funny part. In FEM (an advanced math class teaching the theory behind a powerful computer program) our lab instructor on the first day forgot to print out the assignment, so he said he would email it out to everyone. Being on the ball, I knew we (the International students – 4 Purdue BMEs and a graduate student from Italy) wouldn’t be on that list. So we wrote our email addresses down on a piece of paper and I volunteered to go give it to our instructor. Well somehow in the hustle and bustle of getting settled at the beginning of class, my backpack was stuck to my rolling computer chair. When I got up to walk to the front of the lab, I tripped over my backpack (of course making more than a bit of noise) and then started laughing as I caught my balance again. Typical Ellen…
As if that didn’t draw enough attention from the entire room, I had to explain multiple times why we weren’t on the emailing list, the instructor didn’t seem to understand why we were even in the class if we weren’t NUI-Galway engineers. However, luckily, after returning to my seat (I wasn’t phased but my Purdue pals were still laughing…) one of the Irish engineers smiled at me and kindly offered to just email me the assignment because he had already had it up in his email – see it all worked out, plus a new friend! (We finally got added to that email list! just FYI).
Well I thought that was behind me, but it turns out that it was quite memorable. A couple days later, I went to “Societies Day” in an effort to get involved! There was a huge crowd so I was patiently waiting and a guy I didn’t recognize in an “Engineering Society” hoodie came up to me and asked if I wanted to join. I laughed and asked if he really thought I looked like an engineer. He paused and said “O I know you are — you are in my FEM class, you are one of the international students, right?” Well turns out he remembered me from my graceful walk to the front of lab, but he made sure to get our email addresses so he could invite us to the Engineering Class Parties they plan throughout the semester!
Sorry for the less-than-artistic picture, this was in the College Bar at the Engineer Class Party, it was also Open Mic Night (AKA—get up and play the guitar and attempt to sing). They really like their American country music – someone played “Wagonwheel” which really brought me back to my summer in Bloomington, who would have thought!
It is good to know that no matter where I am in the world – China, Ireland, or Indiana – I can connect with fellow engineering students not only as peers trying to survive one challenging class after another while keeping our heads up and eyes on the weekend, but also as passionate students that enjoy learning and a good laugh!
Sorry for the sappy post…I’ll wrap up by letting you know I was pretty much locked in the Engineering building on Saturday night (night=8pm) and spent 10 minutes looking for a non-automatic door that would open to the outside world. After the initial panic, and confusion on why an academic building (the Engineering building no less) would be closed so early on a weekend, it was actually quite funny. But, as Dr. Atkinson, my China Maymester instructor, always said – even when things seem the same, focus on the deltas, that is where you’ll learn what a culture values.
….. But that is a whole other post for a much later date!