Swiss and Japanese students imagine the future together

© 2019 EPFL

© 2019 EPFL

During a study trip to Japan, third-year students from EPFL’s Bachelor’s program in microengineering worked with Japanese students at the Tokyo Institute of Technology (TIT) to develop ideas and intelligent design concepts for the future. Then it was the Japanese students’ turn to come to Switzerland for yet more collaborative projects.

For their third-year study trip, close to 50 students from EPFL’s Bachelor’s program in microengineering had a chance to visit Japan, where they met with students from the Tokyo Institute of Technology (TIT) – one of the country’s top-tier universities. The goal: promote collaboration between students from very different countries, societies and educational backgrounds, creating a rich new kind of cultural and scientific dialogue.

The trip took the form of an academic exchange. Much of the cost of the trip was covered by the students, who raised money through sales drives and sponsorships. The students also took an active role in organizing the adventure.

“Even their body language is different.”

First, the EPFL students developed a project at TIT in partnership with the local students. They spent one week working together on intelligent design concepts for the future.

One project, for example, explored the possibility of equipping tables with airbags for protection during earthquakes. “It was really interesting to work with people with very different cultural norms and training from ours. Even their body language is different,” says Ivo Arabadzhiev, a student coordinator. “It wasn’t easy for us to understand each other at first, even though everybody spoke English.”

Around ten Japanese students then traveled to Switzerland, where they teamed up with EPFL students in a project sponsored by Cartier. This time, they were prompted to imagine microengineered luxury products that, using less than two microwatts, trigger emotion. One of their ideas was to create jewelry that lights up when someone draws near.

“The Japanese students got a taste of what our everyday lives are like, and they were surprised at how active our student associations are,” says Arabadzhiev. Group activities included a trip to the Rolex Learning Center – several students recognized the name of the architect – and visits to the Cartier headquarters and EPFL’s clean rooms.

The exchange program was presented at the Swiss embassy in Tokyo and then at the Japanese embassy in Switzerland via the consulate in Geneva.

“The goal of the trip was to promote true cultural exchanges through teamwork activities. The students had to develop a project while working under a number of constraints, such as the language barrier and a limited timeframe,” says Yves Bellouard, professor at EPFL and academic adviser for the third-year students in microengineering.

The response from the students was enthusiastic. “It was a really memorable experience. One EPFL student from our group is actually going to spend six months studying in Japan,” Arabadzhiev adds. “We learned a lot on the human level.”

Author: Laure-Anne Pessina