When I found out back in February that I had been selected as one of three Wallenberg Fellows from Georgetown University, I jumped up and down for joy. Ever since I had heard about this amazing fellowship, I had dreamed of becoming a fellow. After the first few moments of complete euphoria and sheer happiness, I started wondering and asking questions. What will the summer be like? Where will I intern and what will I do there? What places will I visit during those three months? What will my first Midsummer celebration look like? I had so many questions, and later on as I packed my suitcase and left DC for Stockholm, so much planning and so many expectations.
Now, after more than half of my summer in Stockholm is over, I have to say that this experience has surpassed even my wildest expectations. It has been full of fun, adventure and above all, learning. I could have not imagined a better experience, and I am eternally grateful to the Wallenberg family, and everyone else involved, for this unique opportunity.
In May, I started working at Ericsson’s PDU Radio Products unit in Kista, a suburb of Stockholm often called “Sweden’s Silicon Valley.” Most of Ericsson’s R&D facilities are in Kista, and it has been exciting to work with the brilliant people who are developing 5G technology there. When I began my work, I had some a trouble communicating with my co-workers, to be completely honest. I have no background in engineering, and almost everyone around me has an engineering degree and speaks mostly in technical abbreviations and industry-specific lingo. Every second or third word I heard was an industry-specific acronym. During some meetings, I wondered if the person presenting was indeed speaking in English. Still, step by step, and with help from my gracious co-workers (who gave me a crash course in radios, hardware development, lean engineering and agile development) I learned so much. In what seemed like no time at all, I was able to speak the secret language of the ITC engineers. This experience made me realize the true value of MAERES courses. Through these, I have developed analytical skills and the critical thinking required to succeed in any field. After gaining these skills, with a bit of background knowledge, I am able to easily jump from analyzing Russia’s foreign policy to analyzing organizational structure and performance at a big international company. The vocabulary might be different, but the grammar is the same.
After becoming acquainted with PDU Radio Products, I began to work on projects. My first big task was to provide outsider feedback to help the unit transition to Ericcson’s new business model which is based on lean engineering. Another project I was tasked with was to find a better way to measure the efficiency of hardware development and the overall productivity of the R&D unit. I also explored the effectiveness of different agile methods, such as cross-functional teams, Kanban boards, “war rooms” and PULSE meetings. All of these projects, together with day-to-day operations, made me realize that I really enjoy operations consulting. Thanks to this experience I may pursue a career in this field.
What I have enjoyed most about the experience, apart from it being an immense learning opportunity, is how open and accommodating the company is and how kind and interesting my co-workers are. I have not been treated like intern, but rather, as an equal. In the US, it is unlikely that an intern would end up in a meeting with senior management to discuss strategy and trajectory. This is exactly what happened to me here in Sweden. My co-workers are not only a source of information about the technical side of the job, but also great guides to Swedish culture.
When we were not talking about the UEFA European Championship, they were telling me all about their favorite museums, the must-see places in Stockholm, about Swedish cuisine and culture, and about the best places to celebrate Midsummer. I took their advice and explored much more of Stockholm than I would have simply by following guidebook recommendations. For Midsummer, I took the advice of one of my colleagues to be adventurous and see out how Danes celebrate the holiday (even though, he reassured me, Swedish Midsummer festivities are the best ones in all of Scandinavia). I spent my Midsummer in the historic Nyhavn district in Copenhagen, somewhat sad about Croatia being kicked out of Euro Cup by Portugal, but nonetheless enjoying my first Midsummer festivities.
In July, it seems like all of Sweden migrates to the sunny beaches of Southern Europe. Most of my coworkers took a month-long vacation, so I also had some time off. I managed to visit some of my closest friends from the high school I attended in Italy. I visited Turkey, Macedonia and Romania and caught up with my friends in their home countries. It feels good to be back in Eastern Europe. It was very interesting to see architecture in each city and to experience the way that Istanbul, Skopje and Bucharest function, especially after having taken an excellent course on socialist and post-socialist cities by Professor Smith. I would recommend this class to all of my fellow MAERES students. It was also exciting (and at times scary) to be in the region during the failed coup attempt in Turkey and to receive first-hand information and insight from my Turkish friends about the subject.
Rested from this trip, I returned to (a still mostly empty) office to wrap up my projects and get ready to leave for home in the middle of August. I know that I will miss Stockholm once I am back in DC. It has truly been a fulfilling experience outside of my comfort zone of Eastern European politics and history. I hope to make the most out of the few weeks I have left here. It has been an incredible summer filled with learning, fun and both personal and professional growth. All that happiness and excitement I felt back in February has been more than justified by my experience thus far.
Valentino Grbavac is a rising second-year MAERES student.