By: Kyle Acierno, Canada, B.S. International Relations, MSS15
My name is Kyle Acierno. I am 29 year old Canadian studying at the International Space University. My academic background is in International Relations with a specialization in Security. While my reasoning for coming to ISU will be left for another post, today I would like to reflect on my experience during the first module. I will break it down into three sections: the first week and the French intensive course, introduction to ISU and the, and finally the busiest weeks of my life.
For half of us our first introduction to ISU was not at the campus itself but at the University of Strasbourg. There is the optional intensive French class which takes place the first week of September, before classes start. This highly recommended week not only give us insight into the French language, customs, and food, but also gave us the chance to get to know our classmates in a fun and interactive environment. We bonded over our terrible pronunciation, fun tours around the city, and delicious local wine and cheeses. The foundation that we developed in French would prove to be incredibly useful in the coming weeks and months, as we were about to set off on an extremely fast paced program that would leave no time for stuttering at the French bakery.
On September 10th, 2014 we had the opening ceremony. For the first time we met the students from the previous year who had just returned from internships and were doing their final presentations. In between sessions we heard all of the fun gossip about last year, were given tips about how to survive and navigate the city, and were introduced into the best and hardest times in the program. The opening ceremony was dual event, with last year’s students graduating while also holding a special session to welcome us. It was a Passover of sorts, to congratulate the hard work done last year and wish the best of luck to the new blood coming in. We were greeted by the French astronaut Dr. Jean-Jacques Favier, Alain Wagner, the Vice President of International & Space Institutions from Airbus Defense and Space, and the ISU president, Walter Peeters who was a high level manger from the European Space Agency. These men gave us a nice introduction to ISU and are an example of the high level players who students at ISU get to interact with. We all had 30 seconds to go on stage and let each other know where we came from and why we were here. Inspired and nervous, we set off to our first classes.
At the beginning of Module one technical and non-technical students are split to gain foundations in each other’s respective areas. As a student hailing from the social sciences I received a crash course in science, engineering, and satellite applications. Our engineer and science friends learned about economy, humanities, and law. In the second week we were all brought together for nothing less than a rocket launch! We were split into groups of about 7-8 people and were given the task of launching a rocket to a maximum height of 100m, deploying a parachute, and landing it safely on the ground with all the camera footage. For many of us this was the first time to work with an international group of people with a variety of skills, language abilities, and practical skills. After two days of intensive labor we set out to the grass beside the campus and launched the rockets to cheers and shrieks. One rocket went astray and managed to explode above the building!
The first few weeks of ISU are relatively laid back, with plenty of time to learn to navigate the beautiful city streets, huge super markets, or even just relax and swim at the nearby Baggersee beach. Without warning things began to speed up, deadlines came quickly and it seemed that time seemed to slip away.
By the third week I was already feeling behind. It is almost like a treadmill that continues to go faster. There was a looming fear that if I slowed down or lost my footing I would fall off completely. I suddenly found myself trying to review and understand lectures on orbital mechanics, prepare team projects on the use of satellite applications in the nearby mountains, keep up with French and try to band together with the newly formed student council to determine what our goals and vision were for the class this year. With three classes in the morning, more in-depth sessions in the afternoon, and teamwork that extended late into the nights and on the weekends it seemed like time was suddenly becoming a rare commodity. It is important to remember that ISU is an intensive program. We manage to fit 75 ECTS program credits into a one year program where most generally have 60. The inspiration and motivation to push on even when we were exhausted was that we were all in it together. While some had difficulties adjusting to school after being in industry, others struggled with English. Personally I found it difficult adjusting to so much new knowledge in science and industry while my engineer friend’s grappled with law and critical analysis management techniques. At times we were testy, differing in opinions, whether they were cultural, disciplinary related or even the fact that we came from so many different academic backgrounds, but this is ISU, it is truly an International, Intercultural, and Interdisciplinary environment, the course is not meant to be easy and we are expected to be tolerant, understanding, and develop into future space leaders who see international cooperation as a prime factor for future successes in our reach for the stars.
The last two weeks before the module ended were stressful to say the least. While most of us were flabbergasted that six weeks had already passed, we all cringed about the looming exam ahead of us. The teachers and previous students told us to concentrate on the learning objectives that we were given at the beginning of each class. Although this may seem straight forward, some lectures had over 10 learning outcomes, and we had over 100 classes! Many of us split into smaller study groups and diligently went over all the material while working through some of the more complicated areas like orbital mechanics. One day before the exam we had a tutorial session with a professor. Although we all knew that if we did not pass the exam we would be kicked out of the program, he assured us that the intent of the program was not to weed people out, but to make sure they had a strong enough understanding and foundation to move forward. They cared about us like they care about space, and while their pedagogical approach may not be perfect, they did their best to give us the base we needed to succeed in the space sector in the future. Many of us had a hard time sleeping the night before the exam; all of our hard work would boil down to us being able to answer 1 question from each of the main discipline subject areas and one large interdisciplinary question.
The test was not easy by any standards. As a native English speaker I used the full four hours and wrote 24 pages, which was similar to the vast majority of us. When the exam was over we headed to our beloved student lounge, beers were cracked, the music was cranked, and we all began to unwind; the first module was over.
I write this now still not knowing how I did on the exam. The last week we celebrated Halloween and Diwali, we carved pumpkins and danced to Bollywood tracks, and reflected on what a great module it was. Have no doubt, this program is incredibly intensive. Every time we finished a project, however, we celebrated as those who worked hard tend to do, we played hard. The numerous cultural events, evenings playing Ping-Pong and cards in the lounge, and late nights on the town helped us to keep it together. Our intensive study sessions and hard work on everyone’s behalf instilled a sense of empathy. The joy of studying about in tight knitted group all aspects of outer space, something we all are passionate and care deeply is unforgettable.
For us a future in space is life, and so we happily give up our time for it. The first module at ISU has taken six weeks and I would gladly give it again. I have learned so much and taken away so much more than I have given. I honestly feel incredibly grateful for this opportunity and can’t wait for Module 2!