From Morocco to Finland – An international research exchange

Since August 2019, I have been here at Åbo Akademi University on the Research mobility programme. My name is Maryam El Hajam and I am a researcher from Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdelah University, Morocco. The research project proposed for this visit falls in scope with the activities of Molecular Process and Material Technology. This profile area focuses on chemical engineering and material aspects in the bio-economy, which is connected to the advanced utilization of nature-based compounds in this internationally recognized area of research. Our work combines biomass and inorganic material chemistry, which is in agreement with the goals of this profile area that aim to shift from technologies and products based on fossil sources to novel alternatives built on renewable resources. Therefore, the use of wood residues to produces novel nanocomposites and nanostructured ceramics is not only local but as well, global interest, and it can also be valuable to the finish forest industry. This visit is well fitted with the approach of Molecular Process and Material Technology, which is mainly applied to molecules originating from biomass.

I perfectly know that this opportunity constitutes an advantage on my resume. This visit presents an unprecedented opportunity for any researcher in the world and, more precisely, the Moroccan ones in the field of molecular process and material technology, in search of a unique experience that will strengthen their theoretical achievements and scientific research. This visit allowed me to work and collaborate with a leadership team in the field of wood materials in Finland. Through this visit, I could further my research in this area using different new methods and sophisticated instruments. The impressive reputation of Åbo Akademi University and the quality of supervision of the staff in the Laboratory of Wood and Paper Chemistry allowed me to learn many things such as research methodology, group work, problems resolution, and stress management, which will enable me to integrate the professional life more easily in the future.

International Mobility and Partnership

International partnerships are exceedingly valuable. The key benefit of the two universities partnership related to my visit is collaborative research, which builds capacity in research team members, research staff, and me as a student working on research projects. Through this visit, joint research has allowed maximizing scarce resources more effectively and facilitate greater generalizability of results.

Research mobility presents an integral part of research at ÅA. It is like a windows trough it the university can broaden new relations and collaboration either in hosting or sending researchers. It allows us to foster cross-disciplinary research within Åbo Akademi and to bring together researchers from different countries to learn about the ongoing research activities and to spark new ideas for new international collaborations in the future.

One in five of the world’s scientific papers is co-authored internationally. Because of the expansion of communication methods and the ease of international travel, academics and researchers are finding it easier than ever to collaborate with their foreign counterparts, making the exchange of academic ideas much simpler to organize.

The ability to scrutinize, debate, and share experience are essential for academic and scientific accomplishment. Constructively challenging accepted opinions and ideas is central to their development, and international collaborations through such mobility help to facilitate this.

Åbo Akademi’s institutional strategy is built on internationalization. The main emphasis is on mobility-related actions. For this reason, Åbo Akademi University encourages students and staff to be internationally mobile and appreciates international experience in recruitment.

Living abroad – a complex experience

For me, to live and work in another country was and still is an excellent and exciting adventure. This is my second experience abroad, and I have appreciated it. I have always heard from friends and some of the family members who have lived in other countries that it was hard for them. Whenever we met, they did not end with complaints about the hardness of living there. Fortunately, their claims did not affect my thoughts. On the other side, it made me yearn to live this experience according to my personality and perspectives. Therefore, to make your visit successful, it is your own choice and challenge. It is not so hard, but it needs self-preparation, enthusiasm, and a great curiosity; you should establish your world in another place based on a foreign culture and new people. According to that, you will be able to take advantage and benefit as much as possible of what is available to you, because this opportunity is not given to everyone.  This kind of experience allowed us to be independent, responsible, and especially it can teach us a lot about personal and professional life, how to deal with people in work and outside. In this case, you can know well who you are and what you want. I want to thank “Åbo Akademi University Research Mobility” for the chance that it gave me, because of this program.

This visit makes me much more self-reflective. It strengthens my ability to confront changing environments, and it helps me get to know myself better. I face challenges I have never encountered before. Therefore, this kind of visit helps us to see who we are through the differences and similarities we observe within other cultures and through several situations. It is a real chance for personal growth; it is a study into who you are and what you want. The good thing is, going on this journey does not just help you see these new aspects of yourself, but it also gives you the power to both face changes, and make changes.

When you go to another country, there is usually no other way to communicate than in a language different from your own. You have to use languages that you may not have fully mastered. However, practice makes perfect and improves proficiency. What is more, I do not just improve the languages I already know, I often start learning a new one!

Going abroad for a semester or two is usually linked to an increase in qualities, which employers are looking for. It means you are open to new experiences, you can be independent, and you have at least some intercultural sensitivity (and that last one is especially valuable to international companies). Therefore, it was a personal experiment without any doubt very enriching.

Advise for other researchers interested in an international experience

I advise every person who wants to apply to this program to focus on a good research project with international interest to increase his/her chance to be accepted. The research project should fall in scope with the activities of the laboratory and the area that you will choose in the application.  You should be aware of the existence of the entire instrument you need for your project in the host laboratory and all the facilities that can offer to you during your visit. The most important thing that I can give as advice is to make sure that the proposed project can be done during the stay period; if not, please make it shorter according to the time that will be offered to you to accomplish your work.

I strongly encourage others to take part in this research mobility program because it is an outstanding experience. I´m confident that they will like it and they will learn a lot through it. This experience will be an advantage for their resumes like a professional purpose and their personal life also. For every person like me, who has been prevented by material conditions from traveling abroad for study, research, or tourism, I say this is an excellent opportunity to achieve your dream. The program will offer you a scholarship that will allow you to live in this country and travel around, and maybe it will be a step for another next collaboration.  So, apply for this program and take part in it, don’t waste your opportunity. For interested incoming researchers do not forget, experiencing a sauna is necessary for any visit to Finland!

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