See you later Slovenia!

After a tedious day and a half of traveling I’m finally back at home! I’m sad the trip is over, but super thankful for the experiences and friendships I’m returning to KU with. These 10 days have been some of the longest and most tiring days in my life, but also the most fun and impactful. I’ve learned a lot about future career opportunities and the fields I might be interested in from the company visits. I formed stronger relationships with the SELF fellows and made new ones with the BLP students who shared this experience with me. The best part is I had all of these experiences while exploring a beautiful country that I never would have found if not for this program! I’m very grateful to John, Amanda, and Petra for organizing this trip for us. Also, I want to thank my parents for giving me the opportunity to have this experience. I am extremely interested in traveling internationally more now! I’m a little doubtful however that other destinations will meet my expectations after Slovenia set the bar so high. I will for sure be coming back to Slovenia in the future! So for now it’s see you later Slovenia, not goodbye!

Zach

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Last Day :(

Today was sadly our last but definitely one of my favorite days of the trip so far.

First off I need to thank our guide Petra for giving us an extra hour and a half to sleep in this morning. If there was any day I needed it, it was today. We have been going non-stop for so long and a little extra sleep was very necessary.

We started our day at Elan, a company known for its world class skis and snowboards but also dabbles in boats, other sports equipment, and even wind turbine blades. Elan was founded in the 1940’s, and I thought it was very interesting to learn about how their company has expanded and consolidated its product lines throughout the years, and also adjusted during Slovenia’s transition to a free market economy. I know very little about snow skiing so I enjoyed learning about the engineering and design work that goes into skis.

The rest of the day was spent in Bled, my second favorite place in Slovenia after Piran. No description I could right would do this place justice, so here is a picture.

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Yeah it’s pretty cool. On the cliff in the left of the picture is Bled castle where we started our day. The castle was built in 1011 which boggles my mind. I have no idea how they could’ve built such an intricate complex in that remote of a location with the limited tools they have. We also made it to Bled island in the center of the picture. On it lies a church built in the 17th century. That was my favorite location of the day. We got there via a Pletna boat (traditional hand-made boats only found in Bled) that was captained by a former olympian in rowing. Any place you went in Bled was scenic. It was definitely one of the coolest places we visited.

Zach

Another Day in the Life

img_1456It was our second to last day in Slovenia and we had another packed schedule.

We started out at the Faculty of Economics (School of Business) at the University of Ljubljana. It was very interesting learning about the differences between secondary education in the US and abroad. They have a different schedule and campus set up, but overall the education they are providing is very similar to KU.

Next we were off to Trebnje to visit Trimo, an innovative siding company. Their products are revolutionary for their industry, but what I found the most interesting was their manufacturing process. Learning about how everyday products are made and all of the engineering behind them has been one of my favorite parts of this trip.

Our final visit for the day was Krka, one of the largest generic pharmaceutical companies in the world. They took us on a tour through their new production facility, which was definitely the most impressive facility we have been to. The entire plant was designed with tours in mind, with glass elevators that took you through each floor and exhibits and displays throughout the path.

We ended the schedule with dinner at a 5 star restaurant in a castle which was…okay I guess…jk the food and setting were amazing! A big thank you to Petra for setting up such awesome meals for us!

Zach

 

More visits!

It was definitely sad leaving the coast early this morning. But knowing we were headed back to beautiful Ljubljana made it a little better. On our way back we had two more company visits. One was Pipistrel an award winning manufacturer of lightweight aircraft, and the other ABC Accelerator, an incubator for start-up companies.

I found Pipistrel’s story very interesting. It was all started by a man with a hobby and the determination to turn that hobby into a business. Ivo Boscarol (Founder and CEO of Pipistrel) and some friends began building trikes (small gliding aircraft) as a hobby in the early 80’s. They eventually got pretty good at it and started getting requests from others to build trikes for them. At the time Slovenia was still part of Yugoslavia, so Ivo had to get approved by the government to turn this hobby into a business. Initially he was laughed at. It was unheard of at the time for a few guys building small aircraft in a garage to start a business. With a little persistence Ivo was able to have the company approved in 1987, officially becoming the first Yugoslavian private small aircraft producer. On that day Pipistrel was born, and they are now producing award winning aircraft, and have recently secured a deal with China that will help the company grow significantly. They are also very eco-friendly. Because their aircraft are so light, they were able to design the first 2 seat electric powered self launching glider. Also their facility is completely self sustainable, so overall the company has almost no negative impact on the environment. I found this story so interesting because Ivo Bosarol essentially achieved the “american dream” in Slovenia, and what was Yugoslavia. It proved to me that this idea that we associate with America happens all over the world, even in disadvantageous situations.

We are coming up on our last couple days in Slovenia. I’m sad we have to leave so soon, but I will be sure to make the most of the time I have left.

