Student Reflections

Why I’m Happy That I Took a Difficult Class While Abroad

Michelle Freeman
June 24, 2022

When I was looking for Dialogues to apply to last November, I remember being very interested in going to Norway. But, I was hesitant because one of the classes on the trip was a mechanical engineering class about finite element analysis. I knew nothing about finite element analysis and was concerned about the dynamic of taking a challenging course during a Dialogue. I’m also a bioengineering major, and I was scared that I wouldn’t be prepared for a mechanical engineering class with a significant technical focus. But, I knew the professor and wanted to learn about clean energy in Norway so, I decided to apply to the Dialogue anyway. And now that the class is ending, I’m absolutely thrilled that I decided to take ME 4508 while in Norway.

One of the best things about taking a difficult class during a Dialogue is the ease of collaboration. Throughout the trip, we are all living at the same hotels. Most of us would go down to the hotel lobbies to work on assignments together, which was a valuable time for me. We would each work on the assignments individually, but it was incredibly easy to ask for help when we got stuck. For example, a couple of days ago, two of my friends & I sat in a row at a table and worked through a SolidWorks (3D modeling software) assignment together. We built the object step by step together and helped each other when we were stuck. I used that same software in Boston, but I had a much more enriching learning experience while using it on this trip. It was so much less frustrating to experience errors and be lost in how to continue when I had two people sitting with me, also working on the same assignment.

Although I could have experienced this while taking this class in Boston, it was much easier for me to work with my classmates on this trip. Since we’re taking the same two classes together and participating in the same activities, we’re all on similar schedules. So, it’s very easy to coordinate doing work together. In Boston, it’s much more difficult for me to work with my classmates when we all live in different places around campus and have vastly different schedules. On the other hand, while I’m in Norway, we all finish lectures and group activities at the same time, so we’re almost always all free at the same time throughout the day.

Working on a MATLAB assignment with my friend in one of our hotel lobbies

Because of that, I’ve experienced a large amount of collaboration and learning from each other on this trip. For example, most of the people on this Dialogue are mechanical engineering majors, and their backgrounds were helpful for me in understanding the theory behind what we were learning. My bioengineering curriculum is very MATLAB (a type of coding software) heavy, so I was able to help others with coding issues. Also, we have one person on this trip who’s a computer science major who was very helpful with coding. If I had taken this class in Boston, I probably would not have felt as comfortable reaching out for help from my classmates, particularly if I didn’t know them since our majors were different. But, since we’re all on a Dialogue together, we’ve all gotten to know each other a lot. We spend a lot of time together, and much of that is when we’re working on homework together. I’m very grateful for the help I’ve received from my classmates, and I’m happy that I’ve been able to assist my classmates as well.

Another reason why I’m happy that I took such a difficult, technical class during this Dialogue is that I’m getting to see so many real-world applications of the concepts I’m learning. A lot of what we learned in this class were theoretical concepts or how to apply finite element analysis to rectangles or random SolidWorks shapes. But, throughout our time in Norway, we’ve had the opportunity to talk to people who actually use finite element analysis in their everyday lives. The people we spoke to applied our class’s concepts to everything from wind turbine blades to heart valve tissue engineering. I enjoyed seeing how passionate the people we talked to were, which helped me maintain enthusiasm about the course even when it got difficult. Taking this course was definitely more rewarding than taking it in a regular classroom setting due to the constant integration of real-world applications of our classroom material. So, I was more motivated and interested in the class during lectures and while completing assignments because I could see the point in what we were learning.

Finite element analysis is used to design wind turbines such as the ones we visited at Midtfjellet Vindpark

I’m also grateful for the level of support that I’ve had from my professor during this Dialogue. I think this support is enhanced because I’m taking this class in Norway. Our professor is also living in the same hotel as us throughout the trip, so I can easily meet up briefly with him to work through a specific bug in my code. This has helped me continue making progress on my assignments instead of being stuck on them because a professor isn’t responding to emails or doesn’t have office hours at a time that works for me. Also, since we’re taking this class in such a unique environment, my professor is very understanding about deadlines and the workload. For example, if one day’s activities took longer than expected, my professor sometimes pushed assignment deadlines by a day or two. This is also less likely to occur during a regular semester when each person in the class is taking different courses and has varying levels of business. So, I appreciated being able to communicate with the professor as a group about workloads and deadlines.

Before I left for this Dialogue, I wasn’t super excited about taking a class about finite element analysis and wasn’t sure how it would relate to my major & career. Now, looking back at it, this has been one of the most rewarding and interesting classes I’ve taken at Northeastern.