“For me, Antanas Mockus was the only association that I had with Lithuanians. And when I arrived here, it was very nice to find out that he’s just a sample of what Lithuania is – I met a lot of very nice, smart people here”, says Alexandra Alonso, studying Sustainable Management and Production at Kaunas University of Technology Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Design.
The first-year master’s student arrived at Kaunas in July 2019. A mechanical engineer by her first degree, Alexandra was working and living in Bogota aiming to gain job experience and to earn money for her master’s studies in Europe.
How did she choose Lithuania? “It’s a long story”, smiles Alexandra.
“My best friend, an Italian film director with her partner came to Colombia to do the documentary on Antanas Mockus. With them came a Lithuanian guy who had studied mechatronics at KTU. We talked about my dream to study in Europe, and he said: hey, why don’t you check out Kaunas, we have a very good technical university”, recalls Alonso.
After contacting KTU, researching studies in Kaunas and choosing a study programme, she quit her job and left for Lithuania.
“It was very hard for me to quit. I loved my job, I was learning a lot, had great colleagues, and a very good position. I came to Kaunas with a lot of expectations”, says the engineering student.
She admits having very little knowledge about Lithuania before coming, however she knew that it was a part of the Soviet Union, which got independent relatively recently.
“Back home, when I said that I was going to Lithuania, a lot of people where asking: but where is it? And then: wait, isn’t Antanas from Lithuania? Antanas Mockus is very respected because of his ideas, he is a different kind of politician. For me, it was very nice to come here and to find out that he is just a sample of what Lithuania is. A lot of people here are very nice and very smart. So, yes, I am very happy”, says Alexandra.
I love my career. As a mechanical engineer, you have such a broad background – we learn physics, thermodynamics, heat transfer, mathematics and materials sciences. So there’s such a variety of jobs that you can do – you can work with customers, you can be a field engineer, a customer service engineer and so on.
She thinks that Lithuanians and Colombians are similar in their curiosity – we like to talk to people, who are not from here, to find out about their countries: “When I say that I am from South America people are amazed – they say: you are so far away from home!”.
“It doesn’t matter what kind of engineer you are, you can always aim to be sustainable”, says Alexandra when explaining the main focus of her studies at KTU.
She is studying in a small group of around 15 people, among them – Lithuanians and international students.
“In the class, we have three Indian students, and some of the Lithuanian students are not living in Kaunas – they are allowed to join the class online. Last semester we had a lot of international students – from France, Germany, Czech, so I had a chance to meet interesting people from different countries”, says Alonso.
All of her classmates are engineers, but they have different backgrounds.
“Our teachers are very open regarding our tasks and assignments because they know that we don’t have the same background. We focus on sustainability, but for every task that I had in last and this semester, I had been able to choose my topics for the projects according to my experience”, says Alexandra.
Back home, she has been working as an engineer in two different companies, the last one – a construction sector company in Bogota, which was focusing on sustainable design of heating, ventilation and air conditioning.
When asked, if she considers her profession “girly” enough, Alexandra smiles: “But I have always been a boyish girl! My two brothers are six and four years older than me, and they never treated me like a princess. If they needed a goalkeeper in football, I was the goalkeeper. If they decided to attack me while playing I needed to defend myself”.
The young engineer considers her profession full of possibilities for both genders.
“I love my career. As a mechanical engineer, you have such a broad background – we learn physics, thermodynamics, heat transfer, mathematics and materials sciences. So there’s such a variety of jobs that you can do – you can work with customers, you can be a field engineer, a customer service engineer and so on. Being an engineer doesn’t mean wearing oily overalls and spending your days fixing cars”, says Alonso.
She is convinced that there are no careers for men or women only – all fields are full of everyone; one must choose what they feel passionate about.
What does she miss most being far from home? Her cat and food. While the cat, who now lives with her mother, she can still see online, with food there is a whole different story.
“In the morning I used to eat papaya, or a pineapple, or avocado with rice. Here, I don’t seem to find enough variety, and the fruits don’t taste the same. I even resigned to going back to eating chicken”, says Alexandra.
However, she understands that different food is the result of Lithuania having different climate and seasonality.
I learned to enjoy the space and the air quality, as Bogota is super polluted. I love nature, I love taking walks and I instantly felt when I arrived in Lithuania – the air quality here was a huge change.
“In my home city, it is eternal summer, 35 degrees in the shadow as we are on the equator. It’s very hot and very humid. In Bogota, there is eternal spring, somewhere around 6–15 degrees because it’s very high in the mountains. And here you really have seasons. When I arrived in summer, there were a lot of vegetables, and then they gradually disappeared. I guess you need to train your mind to understand that it’s not your country and to eat what is available”, smiles a Colombian girl living in Kaunas.
On the other hand, the quality of the air and safety is something that Alexandra appreciated instantly. For the last 5 years, she lived in Bogota, a city of 8 million inhabitants. The travel from one end of the city to another can easily take a couple of hours, public transport is not very efficient and due to social issues, the streets are not always safe to walk.
“When I arrived at Kaunas my first thought was – where are the people?! But I learned to enjoy the space and the air quality, as Bogota is super polluted. I love nature, I love taking walks and I instantly felt when I arrived in Lithuania – the air quality here was a huge change”, says Alonso.
Next spring Alexandra is planning to travel on Erasmus+ exchange to another university to work on her thesis.
“It was one of the things that surprised me a lot when I came here – students going to other countries, and coming to study to KTU. The opportunities for the students to travel is something I really like about the university”, says the young engineer.
After graduation, she would like to get an internship – either somewhere in Europe, or in Lithuania. Does she speak Lithuanian?
“I volunteer in Maisto Bankas, so the ladies I work with encourage me to speak more. I am able to say: Atsiprašau, aš nekalbu lietuviškai, aš kalbu ispaniškai, angliškai, truputį vokiškai, and then people say: ah, you speak Lithuanian and continue to talk to me in Lithuanian. Then I have to say: ne, aš nesuprantu, atsiprašau”, says Alexandra with a smile.
She would not mind eventually going back to Colombia if she found the job that would allow her to apply her newly acquired knowledge and skills. However, today it is still hard to predict the future.
“Being a Colombian is a bitter-sweet feeling – you love your country, your family, and you want to go back, but at the moment we have so many social and economic issues, people are constantly afraid that they’ll get robbed or even raped. I enjoy the fact that Lithuania is a very safe country”, says Alexandra.
However, she doesn’t feel lonely here – having a great roommate from Kazakhstan and a small community of Columbians in Lithuania connected through a Facebook group, a young engineering student is enjoying Lithuanian spring and looking forward to the future.