Zach

Sunday

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Sunday was our free day to enjoy Portorož and Piran. A group of us decided to rent bikes and go on an “easy” bike ride in the morning from Portorož to a beach in Croatia. The ride started off beautifully. We rode next to the sea, through old salt mines that are now a national park, and a few small villages on the way. But as soon as we crossed over the border to Croatia our easy bike ride turned into biking up mountains on a narrow highway with no bike path. It took us about 2 km to realize this was a stupid idea and the beach was not worth it. The views from the hill we made climbed in Croatia were though in my opinion. We could see the entire valley, the bay full of sailboats, and the peninsula Piran and Portorož sit on. In total we travelled roughly 23 km and most importantly got the Slovenia and Croatia stamps on our passports! After riding on a bike so long I wasn’t sure I would be able to sit down comfortably for the rest of the trip, but after a little ice cream, some time in the hot tub, and a quick shower, I was ready to head to Piran.

The plan was to sit at a little bar next to the water in Piran to enjoy the sunset, and enjoy it I did! We had the perfect spot with a full view of the bay and all the quaint little shops and cafes lined along the water. Our group sat and watched as the sun slowly dropped behind the mountains of Italy. Words and pictures can’t do that setting justice. It was perfect.

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Once the sun had set, we finished the night with dinner from a literal hole in the wall restaurant known for its fresh squid. There is a woman in the window of what looks like a little house who takes your order, then you sit down at little wooden tables in what was the original town square. I don’t do seafood often but I could eat the grilled squid I had for every meal. It was great food and super cheap! I got a plate of squid, a bowl of fries, and a basket of bread for just 10 euros!

This was by far the best day of the trip so far. After today I think I’ve seen enough of Slovenia to decide that I have to come back at some point. This country has so much to offer, and our trip is only scraping the surface.

Zach

On the Coast

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As I mentioned in my last post, we are now on the Slovenian coast of the Adriatic Sea. It is beautiful here. Nothing like the beaches I’ve been to in the United States. We are staying near the small medieval city of Piran, a major tourist attraction in Slovenia. Thankfully we are a bit ahead of the busy tourist season, so the town is fairly quiet, and none of the main attractions are too crowded.

The same could not be said for Venice today. We took a 2.5 hour boat ride to the popular Italian city this morning and had about 6 hours there before heading back in the late afternoon. Even the dreary weather didn’t keep visitors away today. The main squares and alleys were packed. The crowds and poor weather didn’t take away from the beauty of the city however. Venice is a place that I’ve always known of but I never pictured myself actually going there. I was very surprised by the size of everything. The city itself is way bigger than I expected. We walked for hours and never saw the same place twice. It is very easy to get lost in Venice. I was also blown away by the size of St. Mark’s Square and Basilica. Thinking about how old these buildings are, the intricacy of every detail both interior and exterior, and the limited tools they were constructed with is mind boggling to me. I’m very thankful for the opportunity to see Venice. It was definitely a special experience, but I think the crowds and never ending alleys were a bit too much for me. It made me respect Slovenia even more!

Tomorrow we have an entire day to ourselves in Piran! I’m very excited to explore the town more, maybe swim, maybe hike, maybe go to Croatia…there are endless options. No matter what I do it’s going to be a fun day!

Zach

Litostroj

Screen Shot 2017-05-18 at 7.03.17 PMOn this post I’m going to talk about going to Litostroj, one of my favorite visits so far!

This first thing that stood out to me about this company was the size and importance of their product. Litostroj produces turbines for hydropower plants. They are suppliers for projects all over the world, even huge engineering feats like the Three Gorges Dam in China.

The next striking quality about Litostroj was the large scale and accuracy of their products. All of the parts for the turbine are made by their highly skilled employees on machines larger than I have ever seen before. The lathes were capable of machining parts multiple meters wide, and even with such a large part their dimensions had tolerances of roughly one thousandth of a millimeter. I was very impressed! I fully expected to walk into a factory full of robots but I did not find a single completely automated machine that I found.

The best part of Litostroj in my opinion was their friendliness and how much they value people. This is a fairly large business but we were still given a tour from the CEO and two high up engineers. And this was not a quick in-and-out visit just for the photo opportunity. The CEO was very interested in teaching us about their products. They showed us much of their manufacturing facilities and explained in-depth the manufacturing processes and how they designed the turbines to have maximum efficiency. This was not a tour you would likely get in the US. They were very willing to answer questions as well. I had a great conversation with one of the engineers that helped me better understand the design and manufacturing processes they used and gave me a better sense about where a mechanical engineering degree could take me. One cool thing about Litostroj was how much they value education. After being hired they train employees for up to five years, sending them all over the world to learn. Also, they have all of their engineers work in the manufacturing facility for a year when they start because they feel it is important to learn the processes in order to design parts to be functional and manufacturable.

As a mechanical engineering student, this visit gave me great perspective on the type of career I could have in the future. It also helped broaden my view of engineering careers. It is so easy to focus on the United States, but there are fantastic companies and career opportunities for engineers all over the world.

We are now on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, and heading to Venice tomorrow! I am super excited for the opportunities I’ll have to explore Venice and Piran this weekend!

Zach