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2 weeks in Porto at Event on Education

30 Sep 2017 events&conferences

From August 22 to August 31, 2017, an Event on Education (EoE) was organised by the Local BEST Group in Porto, Portugal. I was fortunate enough to be selected as a co-organiser at this event, and it was absolutely the best two weeks of my life.

The Board of European Students of Technology (BEST) is a partner organization of the CFES. Their Local BEST Groups (LBGs) organise dozens of technical courses and events year round all across Europe. Through our partnership, any engineering student studying in Canada has the privilege of applying to attend these courses as either a participant or a co-organizer. These courses are an amazing opportunity to learn about a technical topic, or in my case about European education, and to gain different perspectives of European students from many different countries. In just 2 weeks, courses allow someone to fully experience the host city through the many social events and be shown its local gems.

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In attendance of the event were 22 engineering and science students from 16 different countries, In the 10 days of the event, we got unbelievably close and formed many strong friendships. This is in no small part due to the organizing team, who showed us all the remarkable aspects of Porto through the many different social expenditures.

We walked up the 264 steps of the City Hall tower to experience an incredible view of the entire city . We tasted excellent port on a Port Wine Cellar tour on the other side of the Douro river in Vila Nova de Gaia. We went on an amazing boat tour underneath the Dom Luís I bridge, and down the Douro river. We took part in the “City Rally”, an iconic BEST activity to introduce participants to the host city through different challenges. Through the rally, we crossed the upper level of the Dom Luis I bridge, examined the beautiful azulejo tiles in the Sao Bento train station, visited the Sé do Porto (Porto Cathedral), and saw many statues of magnificent Portuguese heros.

Of course, we also had the International Evening, a staple activity at BEST events. Every participant brought a dish and drink iconic from their country. I got to taste traditional sausages from Serbia and Croatia, jams from Romania, cheeses from France, and tzatziki from Greece. I brought from Canada ketchup chips, Clamato juice to mix into caesars, and maple syrup.

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We even had a surprise getaway weekend in Viana do Castelo, an hour north of Porto, where we spent an amazing two days visiting beaches and swimming in the ocean. There, we had dinner at Quinta de Santoinho, a huge Portuguese farm serving multiple courses of authentic Portuguese dishes and unlimited wine flowing directly from the taps. On Sunday, we went up to the Santuário de Santa Luzia for an epic view of the municipality. In the nights there, we all slept in a huge gymnasium, which was an interesting bonding experience. I would say a BEST event is an incomparable way to travel in Europe.

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However, the course wasn’t all fun and games. It was also a lot of work, but very rewarding work. To first explain a little about what EoE is, Events on Education are annual gatherings organized by the Board of European Students of Technology (BEST) where students, professors, industry and research experts, higher education institutions and company representatives discuss educational matters and try to improve European higher education. This one hosted by BEST Porto was focused on the theme of “Education in the Next Generation”. Some major topics we discussed included new teaching methods, innovative curriculums, and the interpersonal and technical skills needed in order to properly prepare the next generation of engineers for an ever-changing world. These discussions occurred during 12 working sessions, spanning 7 working days.

Every participant was able to voice their opinions through numerous group discussions and presentations. I also contributed to share aspects of my education that were unique to Canadian universities and to the University of Waterloo specifically, such as our co-op program, and university support for entrepreneurship and innovation. To support our discussions and provide context, we also heard from many education and industry professionals to introduce unfamiliar topics such as Non-Formal vs Informal education, the fostering of “soft skills”, and grand challenges of the “Global Engineer”.

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The working sessions cumulated in the last day with a Final Assembly, where the participants in groups summarized the discussions to present action items for universities and the government in order to address the issues relating to Next Generation Educators, Next Generation University Facilities, Next Generation Teaching Methods, and Next Generation Engineers. These presentations, as well as all the other working sessions, were also evaluated by a panel of professionals and the Academic Responsible.

The outcomes of the discussions will be gathered in EoE final reports to provide impartial input to stakeholders in European STEM education and later presented at conferences on education, in the form of scientific papers. It is amazing to know that the perspectives and inputs from this event will truly be taken into account to shape the “Education of the Next Generation” in Europe.

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Overall, attending BEST EoE was an eye-opening experience. I was able to gain so many different perspectives in our discussions, and learn the differences between European and North American education. I also learned so much about the organization and methods of BEST events, that I can see being applied to CFES events. It’s also incredible the amount of wonderful people that I have met in my short two weeks as a “BESTie”. While it is tough to say goodbye to beautiful Porto and my new BEST friends, I still leave with confidence that I will do my absolute best to reunite with them again. Rest assured mighty mighty Europe, I will be back.

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