A student story from AVP summer course 2019
5 min read
When I signed up for AVP’s “Creating Multidimensional Experiences” summer course, I was simply curious. The course title didn’t sound like something that would benefit an engineer, but then again I’d like to think that I’m not just an engineer. I think we have a duty to make the future better than today, or at least try to. I knew very little about entrepreneurship, so I signed up for the course in hopes of fixing that. There was also an exciting chance to create solutions that would make people feel understood. In a way, my school had exposed me to these notions by incorporating design thinking into my learning, but all they did was open Pandora’s box: Now I wanted to know more.
I arrived in Helsinki a few days before the course started. The experience reminded me of the time my dad tried to teach me how to swim by throwing me straight into the pool. I felt a degree of uncertainty and lack of control – it was not every day that your school sends you halfway across the world all by yourself. When I passed immigration at the airport, I remember staring at my passport with disbelief: everything in the next few weeks was in my own hands, and in the hands of friends that I hadn’t met yet.
Summer school friends.
The first thing that struck me about Helsinki was the silence. The Finnish air had this stillness that broke with the slightest sound, only to return just as easily moments later. It was refreshing for someone coming from crowded Singapore, where every waking moment was set in a background of urban noise. Being able to tell the sound of a truck from a car, a seagull from a pigeon, a child from another child beside him – it all stirred something in me that was truly indescribable.
Sunset in Pitäjänmäki, Helsinki. I lived in a hostel near this factory during the course.
Meeting my course mates for the first time was no average event either. I heard the course was marketed to masters and seniors and, just having finished my first year, I felt slightly intimidated. To prepare for the course, I spent a good part of my summer trying to pick up skills that I thought would make me useful – things like app development and design. I wanted to be as competent as my fellow students, whatever it took. When I descended the stairs of the Harald Herlin Learning Centre and said hello to my new friends for the first time, something dawned on me – I’d wasted a good part of my summer.
“We had so many different majors and specializations between us that the notion of competency became a personal ideal.”
The 32 of us, from 14 different countries, had so many different majors and specializations between us that the notion of competency became a personal ideal. Juhyoung is a business student, Lily is a biomedical engineering senior and Roobendhiran is a psychologist. It didn’t matter how fast I could create an app or if I could even code at all. What was important was that I understood that the world was too big for any one person to change alone. By extension, any problem worth solving was worth solving as a team – and I had the most diverse one right here.
A picture of my course mates brainstorming. I should sell this photo to Shutterstock.
The course contained a lot of group working sessions and it was in these sessions you could truly see multidisciplinarity do its magic. Design thinking was no stranger to me – my school is after all a design school – but doing it again in Aalto was a totally different experience. A plethora of new considerations were brought to the table this time: business models, user experience, ethics, marketing and competition, cultural and social significance. It was intense. Had all my course mates been engineers, I don’t think I would have learned as much as I did.
User research during Flow Festival. We came for the interview and stayed for Tame Impala… or was it the other way around.
Tame Impala framed by 2 heads.
There were plenty of on-site visits during the course. We went to a club to hear about the business decisions made behind the scenes, a music festival to help with user experience research, a business center to get a feel of working in a startup and several innovative companies to see what tasks they have undertaken. What was interesting was that none of these visits were inherently linked to most of our projects – instead, they expanded my world view.
It’s not a hospital. It’s Maria01, a startup campus in Helsinki.
Of course, it wasn’t all just work. We were given ample time to get to know our course mates as people, not only as their backgrounds and academic pursuits. Every Friday we had “Design your Life” workshops where we took strolls through the Finnish wilderness with our peers and instructors. We’d discuss our successes and failures as teams and as individuals, our proud moments and disappointments. Some of us just took the moment to savor the simple pleasure of walking in the woods. Throughout the course, there were so many activities like this: saunas, afterparties, and spaghetti lunches. It made the course seem more human than most courses I’ve attended. It emphasized that leisure is also an important part of a good life.
Us decimating the blueberry population in Nuuksio National Park on a Friday.
School prepares us to be competent individuals in our fields. We’re told that the good life starts when we are sufficiently competent. Last summer, I found out this isn’t quite the whole truth. This course made me see that besides being good at what we do, it’s also important to understand what we want from ourselves and be perceptive of the subtle needs of others. Learning entrepreneurship taught me that problems are often, if not always, context-specific. Being a good entrepreneur requires learning what a problem means to different people. Of course, it would be impossible to find something that would please everyone. An entrepreneur must find the best fit between their own goals and those of the potential customers. Understanding this was profoundly rewarding, and I wish I’d understood it sooner.
I had a great time during this course, and I will miss all the friends I made. I wish we’d had more time together, but I’m sure we’ll see each other again someday.
The last photo I took of my class before I left my course mates.
Written by Adam Lim, CME student 2019 from Singapore University of Technology and Design.
Creating Multidimensional Experiences is an 8 ECTS summer course. During three weeks of magical Finnish summer, participants from around the world come together to go from an idea to a validated sustainable business concept, learn by doing, and get to know and understand the globally renowned startup culture in Helsinki. The course will be organized again in summer 2020, 3 August – 21 August.
The application period is open now! Read more and apply here.