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Portrait of Heegyeong

Heegyeong from Korea takes the road less traveled by choosing Sweden and Engineering. Her final destination? Space satellites

Heegyeong Kim has a bachelor’s degree in aerospace and mechanical engineering and aspires to become a satellite and rocket engineer in the future. Moving to Sweden during a global pandemic, studying in a male-dominated field and undergoing training in some completely new subjects are some of the challenges Heegyeong is tackling during her master’s programme in Complex Adaptive System.

Why did you choose Sweden as a study destination?

Apart from wanting to study a master’s program abroad, I was intrigued by Sweden. In South Korea where I am from, the society really pushes people to study and work hard and that has made the country stronger than before. I have heard that people in Sweden do not face the same pressure to perform, yet there are many Swedish companies and technologies that are famous globally. It really made me wonder what makes Sweden that strong if people do not need to be competitive with each other.

What would you consider the biggest change for you after moving here?

I would say prejudices. I did not have much chance to meet international people in Korea so whenever I saw people from a certain country, I would think that they would behave this way or have that kind of characteristic. Back then, I was aware that my ideas could be wrong but living here has literally crushed the world in my head. Now I know that those ideas are actually wrong. For me, the biggest change is that I no longer categorize the people I meet into groups according to their gender, nationality or major. I have learned to see them as individuals and treat them as such.

How would you describe the Complex Adaptive Systems program to those who are unfamiliar with it?

This program addresses fundamental aspects of complex systems in nature and society, usually based on physics perspective and focuses on its general principles, and links them with an understanding of and skills in using modern algorithms. This explains why the program focuses on using computers and relevant software for simulation and problem solving. I take all my classes together with students from Chalmers University of Technology as this is a joint program between two universities. We can choose the lectures based on our interest, which is divided into four tracks: physics, robotics, machine learning, and computational biology. So far, I have taken the classes related to machine learning algorithm and information theory as well as robotics and simulations. For example, in one course we made a chatbot where we collected and saved a lot of conversations in the computer, and through some processes of learning, the computer could converse with a human being and knew how to response when you say “hello” to it.

What have been your experiences studying a STEM subject as a young woman?

It is a sad reality that the STEM field is more concentrated on men in most countries and that I belong to a minority in this field. I think the media has been partly responsible for this, at least in Korea. For example, in dramas and movies, most of the people working in engineering fields are men and it has encouraged more boys to go to engineering schools rather than girls. The media shows how boys are good at mathematics and science, and girls are good at languages or humanities, but I think this does not depend on gender. If this was indeed true, we should be able to find some traces in the genes that confirm it, right? 

Personally, I have heard many stories about invisible but obviously existing sex discrimination in the job market back home. My dad was supportive of me studying in Sweden precisely because he thought that there would be a lower possibility of me being treated that way when I look for jobs here in the future.

What is your plan after finishing this master’s program?

I like researching things, so my plan is to apply for a PhD in Sweden. I want to become a satellite and rocket engineer in the future.

How has the pandemic affected your life and studies, and what do you look forward to doing when the situation gets more under control?

I am a people person and it has been tough that I have not seen my classmates in real life at all. The only interaction I have with them is through my program’s discord channel where we discuss our assignments, but I do not know if I can call them friends from such limited interaction. I also have difficulty concentrating when I am at home, and on top of that, I do not know much about Sweden even after living here for six months. 

I really look forward to taking my lectures in the classroom and seeing the professors in person. They feel like celebrities to me now since I only see them on the computer screen. My second hope is to visit somewhere crowded with a lot of people like Liseberg. I like to be outdoors, but it has not been possible to go outside for so long. I was surprised that I started knitting after moving to Sweden because it made me think about how “internal” I have become. 

Written by Hannie, Student Content Team