Ola: Tecnun University San Sebastian

So a bit about myself; My name is Carolyn I am of Burmese background and migrated to Australia when I was 2 years old. So basically raised in Australia and English was my first language. I am bilingual and speak Burmese however not fluently as I wish I could. I am an engineering student in my final year, hoping to pursue a career in construction engineering and management. I have a loving family and I am the eldest of 3 children. Family is a big aspect of my life and without their continual love and support I would not have be here today. After doing my HSC, exam stress caused me to have epileptic seizures and damage to my frontal lobe impaired my speech and thinking. However I recovered and started my engineering degree in 2011.

Six years later (slowly making my way) I am at the end of my degree. My main drive in the past six years was to prove to myself that I could do it. Now that I’m close to finishing my degree I wondered what my purpose after the degree was. I had been to graduate interviews where I was stumped by the question “What is your passion?” On the surface it is easy to say money is my motivation however I don’t think that has ever been the truth. It may sound naïve but I’ve always wanted to make a difference and help others. I started the BUiLD program hoping I gain leadership skills and confidence in myself as a leader in the field of engineering. By going to Spain I hoped to put myself out of my comfort zone and maybe regain my purpose and passion for engineering.

On the first days of travelling by myself the language barrier and having to communicate to others who did not speak the same language was the most challenging. I wished I was multilingual and knew basic phrases of Chinese and Spanish. Another challenging aspect was being by myself. I was lonely and homesick and wished I had someone I knew with me. Also having no choice but to stay in a hostel with bed bugs was probably the most depressing part of the first few days. However Spain was beautiful. History and architecture have always interested me and Spain was full of both. The gothic architecture and the way the city was planned out were amazing. I loved walking down the streets imagining the stories and the lives that were lived in those streets. I felt overwhelmed with how creative human beings were and the man made beauty we are capable of. This brought me to my religious roots and reminded me of how we were created to be creative.

At the University Program in San Sebastian I met students from UTS and students from Universities in the USA. Our timetable was filled with Tapas tours, hikes up mountains and learning about the Basque culture. Our course was on Engineering Across Cultures and the lecturer was Greg from the University of Michigan. I learnt the importance of understanding a culture before implementing designs for the country or area. For example, I have always looked back at Burma and wondered why the transport system was so terrible and why they couldn’t just simply just implement systems used in Singapore or even in Australia. I realised each culture and country have different ways of life, beliefs and history and what may work for one country may not work for another. I felt a certain duty as an engineer to realise this and integrate this thinking towards the way I design and work.

For our main assignment we were to come up with a cultural case study for San Sebastian and an engineering idea that might benefit the San Sebastian community. Our group came up with an App that would connect tourists with local tour guides. We came up with this idea due to our interviews with locals that were concerned that the younger generations might miss out on international globalisation due to the fact that they don’t speak fluent English. Also due to the violent history due to racism we saw that it was important for the San Sebastian community to connect with others and have peaceful relations with international communities. I believe our idea was what the culture needed. At first we came up with beach lockers and night transports however we realised these were more of a tourists problems rather than a locals problems therefore we listened to our interviewees and what was important to them.

After the two weeks in Spain I have more of an appreciation for engineering and the opportunities that I have. I have always wanted to make a difference or build something that has value. During the daily grind of university and trying to get that competitive graduate position I may have forgotten why I have chosen this career. I realised I want to be a part of creating buildings that have significance to others where it may be a house for a family or offices where people start their businesses. I would like to thank BUiLD UTS for this opportunity. It will be one of the most memorable experiences in my life.

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