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Derek Clifford Louis grew up in Canada, in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan to be exact. But before coming to live and study in Sweden, he and his family have lived all over the place. Traveling through Canada and Europe. And right before moving to the Trollhättan-region, they lived in Germany.

Now Derek and his family live outside Trollhättan, where Derek is currently studying the bachelor’s programme in International Mechanical Engineering at University West.

Derek and his family taking a selfie
Derek and his family enjoying some time outdoors.

Choosing to be close to nature

When looking for universities Derek turned to Sweden.

"I visited Sweden over the summer", Derek explains. "I did a bike tour and found that I really enjoyed the landscape and that that the people here were very open. So, when the bachelor’s programme started, that seemed like a great opportunity."

To Derek and his family being close to nature is very important.

There are a lot of great bigger universities in Sweden, but to live close by them you may have to live in a bigger city. Which means fewer opportunities for hiking and being outdoors. So, for Derek and his family University West and Trollhättan - a smaller city with lots of surrounding nature, was a great choice.

"My wife and I are very outdoor-minded and being close to the water and the forest was very important to us", he explains. "And not only for us, but also for our kids, so that they would be able to go out hiking each day and get fresh air."

Though being familiar with the nature in Sweden in general, Derek did not know much about the Trollhättan-area in particular. So before starting school he took a road trip up from Germany to check it out.

"When I saw the area, I felt this was a win-win package", says Derek. "The programme is relatively new, the class sizes are small, and there is the opportunity to have nature around."

Seeing how the theoretical connects to the practical

Derek finds the content of the programme exciting. Just having studied for one semester he says that the most exciting part of the studies, so far, has been learning mechanics.

"It’s really interesting and I can clearly see the applications", he explains. "I can now see things going from mathematical equations on the page to actual applications. That gets me excited - seeing how the theoretical is applied directly to the real world."

Earlier Derek would work “directly in the real world” not being able to do the calculations necessary. For example, when making surf boards he would create 6 or 7 prototypes. Now, however, Derek is getting to the point where he can calculate how much strength a product needs to have, instead of testing his way forward.

"Even though I am just in the beginning stages of my studies, I feel like I can already go back to what I was doing and make it infinitely easier. Instead of making 6 or 7 prototypes, I can now make only a couple."

Though, the process of attaining all the knowledge presented during his studies can be difficult at times.

"I wish I could just open up my head and pour the knowledge in, because that’s what I really want", says Derek. "But when you work really hard on something, and that light bulb finally lights up and you figure it out – that’s really cool."

When the studies are extra tough, he will make use of being close to nature and take a couple of minutes outdoors.

"Usually, almost every time, when you get back to the studies you get that 'aha-moment'. And it is those moments of the studies I really enjoy", says Derek.

Small scale and inclusive

One of his reasons for choosing the bachelor’s programme in International Mechanical Engineering was the small class sizes. Back in Canada he was used to classes much bigger.

"Friends of mine are studying engineering back in Canada and they have class sizes of up to 300 students in one lecture hall", Derek explains. "So, to be able to meet the instructor and talk to them has great value."

Since the small class sizes allows the students to have a direct interactions with the teachers, they can much better understand their personality and teaching style.

Even though the classes are small, they include people from all over the world. Derek explains it as a melting pot of cultures coming together.

"For example, right now we are learning in a study group, and in this group, there are people from literally all over the globe", he says. "We just kind of sit down together and have a good time, work on our group projects, and then, during breaks we will laugh about how we all do things so differently and talk about different food customs, and so on. I find that fun and special."

The future

On the top of Dereks list of future plans is, of course, finishing the programme. But after that, he dreams of working with electrical transportation, such as bikes and velomobiles, something that he has had an interest in for a long time.

"I have been building stuff like that in my private time", Derek explains. "So, it would be nice to produce something that would be certifiable. Something I could properly take on the streets and enjoy."

A flexible employer that can say “Hey, come up with a cool project and if it is feasible let us work through it” would be perfect for Derek. He really enjoys the process of going from napkin engineering to having a working prototype.

"That’s the area I would like to niche myself in and we’ll see what comes in the future", Derek says.